Julian Casablancas and his band The Voidz are set to release their new album, Virtue, on March 30th. With just a few weeks to go, the frontman spoke at length with Vulture journalist David Marchese about the record and a variety of other topics. But it was his comments on Ed Sheeran that proved most noteworthy, as Casablancas attributed the pop singer’s popularity to “cultural brainwashing.”
Throughout the interview, Casablancas spoke about his growing fascination with politics (he’s “much more interested in politics than music” these days), as well as the role of the corporate machine in today’s political society (“we’re essentially at war, a modern war against a calculator”). He also drew parallels between the political world and the music world, alluding to a kind of “propaganda” that leads to the wrong kind of artists becoming popular.
Specifically, The Strokes leader is bothered by Sheeran’s rise to fame. “Today someone like Ariel Pink is relatively unknown,” he remarked to Vulture. “In another era he would’ve been much more popular.” He cited David Bowie as an example of an artist who he also thinks probably didn’t get as much mainstream attention as he deserved during his time:
“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.”
When Marchese pointed out that Sheeran and Pink are operating on different levels of artistry and seeking different forms of success, Casablancas replied, “Everything you’re saying sounds 100% like cultural brainwashing.” The Voidz rocker went on to explain:
“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.”
While Pink has some ways to go before reaching Sheeran’s global pop star status, Casablancas said he’s doing his part to make that happen somehow. “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,” he explained. “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.”
Read the full interview here.