Julian Casablancas: “I Strive To Build A World Where… Ariel Pink Is As Popular As Ed Sheeran”

David Marchese, a guy I used to work with at the Village Voice, has quickly become probably the best interviewer we’ve got working. In long published conversations in New York magazine, Marchese has recently gotten fascinating, wild quotes from esteemed figures like Quincy Jones and Erykah Badu. Today, Marchese’s got a new interview with the Strokes frontman Julian Casablancas, whose band the Voidz will release the new album Virtues later this month. And while Casablancas’ quotes aren’t as memorably nuts as those of Badu and Jones, he’s still got plenty of shit to say.

Early in his interview with Marchese, Casablancas admits that he’s “much more interested in politics than music.” He says he’s learning more about politics all the time, that it’s exciting to him now the way music was when he was a teenager, and that “we’re essentially at war, a modern war against a calculator.”

Casablancas believes that the calculator thing — the corporate motive that elevates profit above all else — extends in part to the way we consume music. He thinks that a lot of the wrong artists are popular. As one example, he cites the band Porches:

There’s a song by Porches that just came out. I think it’s called “Goodbye.” The end of that song is really powerful. The beginning almost sounds like Coldplay but from, like, a minute-thirty on it’s very, very cool. In my opinion that’s a song that would be more popular if we lived in a world where quality was being accurately peddled.

He says the same thing, more or less, about Ariel Pink: “Today someone like Ariel Pink is relatively unknown. In another era he would’ve been much more popular.” When Marchese asks who, from the past, might’ve been “analogous” to Ariel Pink, Casablancas continues:

David Bowie. This is my point: People think that public opinion in their own time is the truth. Everyone knows David Bowie now, but I bet he was pretty underground in the ’70s. I think Ariel Pink will be one of the best-remembered artists of this generation and now nobody in the mainstream knows him.

Later in the interview, Casablancas has this to say:

My mission is the same as it’s been from day one, which is to try to make something that has artistic value and bring it to the mainstream. Nothing about that has changed. I strive to build a world where the Velvet Underground would be more popular than the Rolling Stones. Or where Ariel Pink is as popular as Ed Sheeran.

And when Marchese brings up the idea that Sheeran is trying to be popular while Pink isn’t, Casablancas says, “Everything you’re saying sounds 100% like cultural brainwashing.” He elaborates:

If you grew up in a world where Ariel Pink was popular then you would say “I don’t see how Ed Sheeran can be popular.” People grow up with norms knocked into their heads. And I’m not trying to diss Ed Sheeran or any pop star. Ed Sheeran seems like a nice, cool guy and I have nothing against his music. Let him sell a billion records. I’m just saying I don’t understand why there can’t be a world where Ed Sheeran gets 60 percent of the attention and Ariel Pink gets 40 percent. Now it’s almost like Ed Sheeran gets 99.5 percent of it. The creative bands have been pushed so far into the margins. But my bigger point is that whether it’s music or politics, right now we’re mired in whoever’s propaganda is loudest. I’m sorry — I’m not good at explaining things.

Casablancas also says that the Strokes are “not where my focus is” and that he finds “I’m Not Racist” rapper Joyner Lucas “more inspiring” than Kendrick Lamar. You can, and should, read the full interview here.