Things Change for Albert Hammond Jr.
Most famous as the guitarist in the Strokes, the New York band that was rock’s great hope for a minute in the early 2000s, Albert Hammond Jr. embarked on a solo career back in 2006 when he released his debut album Yours to Keep. He followed it up with ¿Cómo Te Llama? in 2008. After a stint in rehab, he returned in 2013 with the AHJ. His most recent solo album, Momentary Masters, was released this summer. It’s a solid collection of catchy pop/rock songs that suggest he’s matured as a singer and songwriter. He recently phoned us from his upstate New York home, where he had just moved earlier this year.
I saw you at Lollapalooza where you performed after the evacuation. You did a good job of pulling it together.
That was crazy. I didn’t understand it at first. I was like, “What do you mean evacuate?” It was going to rain. I didn’t want to evacuate.
You had little in terms of soundcheck.
That was definitely hard. Switching the time was tough too. We switched it just to make a flight we didn’t catch anyway. Crazy. Makes for a good story, though.
Being the frontman isn’t anything new for you but talk about what it was like to make that transition initially.
I always feel like it’s a work in progress. I think at first, I didn’t fully understand because I had been in a band. It was partly there but I was afraid to put the weight on my shoulders. The only difference with this one is that I’m aware of what it is. I’m accepting good or bad and putting that on my shoulders. I’m going forward with something that can establish myself.
And what about transitioning to the main songwriter?
Yeah. That was different. Still okay so far. Maybe if you ask me in the moment, I’ll be like, “Goddammit.” Right now, it seems okay. The songs came together. The album is done. It’s a different thing and sometimes it can be exhausting.
Talk about making the new album with producer Gus Oberg, who I understand is a friend of yours. You started working on the songs in your barn, is that right?
That was the whole thing. I had a few demos from what I did in the city. We had “Born Slippy” and an old version of “Touché.” I had these demos I had done. The band excited me. I wanted to arrange with a band. We were trying it out with these three songs. When I saw how everyone pushed their parts in new directions, the songs would change and I’d rework them in the moment. I thought, “Oh shit, I should bring in the raw forms.” So I did that. It was a bit shaky at first. Then, we figured out how to communicate with each other and it just took off. Everyone gave me so much feedback. I could focus on melody and words and other things. It was a great collaboration. Everyone took this album to the next level.
You consider Gus a friend, right?
I think he’s a first and foremost a best friend and it so happens to be that he is the engineer and producer. We learned a lot of stuff together. He pushes me in different directions and everyone else too. I like that. It’s nice to have someone who tells you how it is even if you disagree.
What inspired the song “Losing Touch”? Do you sometimes feel out of touch?
I don’t remember now. I know I would sing the words for a while. I liked that idea of losing touch with things. Things are almost better even though you’re getting away from them. It’s an emotion that we can all relate to. Things pass and you feel like you’re no longer a part of them. You can understand that or not. I like the idea of not going anywhere.
I thought it worked as a love song too.
I can go through the record and tell you things that I felt and then it will also mean something else. I think that’s what so great about songs. Everyone will feel their own connection to them. I know I did when I listened to songs when I grew up. I wanted to see what people thought about other things in life but when it came to the songs I had my own impact with it. Things change for me. When I was in LA a lyric in the song meant something different.
Talk about “Don’t Think Twice” and what you tried to do with the Dylan tune.
My friends who have Dylan Fest and Stones Fest and Petty Fest for this charity called Sweet Relief were doing one in Dublin. They were doing a Dylan one and I said I would do it but I didn’t want to just play a song. I did a demo of the song and it was fun. Then I got home and I liked listening to new melodies and the in-between parts where the harmonica used to be. There was a modern arrangement of it. I wanted to tweak it and find the right rhythm for my voice and everything. It fell into place. It worked on the album. It felt like a good thing to make the last four songs work better. It was a good ear break.
And what about “Born Slippy?” What’s that a reference to?
It was a song from the early ‘90s. It was in Trainspotting. It was by Underworld. They had a song called “Born Slippy.” I always liked that idea. It’s like Razor’s Edge. We live in constant cycles and constant change. We’re constantly slipping away from things we have a grasp on it and starting something new. I guess it’s not a word, but I like it. In music, you can get away with stuff like that. It’s like “Coming to Getcha.” It would be “Coming to Get You,” but that doesn’t sound right.
Has sobriety affected your music?
I spent a year-and-half in rehab and you find a way to enter life and you don’t know how. It reminds you of how you did everything in the beginning, as cheesy as it sounds, but like when you were a kid. When I fell in love with music I wanted to write great songs. The story behind rock ‘n’ roll was interesting to me but it’s not the main focus. The songs are always the main focus. You get that back with a bunch of knowledge. It’s this great place to be. Since you learn how to not live solely on emotions that constantly change you can feel things and separate things from how you’re living. You don’t have to go with everything you feel. That also helped. Having the time to think about those things is good. You go on pause when you get too fucked up and stop learning things. There’s a flood of new things. That in turn gives you new inspiration, which is probably pretty natural if you didn’t do drugs.
What’s the status of the Strokes?
I don’t know. We haven’t had a band meeting. We have two shows coming up. I imagine we’ll do something else, but I just don’t know yet.
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