Photographer Cody Smyth watched his high school friends’ band The Strokes — with members Julian Casablancas, Nick Valensi, Albert Hammond Jr., Nikolai Fraiture, and Fab Moretti — go from a regular staple of New York City dive bars to what the music world hailed as the second coming of rock and roll. In this excerpt from his new book, The Strokes: The First Ten Years, he remembers a night he calls “the last quiet moment” before everything changed. Included is a gallery of photos Smyth took from the first ten years of The Strokes’ rise to fame.
A lunch brought us together for the first time in 1995. From that point on we were inseparable. I had met our dear friend, Claude Rene, or “Gramps,” as we all called him then, in an early morning chemistry class. I was habitually late, which Claude found incredibly entertaining. We bonded instantly. Claude knew Julian as they had gone to elementary school together. He knew Nick as the kid who was always at the Flats or the Meadow in Central Park with his guitar. Julian and I had some classes together, but didn’t talk much beyond some friendly greetings. Nick and I had met briefly in the locker room as our lockers were near each other, but that was about it.
One morning in the hall between classes I run into Claude, and we make a plan to meet out in front of school for lunch. Bell rings and I head out to meet him. “We got two more joining us,” he says as Nick and Jules approach. “I know you two!” I say. They say the same as it all clicks. We head to 86th and Columbus to the shitty Greek diner we would frequent for many a lunch that year and the remainder of high school, mostly because you could smoke cigs and get fries and a coke for 2 bucks. Nutrition for a teenage boy came cheap. Our waiter was George. We called him “three fingers” because he would bring us our water with his fat fingers in the glasses. I remember Julian ripping into him once about it, but it was our spot. We all hung out there most school days. It wasn’t long before we met Fab. He and Nick were in tenth grade, and although Fab had his own set of friends, we would always see him. He started coming to lunches with us at the diner. This was the beginning of the band.
Between 2000 & 2001, the bar 2A on Ave A and 2nd Street was our home base. If I couldn’t get a hold of Nick or one of the other guys I would usually head there knowing I’d find them. Transporterraum recording studio was across the street from the bar, and the guys were holed up with Gordon Raphael down there for a month or two recording Is This It.
During that era, whenever we were hanging or if they played a show I tried to just keep documenting and shooting as much as possible. Not overthinking it or trying to make a photo happen, but whatever I felt like snapping or saw at those moments.
When they played Don Hill’s, all I had was my point-and-shoot Yashica T4. Back then, you could still smoke inside venues in the city and a bunch of my frames had smoke haze. In one hand my camera and a cig, and the other clutching a beer. Funny thing is that whole show is a blur now, but I remember thinking we didn’t have a care in the world.
Halloween night, 2001, the guys played Hammerstein Ballroom. Everything was already forever changed after Is This It had dropped. This was the biggest venue in the city they had played at this point and it just felt like it was going to be special. I met them there for sound check to shoot and just take in how surreal it was all starting to feel. I shot them on stage and down in front while they practiced. My favorite frame from that night is from the very back of the room. It seems like the last quiet moment before everything went crazy for them.