The band consists of, from left, guitarist Nick Valensi, singer Julian Casablancas, drummer Fabrizio Moretti, bassist Nikolai Fraiture and guitarist Albert Hammond Jr.

Earning some respect

The Strokes were raw-guitar beacons in a Britney-ized pop wilderness when the band burst onto the music scene in 2001 with its debut album, "Is This It?" The band's credited with singlehandedly reviving New York's sagging rock scene, spawning a slew of local garage-edged groups led by underweight, pasty-faced urbanites.

Strokes of genius?

The world's coolest band isn't all facade. They might also be the hardest working men in rock 'n' roll.

Who: The Strokes

Where: Pipeline Cafe, 805 Pohukaina St.

When: 7 p.m. Wednesday

Admission: $20, all ages (under 18 must be accompanied by an adult)

Call: 589-1999

On Wednesday the gang of five (as tight as the Beatles appeared in "A Hard Day's Night," living and working together) touch down in Honolulu for a second appearance in the islands.

While the Strokes' sound might seem repackaged familiarity, influenced by everyone from (especially) the Velvet Underground to the Cure, the band unabashedly credit their sources -- not to mention put an inimitable spin to tight, short and sweet tunes that display a high level of musicianship the band doesn't get enough credit for. With the release of its second album, "Room on Fire," in October, the Strokes are looking for some respect.

"We're more professional than people think we are. Really, we are," said guitarist Albert Hammond Jr., via cell phone from a bus en route to their Rome gig in mid-December. In the midst of a world tour, Hammond, 23, sounds a little weary, not to mention distracted by entourage antics. In midsentence he breaks away to shout "Bangkok!" to someone in the background. "Sorry," apologizes the son of songwriter Albert Hammond (he penned the Hollies' hit "The Air That I Breathe").

Maybe it's the insouciant poses in photos and privileged upbringings (Hammond and front man Julian Casablancas met at the prestigious Swiss boarding school Le Rosey) that make the hippest men in rock as reviled as adored, but there's no reason to doubt Hammond. The new album's single, "12:51," has a by-now famous Cars-like rollicking synthesizer line -- or so it seems.

That's actually Nick Valensi, 22, using distortion to make his guitar sound like a clinically clean Roland synthesizer. "Nick was fooling around with jazz tones. We tweaked it more and more, and it got a lot cooler," explains Hammond.

When asked if he's sick of hearing how much the song sounds like the Cars, Hammond chuckles, then says with a shot of ennui, "I don't really care anymore."

Then there's Fabrizio Moretti's rat-a-tat drumming, so precise that it has led some critics to believe the band uses a drum machine. Moretti is also famous for dating Drew Barrymore (who will just happen to be in town at the same time for the media junket the Columbia movie studio is planning for Adam Sandler's upcoming "50 First Dates," of which she is the co-star). And Nikolai Fraiture, 25, drives the songs with his relentless double-time bass lines.

art BUT, OF COURSE, it's the singer who is the face of the Strokes. Casablancas, son of the modeling mogul John, brands the band with his from-the-throat slurring, which sounds like it's coming out of a cardboard tube from a roll of paper towels. And the words that he sings are vignettes and stolen snatches of conversation, often about a guy trying to meet, then shake off a girl, from "So many fish in the sea/I wanted you, you wanted me" on "Automatic Stop" to "Said my goodbyes to the life we won't have together" on "The Way It Is."

The sounds all come together in a second album that has received unanimous raves from the music press -- not because the Strokes grew up, but because, like the Simpsons, they haven't changed. The album delivers 33 enervating minutes of the Strokes we know and love. Why fix what isn't broke?

Hammond says it took six to eight months to write, record and produce the 11 short songs ("Between Love and Hate" is the longest at a whopping 3:15). Casablancas quit drinking while working on "Room on Fire." These boys take work seriously.

How does the band manage to stay focused on the music with the distractions -- supermodels, fab party invites, photo shoots -- that come with rising rock stardom?

"It's very hard for us," admitted Hammond, who then added: "It actually doesn't take focus away, it's annoying. And on the road, we don't go to that many parties."

Which leads to a second question: After living together (Hammond and Casablancas share a two-bedroom apartment in the East Village), making the album together and now touring together, how do the Strokes manage to be together so much without killing each other?

"We work with good people," said Hammond, "and you know when to go away when needed."

Before heading to Australia, the band will get a midtour break here, staying for "a week to 10 days," according to Hammond, who looks forward to the visit. "The water, it's sunny, there's good food."

And surfing?

"I try. I wouldn't call myself a surfer, and I obviously wouldn't be going out on the North Shore. Two to 3 is big enough for me," said Hammond, who grew up in Los Angeles.

For all the Lower East Side, I'm-cool-enough-to-walk-around-with-bedhead posturing, Hammond is a polite young man. He ends the interview with a quiet "Have a good day."

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