Hard To Explain

Album: Is This It (2001)
Charted: 16
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Songfacts®:

  • This song makes the statement that it's not a good idea to try and understand everything - some things just are the way they are and you shouldn't worry about them.
  • According to lead singer Julian Casablancas, the lyrics are not as important as the music in the songs he writes for The Strokes. He comes up with melodies and chords, then adds lyrics. >>
    Suggestion credit:
    Bertrand - Paris, France, for above 2
  • This was the album's first single. While it didn't make the Hot 100 in the US, it did peak at #27 on the Modern Rock Tracks chart.
  • At the request of their record label, the group started recording sessions with producer Gil Norton, who was known for working with alt-rock bands like the Pixies and the Foo Fighters. But he wasn't a good fit for The Strokes, who thought the Norton sessions sounded too clean. With Norton out, they approached Gordon Raphael, who had produced their EP The Modern Age in a basement studio. Raphael was already kicking himself for losing the band, who had just been written up in Rolling Stone, when he got the call from Casablancas. "For some reason they just felt that because of the way my basement was presented, which was pretty comfortable and pretty funky, that was where they wanted to party and make music," Raphael told Sound on Sound in 2002.
  • The Strokes had a listening session with Raphael before they got to work on the album. The producer recalled: "The first time we met, I think it was Julian who said 'We want to sound like a band from the past that took a time trip into the future to make their record.' Maybe some producers would be thinking about what they need to do to make something radio-friendly or make sure that the A&R guy loves the way it is mixed, while presenting the band with the most professional, state-of-the-art approach. I think I like to identify what the most interesting and important sounds are, and make sure they are heard loud and clear. The Strokes had already announced to me that they wanted to take what was happening in music and go in a completely different direction, doing something that wouldn't sound like it was made today. That was one of the prerequisites mentioned in our first meeting."
  • Casablancas also told Raphael he wanted the album to sound like "your favorite blue jeans: not totally destroyed but worn-in, comfortable."
  • Raphael on collaborating with the band's drummer, Fabrizio Moretti, do achieve the snare sound on the track: "To get a proper drum-machine-gated snare on 'Hard To Explain', we had to put the hi-hat on the other side of the drum kit, and that was Fab's idea: 'Maybe if I put the hi-hat four feet away from the snare mic, I can still play it with another hand and keep time, but there won't be any bleed.' That was a great move, because we had a coherent, live sound, not an overdubbed hi-hat."
  • The international release of Is This It features a black-and-white shot of a bare bottom being pat by a gloved hand. The bottom belongs to photographer Colin Lane's girlfriend. Concerns over whether the album art would be censored by conservative US retailers necessitated a different cover for the American version, which uses an image of subatomic particle in a bubble chamber.
  • This was used on the BBC TV series Waterloo Road in the 2014 episode "Suspicious Minds." It was also featured in the 2004 movie The Door In The Floor, starring Jeff Bridges and Elle Fanning.
  • The Strokes performed this, along with "Last Nite," on Saturday Night Live on January 19, 2002.
  • Indie pop/classical performer Owen Pallett covered this for Stereogum's 10th anniversary tribute to the album. Pallett's take was inspired by a quote by Regina Spektor, who said, "The thing that blew my mind first hearing the Strokes was that they were the closest I had heard rock come to classical. Their music is extraordinarily orderly and composed."

    Pallet said of his version: "I re-imagined the Strokes as a piano quintet, and had us all playing hard, fast and mechanical. I can't sing it as well as Julian, but he's a really good singer - I think he had might have had lessons - not that it matters."

Comments: 1

  • Layton from Paris, TxI agree with Casablancas on his song writing style. In the words of Kurt Cobain, music first, and lyrics second :D
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