On July 30, 2001, – 15 years ago – The Strokes released their debut album ‘Is This It’ in Australia, the very first place the record hit the shelves. We don’t need to explain why the NYC classic’s legacy lives on 15 years later – after all we gave it 10/10 upon release and named it the fourth best album ever in our Greatest Album Of All Time list in 2013.
But how well do you know the story behind the album? Here are 20 facts, anecdotes and stories about ‘Is This It’ that you might not know…
1. Three of the album’s tracks, ‘The Modern Age, ‘Last Nite’ and ‘Barely Legal’, initially featured on their debut EP ‘The Modern Age’ but were re-recorded and partially rewritten for ‘Is This It’
2. The initial sessions for the record were done with producer Gil Norton (Pixies – ‘Doolittle’) but were scrapped by the band as they felt that the output sounded “too pretentious”. The group then teamed up with Gordon Raphael who they met at one of their live shows six months earlier.
3. During work on the album, Julian Casablancas and guitarist Nick Valensi received lessons from guitar teacher JP Bowersock, who also helped craft some of the album’s immortal solos.
4. Most of the songs on the album were only recorded once due to Casablancas’ insistence that the tracks retain their “raw efficiency”.
5. The entire album was recorded from March to April 2001 in only six weeks, at Raphael’s Transporterraum studios in their native New York City.
6. The song ‘Soma’ took its name and influence from the fictional drug used in Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, particularly on the lyric: ‘Soma is what they would taken when/Hard times opened their eyes’
7. During recording, a member of the band’s US label, RCA, heard an early cut of the record and claimed the recordings sounded “unprofessional” and that Raphael was “ruining Julian’s voice and killing any chance the band had of a career”.
8. The album was released across a three-month span in various locations around the globe. Australia got the album first on July 31, 2001, with the UK following on August 27 and October 9 in the US.
9. The artwork for the album was shot by photographer Colin Lane, who staged an impromptu photo shoot of his then-girlfriend as she exited the shower. The black glove was a prop left behind by a stylist in his apartment.
10. Casablancas however possessed a desire to change the artwork to an image of a subatomic particle tracks in a bubble chamber – telling the band’s manager, “I found something even cooler than the ass picture.” The cover for the US version was eventually changed to the new image, also in part to several stockists refusing to sell the album due to the nudity on the original image.
11. The album reached Number Two in the UK Albums Chart upon release, with first week sales of 48,393 copies. The uplift in sales was attributed to the Reading & Leeds sets that they had played the weekend prior.
12. As well as admitting they modelled ‘Last Nite’ on Tom Petty’s ‘American Girl’, they also “ripped off” bass parts from English band The Cure. “There are some bass lines on our first album that were 100% ripped off from The Cure. We were worried about putting out the album, because we thought we’d get busted” said Nikolai Fraiture years later.
13. During recording, the band would often take recordings from the studio to the bar they worked at across the street, 2A, to listen to the songs on a loud stereo.
14. The album’s release had to be pushed back in the US from September 25 to October 9 following the 9/11 terrorist attacks. The band also said that they felt that the inclusion of the song ‘New York City Cops’ was inappropriate due to the police force’s “valiant response” to the tragedy. A new song, ‘When It Started’, replaced the track on CD copies, but ‘New York City Cops’ remains on the vinyl edition.
15. During the album’s sessions, Casablancas was known for making lyrics up at a whim, without consulting the band. “Lyrics weren’t so definite,” said bassist Nikolai Fraiture when discussing their early work. “We’d wonder, ‘What’s Julian going to sing?’ He’d make shit up.”
16. The album’s title ‘Is This It’, was decided late on the process. Speaking to NME, Casablancas said; “When we were trying to find titles for the record it could’ve been called ‘Take It Or Leave It’ or any of them, but I thought it sounded cool in more ways than one. It’s deep without being pretentious.”
17. On ‘Alone, Together’, much of Casablancas’ lyrics are actually about performing oral sex on a partner – “Lisa says, ‘Take time for me’/dropping him down to his knees/Ah, chest down…“
18. During the recording process, Raphael would mix the track live as the band were playing in an attempt to provide a finished version by the end of the track.
19. Although the album took heavy influence from bands like The Velvet Underground and The Ramones, Casablancas wanted to make the band sound as futuristic as possible. He said that wanted The Strokes to sound like “a band from the past that took a time trip to the future to make their record”.
20. The band decided to leave the album title’s question mark off of the cover as they didn’t think it aesthetically looked right.