The Strokes formed at a young age, with each of the members connected in some way to lead singer/songwriter Julian Casablancas. Casablancas, guitarist Nick Valensi, and drummer Fabrizio Moretti started playing together while attending Manhattan's Dwight School. Bassist Nikolai Fraiture had been friends with Julian and was attending the Lycee Francais de New York. At age 13, Casablancas was sent to Le Rosey, a boarding school in Switzerland in order to straighten up his behavior, as he developed drinking problems at a young age and was consequently doing poorly in school. While there, Casablancas became acquainted with guitarist Albert Hammond, Jr.. Years later, when Hammond came to New York to attend New York University's Tisch School of the Arts, they became reacquainted and began sharing an apartment together. They officially christened themselves The Strokes. Their popularity increased quickly, especially on the Lower East Side of New York, and they began to perform at Manhattan's popular Mercury Lounge, where Ryan Gentles was in charge of booking. Gentles was so impressed by the band that he quit his job in order to become their manager.
While keeping their day jobs (Casablancas was a bartender, Hammond worked at Kim's Video, and Valensi waited tables at upscale Manhattan restaurants) The Strokes began rehearsing and forming a ten to twelve song catalogue which included "Last Nite", "The Modern Age", "This Life" (an early version of "Trying Your Luck"), "New York City Cops", "Soma" and "Someday" among others. Most of these songs now feature different lyrics. Songs titled "Sagganuts," "In Her Prime," "Rhythm Song," "A Minor 4-4," "Elephant Song" (written for Hammond's music studies), and three with unknown titles were dropped from their repertoire.. "Rhythm Song," "In Her Prime," and "This Life" were available on an early EP available from Kim's Video and Other Music in 2000.
Gordon Raphael, a small-time rock producer of New York's underground rock scene, attended one of the Strokes' early concerts. Years later he admitted that he actually went to watch the other band that played that night. Raphael gave Hammond his telephone number, saying he could record a demo for them.
The Modern Age EP was released in 2001, and sparked a bidding war among record labels; the largest for a rock and roll band in years. Subsequently, The Strokes became the subject of enormous hype, causing a great divide among rock fans, albeit mostly hipsters and independent magazines.
The Strokes released their debut album Is This It in the US in October 2001 on RCA after some delay due to changes made from the UK-released version (released 27th August 2001). The cover of the latter features a black-and-white photo of a gloved hand on a woman's naked backside, shown in semi-profile, and is said to reference Spinal Tap's fictitious Smell the Glove. The North American version replaces this with an image of particle collisions and the song "New York City Cops" with "When It Started". The replacement of "New York City Cops", which contains the refrain New York City Cops, they ain't too smart, was made in good faith following the September 11 attacks. The album received very good reviews from both mainstream and independent publications, including 4 stars from Rolling Stone, and a 9.1 from Pitchfork Media; it made many critics' top 10 lists, and was named the best album of the year by Entertainment Weekly and TIME. NME, in an article previewing summer concerts, dubbed theirs the one to attend because The Strokes were touring on the strength of some of the "best pop songs ever". The influence of Seventies CBGB stalwarts Television was noted by many reviewers, although The Strokes themselves have repeatedly stated that they are not fans of the band. Julian performed while sitting on a chair as a result of an injury suffered to his knee. The same was repeated at their Reading Festival headline slot.
During that period, the band also appeared as musical guest on Saturday Night Live (performing "Last Nite" and "Hard to Explain"), The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, Late Night with Conan O'Brien and The Late Show with David Letterman.
Is This It yielded several singles as well as video clips, all of which were directed by Roman Coppola.
The group began recording their follow-up in 2002 with producer Nigel Godrich (best known for his work with Radiohead), but later split with him in favor of Gordon Raphael, the producer of Is This It. Recordings with Godrich were never revealed.
In August 2003, the band toured Japan, playing a couple of the upcoming songs: "Reptilia", "Meet Me In The Bathroom", "The Way It Is", "Between Love & Hate" (formerly known as "Ze Newie") and "12:51" (formerly known as "Supernova"). The band also played Paul Anka's "My Way" with Japanese lyrics.
The band dedicated the new songs to David Rehof
They released their second album Room on Fire in October 2003, to good reviews, but to less success commercially, although it still went gold. The album's sound maintained the Strokes' familiar reference points, while also evoking groups such as The Cars, Bob Marley, and Blondie. In the process, they made the cover of Spin Magazine for the second time, with each member receiving his own cover. They also made the cover of Rolling Stone for the first time. Additional media coverage of the band has come from the relationship between Moretti and actress Drew Barrymore, which ended in January 2007.
The first single taken from Room on Fire was the song "12:51", which features distinct keyboard-like sounds produced by Valensi's guitar. The video was also directed by Roman Coppola, and was inspired by the futuristic look of Tron.
In November 2003, The Strokes had a Tuesday residency on Late Night with Conan O'Brien that was dubbed "Strokevember". They performed "Reptilia", "What Ever Happened", "Under Control" and "I Can't Win".
During the 2003/2004 "Room on Fire Tour", the band played with Kings of Leon as support act and Regina Spektor. While on tour, Spektor and the Strokes recorded the song "Modern Girls & Old Fashion Men", released as a b-side on the "Reptilia" single. Also during the tour, the band included The Clash's "Clampdown" as a cover, which was released as the b-side for The End Has No End.
In late 2004, The Strokes revealed plans to release a live album. The Live in London LP was planned for release in October 2004, but was abandoned, reportedly due to recording quality problems. The chosen gig was one held at the legendary Alexandra Palace in northern London.
In early February 2005, Julian Casablancas wed long-time friend and assistant band manager Juliet Joslin.
The Strokes had a 3-concert South American tour in October 2005, featuring dates in Brazil, Chile, and Argentina. Their set in Argentina included a cover version of "A Salty Salute", a song written by the band Guided by Voices.
In late September 2005, the first single from the then unreleased album First Impressions of Earth, "Juicebox", was leaked online, forcing the single's release date to be pushed up. The single was then released as an exclusive on online download services. "Juicebox" became The Strokes' second UK Top 10 hit, as well as their second US Modern Rock Top 10 success.
During November and December 2005 the Strokes did a promotion tour for the still unreleased album First Impressions of Earth. This involved doing one-off shows in major cities around the world. In order; Tokyo, Sydney, London, Paris, Amsterdam, Stockholm, Berlin, Milan, Madrid, Chicago, Seattle, Los Angeles, Atlanta. Approximately 600 tickets were made available to each show. Ticketholders either battled the weather, camping outside ticket box offices in the middle of the European winter, or were the winners of radio competitions. These concerts attracted celebrity guests including Oasis, Franz Ferdinand, Coldplay and Jarvis Cocker.
Their third album, First Impressions of Earth, was released in January 2006 to mixed reviews and debuted at Number 4 in the US album charts and Number 1 in the UK, a first for the band. In Japan it went gold within the first week of release. The album was the most downloaded album for two weeks on iTunes. The Strokes revealed that they had built their own studio in New York's Hell's Kitchen, officially called Red Carpet Studios, in order to record the third album, due to the financial pressures of recording in a rented studio. When asked to comment on the third album, Julian said: "It's like a seedless watermelon. I like it". In a later interview, Nikolai Fraiture elaborated on Julian's statement, saying that the album was "like a scientific breakthrough". On January 21, 2006, the band then made their second appearance as musical guests on Saturday Night Live playing "Juicebox" and "You Only Live Once".
January 24, 2006 marked the first of 18 sold-out shows during their UK tour, which included 2 dates at the Hammersmith Apollo where The Strokes played a surprise cover of "Life's A Gas" by The Ramones. They also played dates at the Point Theatre in Dublin, Ireland. Two days after the tour ended, on February 23, 2006, The Strokes won "Best International Band" at the NME Awards. Casablancas thanked NME, saying "it's still the best music mag around". On February 27, 2006, The Strokes performed the song "Heart in a Cage" on The Late Show with David Letterman in support of the upcoming U.S. tour. On March 1, 2006, The Strokes returned to the United States with their longest tour yet, beginning with 3 sold-out shows at the Hammerstein Ballroom in New York.
The second single off First Impressions of Earth was "Heart in a Cage", a song which reminded some critics of "The Passenger" by Iggy Pop. Released on March 13, 2006, the CD1 version of the single features their Ramones cover as a B-side, while the CD2 version features an early version of the song "You Only Live Once" (previously named "I'll Try Anything Once") and the video for the lead track.
On March 29, 2006 and May 3, 2006, The Strokes appeared on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno and Late Night with Conan O'Brien, respectively, and played upcoming single, "You Only Live Once". Released on July 27, 2006, the single also featured a cover of Marvin Gaye's "Mercy Mercy Me" as a b-side. Pearl Jam frontman Eddie Vedder and Josh Homme of Queens of the Stone Age contributed to the track, with Vedder and Julian Casablancas sharing vocals and Homme joining Fabrizio Moretti on drums. Vedder had previously joined The Strokes on-stage during their set at the Rolling Stone 1000th cover celebration at the Hammerstein Ballroom in early May of 2006. Lou Reed also made an appearance during the set for his song, "Walk on the Wild Side".
During the summer of 2006, The Strokes played several festival dates in Europe, including such well known venues as the Hultsfred Festival in Sweden, Roskilde Festival in Denmark, the Oxegen Festival in Ireland (during this concert they were to be followed by The Who but due to the overwhelming reaction of the crowd they ended up staying on longer than scheduled),the Montreux Jazz Festival in Switzerland and the FIB (Festival Internacional of Benicassim) in Benicassim (Spain). They then toured Australia and Mexico in late August and early September, followed by the second leg of the United States tour. While in the US, The Strokes opened for Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers for five shows during their Highway Companion tour. The Strokes went on to complete another US tour. During this final tour Casablancas stated to fans that the band would be taking an extensive break after it finished. An e-mail was sent out soon afterwards by Strokes manager Ryan Gentles, confirming that a "much needed break" would be taken.