Here at The Journalix Towers, we’re all huge fans of The Strokes. I mean, who isn’t?! Many people claim they define an era but for us they define rock n roll. The music is so special and those images of the boys in New York at the turn of the century will forever be what it means to be cool. Friend of the band and photographer Cody Smyth took many of those famous snaps and he’s released the most awesome book The Strokes: The First Ten Years. Via the wonders of the internet our Alix talked to him all about those first ten years…
Alix: You met the guys back in high school, what was your first impression of them?
CODY SMYTH: It was such a long time ago now that first impressions are a bit blurry lol. I remember that Nick and I had our lockers next to each other, so we would always run into each other there before we started hanging. It was ‘95 so our fashion styles matched our age and times and I think we both thought “who the fuck is this dude!”
But the truth is we became friends so quickly and would hang 24/7 that there wasn’t time for first impressions. We just instantly clicked in having similar interests on music, society, culture, art, humour, etc….
A TIGHT-KNIT GROUP
A: As interest picked up, how did they stay true to their roots?
CODY SMYTH: It wasn’t so much about staying true to their roots, but I think maybe more about not losing them. We were a pretty small tight-knit group of friends, so when they started getting bigger and a new group of people and friends began to come into the circle, it helped having myself or Claude (Claude Franques grew up with us as well and also wrote a few chapters in the book) still there.
A: The band look like 5 fashion models and no matter how real their personalities are, there was no guarantee this new flavour of rock n roll would stick. It’s misleading to say they were important, because they are still important and it’s not what they influenced but what they created. At what point did you realise you were capturing something special?
CODY SMYTH: Honestly I don’t think it really occurred to me until I started putting the book together. I shot a lot of personal photos of the years before they properly formed the band with Albert in ‘98, so it really just felt like this natural continuation. They never asked to be photographed and I never really asked if I could photograph them. I always had my camera, so why wouldn’t I shoot what my friends were doing.
A: When it comes to the music, how close were you to the creative process?
CODY SMYTH: I mean I saw the whole process pretty much for the first album. Before the songs were what they became and such. Early versions that grew into the songs on “Is This It”. It was great to sit in the studio, just hanging out and watching them practice. I never photographed them when they practiced in the early days. I might have a few snap shots someplace, but for the most part I felt like I didn’t need or want to. They were working and for me it was something I wanted to just be in the moment of. Not everything needs to be photographed.
Still today, when the guys are working on new stuff in NYC, I try and swing by to hear what they are working on. I’m always harassing Nick to send me what their working on lol. Luckily he does. I do or would give feedback on songs when they asked me what I thought. And I def did not inspire anything lol, but I know that our youth and time together prob did. I mean “When we was young, oh man did we have fun. Always always” says it all to me.
BEHIND THE CAMERA
A: Were there ever moments you were asked to put the camera down?
CODY SMYTH: It was rare honestly, but yes there was and because of it I got one of my favorite photos of them. It’s the photo of them on stage in an empty Hammerstein Ballroom here in NYC in 2001. I write all about it in the book. You’ll have to grab a copy to read about it lol.
A: Key to this collection is the fact you were there for the ride as a friend. Have you been asked to cover their baby showers or weddings yet?
CODY SMYTH: No never like professionally asked to cover that stuff, but of course I have tons and tons of personal photos. From weddings, birthdays, bachelor parties, personal hangs and such. But there is a reason those types of personal photos aren’t in the book. Editing the book was a fine line of figuring out how personal I/we wanted to go with it. It’s about the band, not our personal lives.
THE STYLE OF THE STROKES
A: Were you ever part of the conversation with regards to the retro graphics the band have always preferred?
CODY SMYTH: I believe Julian was and is usually the creative voice behind the album graphics and look for the most part. And with my book we tried to keep a similar feel and look with the dust cover jacket and pages inside.
A: How about assisting with the band’s wardrobe?
CODY SMYTH: To me, the clothes and style thing was such a natural progression. We went from being teens to young adults, so it was only natural all of our styles would change. I don’t think they ever really had a talk about how they should look or be perceived. But they did make a point of being with each other all the time and being seen as a collective.
A: There was a moment in time when Nick grew his hair and ditched the suit jacket & tie look, towards the end of the promotion for Room On Fire… Did you feel things were changing?
CODY SMYTH: Nick having short hair wasn’t anything new to me or us. He had long hair when we meet, as did I, then he cut it short, grew it back, like that.
A: Did moments like this ever influence your work or style of photography?
CODY SMYTH: I just kept shooting and they just kept playing, that’s all it really came down to. I think we are lucky enough to be the last generation of knowing what the world was like before social media, 9/11 and all the new shit that has come about in a very short time. I shot only on film in those days and they were playing rock n roll. Crazy how its seen as nostalgic now.
A: I’ve read before about a photograph of Nick having sex backstage at a gig which was then used on a flyer for a gig – anything to do with you?
CODY SMYTH: I remember that photo and I would never snap a shot like that of my dude lol. Some asshole in one of the other bands that played that night took the photo and then ended up putting it on their band flyer or album or some shit. Was a dipshit move honestly and we kind of wanted to kick his ass if I remember. It’s one thing to know what you’re putting out there, but it’s another when someone is just a prick.
THE BEST OF THE STROKES
A: Can you pick out your favourite songs from The Strokes back catalogue?
CODY SMYTH: I always liked “Hawaii” a lot! “50/50” is a rocker. “Welcome to Japan” & “Call It Fate, Call It Karma” I love. “Two Kinds of Happiness”. “Vision of Division”, “Ize of the World”, “You Only Live Once”, “Under Control” and “Someday” still holds close to me.
A: How did you see the band develop as artists? Not just as a collective but individually? Albert seemed destined to always make music but Nikolai’s solo career and Nick’s photography have really come on.
CODY SMYTH: I was always telling Nick to shoot on tour and what he was doing. He was in it, so why not document it. And I was always telling him to start writing some solo stuff. Finally, after years he got CRX together! Raw rock w/ some 80’s shit thrown in it… Fucking love it!
Albert’s shows these days are just amazing energy and he has always been a hard worker when it comes to his career. Little Joy was just its own thing and still holds up. I finally saw The Voidz last year and that shit blew me away! I got to see Nikolai in Summer Moon last year a few times and loved them!
A: Beyond the first 10 years (apologies), All The Time, for which the promotional video included a lot of archived home footage (any of it yours?), includes the lyrics “Soon you won’t have memories, only pictures” – do you share this sentiment?
CODY SMYTH: Nah, none of my footage is in the video. Funny enough the guys have never asked me to do any publicity shots or video for them. It always stayed personal and I shot what I shot when I could. Which in the long run maybe helped keep our friendship grounded. You know, I don’t know if I share that sentiment. I’ve taken so many photos in my life and they are all just a split moment of time. I still got a lot of memories floating around in there.
A: Music is very important to us here in Manchester. There’s a story of you and the band hanging with the Gallagher brothers in Philadelphia, how did that come about? What did you make of them?
CODY SMYTH: I have yet to get over to the UK and I would love to hit Manchester! Yeah I don’t know how they heard about the show, cause I don’t think the guys were signed yet and they were playing a tiny club in Philly where the entrance was in some alleyway. But they showed up and hung out after the show. Lots of drinking and other shit lol. Oasis played the big arena in Philly that night, so I can only guess someone in their camp told them the guys were playing. What a funny weird night…
A CAREER IN PHOTOGRAPHY
A: Everybody is a photographer these days, do you have any tips for those who are serious about making a career from it?
CODY SMYTH: The photo world is such a different thing these days. It changed so quickly with digital and then social media just pushed everything over the edge. Both of my parents were in the photo industry, so it was almost in my blood from birth and I knew early on what I wanted to do.
But with any art form sustaining a career in it can be hard. You have to be passionate about it, believe in your talent and just keep going. For all the career highs, there are just as many lows. But I always try and tell myself “don’t let the bastards grind ya down”.
A: Finally, what are you listening to at the moment? What was the last book you read? And the last movie you saw?
CODY SMYTH: My music still varies from day to day. Its all over the place. From Lil Wayne’s last album to what Jenny Lewis just put out, to just seeing what’s new and usually is crap lol. I’m always finding new songs from the 80’s, 70’s & 60’s that I wonder how I’m just hearing them.
I’m currently reading (or its on my night stand rather) the new Beastie Boys autobiography. I tend to read mostly autographically books when I can. And the last flix I watched was Creed 2. Nothing artistic or thought provoking, but I’ve got a 6 month old at home, so I’ll take what I can get these days lol.
We can’t stress this enough guys – grab yourself a book from https://www.codysmyth.com right now: