HERO 31 Cover Interview: Julian Casablancas and Alex Carapetis – HERO (2024)

Bzzz. Hiss. Crackle. The signal’s scrambled… and it sounds incredible. A new transmission unlike anything you’ve previously encountered – you’re tuned into the frenzied frequency of Julian Casablancas and his band The Voidz who have, over the past decade, been crafting the most eclectic, exhilarating, electrifying music this side of the galaxy.

Existing in a parallel universe to Casablancas’ The Strokes – who are currently working on a new record of their own – Voidz are the anti-rock band the world needs right now – HELL, the universe needs! An unapologetic, uncompromising otherworldly collective who transport and transcend. Cosmic waves wash across 80s LaserDisc pixels, saccharine MTV effects and riffs that slice through reality.

In 2014 they gave us Tyranny, in 2018, Virtue – records that stuck two fingers into the industry plug socket and sent strange vibrations fizzing across the mainstream: infiltrating and infectious, disruptive and distorted. Ten years have passed and The Voidz are once again fully charged. Here is sonic trailblazer Julian Casablancas, joined by the band’s drummer Alex Carapetis, on a journey through past, present and future, sound, vision and beyond.

all clothing CELINE HOMME; sunglasses, jewellery and glove worn throughout, JULIAN’S own

Alex James Taylor: The Voidz have hit ten years and within that time you’ve crafted a multi-dimensional world, how did you first envision that reality and how do you want to see it grow?
Julian Casablancas: It’s driven and inspired by all the members and the ideas we talk about aesthetically. Lately, Johann [Rashid, a multidisciplinary artist who goes by the moniker Promiseland and releases music on Julian’s label, Cult Records] has entered our vortex, he’s almost a Voidz member in a weird way. He’s a spiritual member in the video and digital department. To me, Johann is like if we all became one person or something. [laughs] We talk about ideas, we joke around, and I’m always collecting art, always coming up with ideas, but now it’s through the Voidz filter – or prism – reflected off the other band members.

AJT: The Voidz’ visuals are such a distinctive expression of the band, it’s a really cool mix of digital eras and genres you’ve distilled into VoidzTV [a digital channel that shows the band’s videos alongside sketches and short films]. There are strong references to 80s media like LaserDiscs and gaming platforms, does this reflect memories from your youth?
JC: There are definitely things from when we were kids, the video universes that were created – there was music but also people speaking about it and presenting [such as MTV]. It’s not that that was something we specifically wanted to do, but in this day and age when you just put it on the internet… and also social media, none of us are super interested in that specific aspect, but it’s kind of a way of delivery. It’s like a tray with the food on, it makes things a little more fun. In terms of videos, [the usual way is to] put out a song, post a video and then you’re quiet for seven months, but we thought we’d make this fake TV channel and put things out. Johann started it, probably when he was on the road with us putting together tour videos. It’s content, I guess, for lack of a better word, that’s probably the lamest way to put it. It’s our version and an excuse to do fun things. Instead of going on TikTok and being like, “Check out our song!” it’s having other people, entertainers, present it in a more fun way.

AJT: I really like the idea of seeing a VoidzTV commercial on daytime TV randomly, and it infiltrating the mainstream. This weird 30 seconds of pirate TV amongst the easy-watch schedule. There’s an anti-rock band aspect of The Voidz, creating music that cuts through the norm.
JC: I like these ideas you’re saying, TV ads, that’s funny, anti-rock band, that sounds cool. Come join us, join the movement. Those are my favourite moments too, I remember we did [The Tonight Show Starring] Jimmy Fallon during the pandemic and did these crazy visuals, I think it came across cool and a lot of comments were similar [to what you’re saying], like, “This is what I thought music would sound like in the future like when I was a kid.” The jetpacks of music, where we’re supposed to be.

all clothing CELINE HOMME; sunglasses, jewellery and glove worn throughout, JULIAN’S own

AJT: During the pandemic, I watched all your S.O.S. Earth is a Mess videos where you hosted conversations with great thinkers like Noam Chomsky and Richard D. Wolff, a topic that came up frequently was the advancement of technology. I wondered what your opinions are on this as we stand today, especially in terms of the rapid growth of AI and computer-generated materials. 2023 felt like a really seminal year for these advancements.
JC: I don’t know, I don’t really have a problem with it. To me, it’s just advanced programming. It can replace generic things, it can copy my voice and do it in a different style and I think it’s funny when I hear it. I think it can be used for good things, but it’s not close to having artistic quality – in order to get there, you’d have to understand artistic quality. The people programming them, it’s like, who decides our values, who are the programmers doing this? Like everything, the danger is who will be programming it. If you programme a machine to want to take over the world and kill everyone then yeah, I guess we’re in trouble, but it’s not going to want to do that on its own, it doesn’t have our weird survival, evolution DNA, our fears and ego. For me it’s like an advanced calculator, when the calculator was invented they were much better at maths than humans but we weren’t like, “Oh no, what’re we going to do, they do math better than us!” The fact we can build machines to do things humans can’t do, it’s fine by me, the fact it can write a sh*tty pop song or television intro… I think politically, if we lived in a true democracy-plus world, there would be… not censorship, but there would be communal controls on who is putting this stuff out there, because some of the people making these things are kind of assholes in my opinion, because they programme the AI to sound like they know what it’s talking about, whether it’s true is irrelevant. That’s just the values of our culture, valuing entertainment above truth, and so that means you can say what you want, even if you’re telling kids to jump off a bridge or whatever. I think there’s that element, but that’s not just AI, that’s everything. AI specifically, I don’t know, just a kind of shrug and a thumbs up. Down the road we’ll see, but for now I don’t really have anxiety about it personally.

AJT: As you say, it’s about who programmes this technology, and also who legislates it, it’s interesting watching the powers that be try and create framework around it without truly understanding.
JC: They call it AI but it’s not AI, it’s just event programming. It’s not like some sentient blob. Yes, it’s a lot of programming, which is also what we are, I guess. It raises philosophical questions that I think are interesting, more than being problematic. But with music, being able to take someone’s voices, do their style and put it on a song, I would like access to that [laughs]. I’m always thinking like, “I’d love to hear Stevie Wonder do this song…” I mean, you already have people who don’t know how to play music who can push buttons and make songs people love. There’s still craftsmanship, which has died in so many industries, and that’s sad, but that’s across the board and it will probably have a renaissance and people will realise that they’re happier when they have more craftsmanship. Again, I think that applies to so many areas, not just AI, but that issue exists there also. I understand it’s unnerving, but the more that people are aware of those issues, it might help them in the long run.

AJT: For me, the worry is that it encourages an apathy towards true creativity when you can just input a framework and get a song or a story or video in a second, it sort of diminishes true craft and the time it takes, creating a numbness towards the art of creating.
JC: When you create a painting, for example, which is probably more an area that is threatened, making the painting gives you a certain sensation that I think… like I can take a poster [of an artwork] that someone made 50 years ago and put ‘The Voidz’ over it, and that’s almost a version of what you’re speaking about, the numbness of creating, the ease. There’s an element of a producer and a musician, like nowadays anyone can be a producer, anyone can be an artist that way, but being a painter, being the person who made the original thing, the feeling of taking orange paint and putting it on, then putting black paint, writing something, making something. There will still be people who are like, “I want to practice this and do well.” It’s cathartic and makes you happy, makes you feel good. I think there will always be an aspect of that. The things that are hand-painted still have something closer to human… paintings affect us differently to a perfect thing. It’s not like you take a picture of a painting and like that better, you know what I mean? If you bypass [those feelings] and just press a button to make a painting of this or that, it’s not like being a painter.

all clothing CELINE HOMME; sunglasses, jewellery and glove worn throughout, JULIAN’S own

“Like everything else, things that were standard back in the day in music are luxuries now.”

AJT: It’s also about the teaching and education, using this new technology as a positive tool. Education comes up in previous conversations you’ve had, and you’ve mentioned how you like to adopt a polymathic approach to your children’s education, do you think there’s a lack of freedom and autonomy in education today?
JC: Yeah, I am pretty depressed at how billions and billions of children are taught. I really disliked school and I go visit schools now with my kids and see what’s going on and foolishly, I think, assumed that since I was in school… a lot of time has passed, I’ve read stuff and found interesting things, and I don’t know, I just assumed there was this knowledge… I think it’s parallel to music where, when the internet happened, they were like, “Everyone is going to hear all these different genres,” but it ended up being more pop, technical, science-refinement. The same thing with education. I assumed, oh everyone is going to know that this is not how people learn, this doesn’t work, and everything is going to improve, but nothing has really changed. If anything, it’s worse. It’s like, “Here’s what you’re going to show them, you’re going to get this answer and this answer.” “You’re reading Of Mice and Men,” it’s not like, “Here are some books, see what speaks to you and enjoy it and be moved by it and learn writing naturally by reading good writing and seeing how that affects you.” It’s more just like, “Why is Tommy angry at Johnny?” And, “Explain to me in this sentence why Tommy is angry at Johnny.” So the kid is trying to get a good grade and do what a random person is saying, who is told what to do, and they’re trying to do what their supervisor told them to do, and it’s just this factory of slush. Nobody is learning, nobody cares, everyone is just trying to get by and do well and it’s this assembly line. It’s not changed and that is depressing, yes.

AJT: It’s a lack of individuality and freethinking?
JC: Sometimes they do ask for the kids’ opinions, but it’s almost like – why? There are so many things I [was taught] and didn’t care about [at the time], but I learn about them now and realise it’s interesting. Mentorship and inspiration are important. People who find a passion usually have someone who inspired them and showed them the way. I think that is lacking in general. There are some teachers like that, for sure, good teachers, I’m not just being political about it either, it’s true. I just think as an overarching system, it should be a geared towards inspirational mentors, ideally. There are so many things in history I read about now and I’m like, “Damn, if I was fifteen and someone was showing me this, I’d think it was so cool.” Pick a topic and there’s a way to do it so interestingly, and yet… I mean, you could argue there are political routes in all this. I’ve heard intellectual people talk about how, in the 60s, with all the revolution talk, they were like, ‘people are too educated and it has to be more drone-centric training’. They don’t say it in those words, but I think through a lot of indirect legislation, censorship and conservative leadership, what they’ve done has created a lot of that, in my opinion. It’s depressing but it’s there to be had, and to change, but society can’t be changed overnight. Teaching people how to think for themselves, learn for themselves, find the interesting truth of things, it reminds me of – one more detour – you know sometimes they do biopics and throw something in like an extra wife or they change random historical events, they switch things around. The real story is sometimes so much more interesting when you stick to it, I just don’t know why people think the truth is boring.

AJT: In terms of raising your children, how do you try and encourage them to explore these topics and encourage their learning to be more open?
JC: As with anyone in anything, [it’s about] encouragement. They’ve turned me onto things and then I’ve researched and shared with them, so there’s a… not treating them as adults, but respecting them as their own people. On the other side of that, not overindulging, like, “Oh, my princely whatever, you want to be a sculptor so I’ve bought you a sculpting set and will tell you you’re the greatest of all time.” That’s the sh*tty side, that’s not what I’m saying. The best way I’ve heard it described, there was a Waldorf teacher who described being a parent as being a ‘loving wall’. So it’s like, yes there are limits and sometimes you have to say no and they might cry, but you don’t have to slap them, you don’t have to tell them they’re stupid or say go ahead, you just have to be like, “No,” and they’ll realise that you’re [looking out for them]. So I think boundaries are good and even adults like leadership, sometimes people like fewer options. There’s a structure humans like, but then, within that, you want to inspire people to be able to find their lanes. It’s a tricky balance but I think it’s both of those things. They are their own people and I respect that, but then also it’s my job to try and make sure they don’t spin out too much. There’s a lot of interesting literature and knowledge out there about teaching, parenting, raising, and I’m not an expert, but I think the amount people aren’t told is pretty staggering.

all clothing CELINE HOMME; sunglasses, jewellery and glove worn throughout, JULIAN’S own

AJT: Going back to The Voidz, over the ten years you’ve been together, how have your band dynamics evolved and shifted? Does the process constantly change or is it pretty steady?
JC: We all make music all the time individually and then we get together and have moments where we coalesce, and it carries on chaotically.
Alex Carapetis: Everything in art changes. Sometimes when we’re together in the room it happens where we’ll walk in and come up with stuff, other times we have little morsels we bring and maybe we join them together. It all sort of channels through Julian’s incredible curation, he’s the maestro who hooks it all up. There are all kinds of ways we create, some of the things remain the same and some change.
JC: Some of the general ways we operate remain, but our inspirations constantly change. I don’t think we get hung up [on things]. We discover new stuff and then we’re bouncing [ideas], trying new things individually, stylistically.
AC: There are also ways of experimenting in creation, speaking of AI and technology, back in the 70s you’d probably put something to tape, splice it and have a few goes. Today, through technology, there’s the opportunity to really get into the nitty-gritty, you have the facilities to really do whatever you want, and we’ve had a lot of fun with that. It really does bring out some incredible elements. But then, forgive me if I’m speaking out Jules, but I think next we might go back to exploring having the gear in the room, doing takes again, crafting songs together in the room. There’s a temptation today to have people come in and be like, “I’ll play the bass, you come in tomorrow and do the drums,” and it’s layering, layering, layering, which is cool, don’t get me wrong, all of this is brilliant, that’s the great thing about music and why we love it – there’s no right or wrong. But there’s also the element of that traditional, get in and play it, and also trying songs out in front of each other, seeing how it feels for the singer, for the band, certain things work, certain things don’t. Working with Julian has been so phenomenal. You know, I’m an Adelaide boy, I came from South Australia and always wanted to come to America and play with great artists but also be in a band who are incredible and at a top artistic level, and God did answer my prayer. It’s the best of the best.
JC: What you were saying about traditional style, even just logistically it’s so difficult now, it’s expensive and people get a studio for a very short time and get super prepared before. There’s something about that old way, going in every day. Like everything else, things that were standard back in the day in music are luxuries now. Looking forward, that’s a mix of how we’ve been doing things, that Rolling Stones going somewhere for two months-vibe.

“We all make music all the time individually and then we get together and have moments where we coalesce, and it carries on chaotically.”

all clothing CELINE HOMME; sunglasses, jewellery and glove worn throughout, JULIAN’S own

AJT: I’m always fascinated by the environment records are created in and how the setting and atmosphere feed into the music, like Bob Dylan at the Big Pink or the Stones at Nellcôte, like you say.
JC: It totally does. For our Did My Best video we dressed in jazz suits all day but instead of cyber, metal jazz we sounded like a wedding band because we were all wearing suits. [all laugh] I have a question for you Alex, when you see someone like Jimi Hendrix and these virtuoso dudes, are you like, I relate to your virtuosic loneliness, or something? Do you see people who are really good and you’re like, “[exhales] I know how many hours you’ve spent…” What are the secret alliances that you’re relating to almost on a non- musical level when you see those kinds of people playing?
AC: That’s interesting. There’s like a divinity there for me, something you can’t put your finger on. It’s a lot of things. Jimi Hendrix was an incredible guitarist, no doubt, but there are obviously people who can play like him… but they’re not Jimi Hendrix. I think it’s the tenacity, it’s what you’re doing when you’re not playing, taking in life, there’s a perspective and perception. Listening, smelling a rose when you walk down a street, looking up at the sky every day. Finding great players to play with who bring things out of you.
JC: Like playing with Little Richard.
AC: Exactly. I met Little Richard once actually, he gave me a Bible.
JC: What?!
AC: Yeah, I still have it. I think it’s Jehovah’s Witness, like Prince was, Larry Graham and all that.
JC: My Grandfather was a Jehovah’s Witness.
AC: Was he really? These days I really do believe in a creator and a God.
JC: Little Richard got to you? [all laugh]
AC: Maybe he did. I was in and out of church when I was a kid, but the whole religion thing is a different story, I more give thanks to what brought me here and the energy that gives me. [Back to] music, I used to watch all those drummers come through who were playing the fastest fills you could ever play, and I definitely dabbled with that and studied jazz. But at the same time, I didn’t really want to just sit and play like, clinics. I was always intrigued by guys who got to play in big stadiums and really play a groove and a great song. It’s that thing for me. There’s a dangerous thing about Jimi Hendrix as well, he was fashionably ahead of his time and had this vibe where you’d be intimidated by him in a way – he was nice but you didn’t want to f*ck with him. There’s definitely a loneliness to [being a musician], as you and I know. I spend a lot of time alone, and I’m usually listening to music, going on walks or practising, trying to discover new techniques in production or playing. For me, it’s that constant discovery of the divine force that you’re with, somehow.
JC: It feels like I’m with Ronaldinho when I’m playing music with you. [laughs]
AC: I feel the same with you, man.
JC: I’m more like Pirlo, helping the team.
AC: You’re super incredible. The best of the best. I feel very honoured to be playing drums with you.

AJT: Did it immediately click between you two, musically?
JC: Definitely.
AC: It clicked in 30 seconds. Every time we play, it’s a never-ending wowness.
JC: I think everyone else I’ve played with or had long musical relationships with I’ve met naturally, but this was a kind of audition-y type thing. I have such a funny memory of it, you’d just got off the plane from Australia, you’d just come from the airport and had make-up on. [both laugh] It was subtle, like party make-up, in a good way. He had a cool energy. I’d auditioned like three guys and they’d all had the song, heard it, and played it, they were very good, technical drummers but somehow it didn’t feel that good. Then Alex came, who hadn’t heard the track and I just sang him the beat and in two seconds he played it exactly like it was on the track he hadn’t heard, but better somehow.
AC: Wow, thank you.
JC: I was like, “Wow,” and we started jamming. A long journey later, everything musically has always been a magical experience, and beyond that, as partners and friends. You play with people and sometimes it feels good, but it doesn’t sound good, or sometimes it sounds good but there are weird vibes… or maybe they’re connected. But for it to feel good and sound good, it’s a hard, weird thing. It’s all very subtle, but we had a magical chemistry from the beginning.

all clothing CELINE HOMME; sunglasses, jewellery and glove worn throughout, JULIAN’S own

Feature originally published in HERO 31.

Buy HERO 31 here.

All clothing by Celine Homme.

photography assistants GUS ARONSON and MATCHULL SUMMERS;
fashion assistant LUKE TEIGAN

HERO 31 Cover Interview: Julian Casablancas and Alex Carapetis – HERO (2024)


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