"Poor Nigel Godrich was in a state": why The Strokes 'lost' follow-up to Is This It recorded with Radiohead’s producer Was Not It

The Strokes in New York
(Image credit: Jamie McCarthy/WireImage)

The Strokes were between a rock and a hard place when it came to following up their debut album. Released in 2001, Is This It completely reshaped the indie-rock landscape, ushering in a new era of rock’n’roll bands with a lo-fi approach to production. The New Yorkers’ much-anticpated second album was a stick or twist situation – keep with the pared-down, minimalist sonics of Is This It or mix things up and expand their palette?

As it was, 2003’s Room On Fire went with the former approach, delivering a sort of like-for-like companion piece to Is This It that might not have had the immediacy of its predecessor but stands up as a fine record two decades later. It could have been very different, though.

Whilst Room On Fire was eventually recorded with Is This It producer Gordon Raphael, in Lizzy Goodman’s excellent book Meet Me In The Bathroom: Rebirth And Rock And Roll In New York City 2001-2011, it’s revealed that the group initially went into sessions for the album with Radiohead producer Nigel Godrich. The tale gives a tantalising glimpse into what could have been a startling reinvention for Julian Casablancas & co., although the reality is that the pairing just didn’t work.

“The tryout lasted ten days,” says Steve Ralbovsky, The Strokes’ A&R man. “They worked on Meet Me In The Bathroom and one or two other songs. It was so hard going method-wise for Nigel. He wanted to record a certain way and Julian wanted to record a certain way.”

The two apparently butted heads over issues as incremental as hi-hat sounds, it’s said in the book.

“Poor Nigel Godrich was in a state,” continues Ralbovsky. “He didn’t want to let anyone down, but he felt like, ‘Maybe they’re not ready, maybe I’m not the right guy for it’… They just weren’t ready. They had to it themselves.”

Jim Merlis, who worked as the band’s publicist, says that Ralbovsky has heard the Godrich recordings and raved about them.

“I’d love to hear what those recordings sounded like. I never even heard it… Steve said it was great.”

As it was, The Strokes and Nigel Godrich never worked together again. The band did venture outside of their comfort zone on their next record, 2005’s First Impressions Of Earth adopting a more expansive and dynamic approach. They’ve never managed to recapture that early magic, though. Their second record was the one that got away.

Niall Doherty

Niall Doherty is a writer and editor whose work can be found in Classic Rock, The Guardian, Music Week, FourFourTwo, on Apple Music and more. Formerly the Deputy Editor of Q magazine, he co-runs the music Substack letter The New Cue with fellow former Q colleagues Ted Kessler and Chris Catchpole. He is also Reviews Editor at Record Collector. Over the years, he's interviewed some of the world's biggest stars, including Elton John, Coldplay, Arctic Monkeys, Muse, Pearl Jam, Radiohead, Depeche Mode, Robert Plant and more. Radiohead was only for eight minutes but he still counts it.