Strokes drummer Fabrizio Moretti finds a big catharsis in Little Joy

by Len Righi

The Morning Call (Allentown, Pa.) (MCT)

18 November 2008


One of the oldest jokes in rock ‘n’ roll goes like this:

“What’s the last thing a band wants to hear the drummer say?

“‘Hey guys, why don’t we try one of my songs?’”

Well, at least one drummer may have the last laugh. On Nov. 4, Fabrizio Moretti, stickman for indie-rock hipsters The Strokes, released a CD he recorded with his girlfriend, singer-guitarist Binki Shapiro, and singer-guitarist-keyboardist Rodrigo Amarante of Rio de Janeiro indie-rockers Los Hermanos. It’s called “Little Joy,” which also happens to be the band name chosen by Moretti, Shapiro and Amarante, and its lilting pleasures are as plentiful and charming as they are unexpected.

“Making this record was learning how to be humble again,” says Moretti from Los Angeles after finishing a breakfast of bacon, eggs and toast. “It was therapeutic for me and for Binki and Rodrigo.

“Rodrigo was going through tough times with his band and I was on hiatus with my band, not knowing what was coming next. And I had all these lost love kind of feelings. ... If I hadn’t made this record I would be sucking my thumb in a corner. It turned out to be a big catharsis for all of us.”

“Little Joy,” named for an Echo Park lounge in Los Angeles where the band members lived and recorded, shares little of The Strokes’ trademark swagger or snarl. But its unprepossessing pop songs are chilled with urban cool and served with a chaser of loungey Brazilian tropicalia.

“We tried writing about love from every kind of perspective,” says Moretti, who plays guitar, piano, bass and melodica on “Little Joy.” “We weren’t trying to revolutionize anything, just trying to sing about what we were feeling. ... Some (songs) were born of real heartbreak and some from a new kind of hope, a new discovery of love.”

One instance of the former is the disc’s most Strokes-like track, “Keep Me in Mind,” about a crestfallen guy who’s told by his ex that “some day you’ll learn to be someone better fit to pursue me.” “That was in a letter I got a while ago telling me I was no longer someone’s boyfriend,” says Moretti, who had a high-profile five-year relationship with actress Drew Barrymore end in January 2007 and has dated “Spider-Man” star Kirsten Dunst.

Similarly, the reggae-tinted pop song “Shoulder to Shoulder,” while dreamily romantic on the surface, has a sharp edge. “It’s about the inevitability of lost love,” says Moretti, “and how we repeat the mistakes of our parents. ... Two people, no matter how close, cannot be one person, ever.”

On the other end of the spectrum are the warm and bubbly “Next Time Around” and the breezy, sunshiny “Brand New Start.” “When I fell in love with Binki I had to express that,” says Moretti.

Because virtually all of The Strokes’ material is written by singer Julian Casablancas, Moretti had a stockpile of tunes. And though several of them ended up on “Little Joy,” “none of them had their identity until all three of us had our hands in it,” Moretti points out. “That’s representative of how we work as a band.”

He cites the rootsy track “Don’t Watch Me Dancing” as a prime example. “The verse was Rodrigo’s, the chorus was mine, and Binki turned it into something different when she started singing the song.”

Rio-born, New York City-bred Moretti, whose brother in Brazil would send him tapes of Amarante’s music, finally met the Los Hermanos frontman when the Strokes played at the same festival in Lisbon, Portugal. When Amarante came to work in Los Angeles with Devendra Banhart on his 2007 album “Smokey,“they renewed the acquaintance and started making music. Then Binki was brought on board.

Before the Strokes reconvene in February “to throw ideas around” - the band has been inactive since releasing its third studio album, “First Impressions of Earth,” in 2006 - Moretti, Shapiro and Amarante, along with a drummer and bassist, have hit the road in support of “Little Joy.” Their 17-date tour began Nov. 7 in St. Paul, Minn.

Asked how Little Joy’s relatively delicate music will be received in grungy clubs, Moretti replies with a laugh, “I’ve got my fingers crossed. We’ve got the (Portland, Ore.-based) Dead Trees opening up for us, and they’re a rock ‘n’ roll band, so that should help.

“I really wanted a magician to open for us,” he adds. “That would prepare people for our slow-a—music.”

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