Interview: Albert Hammond Jr On Touring Sober, The Strokes and New Album 'Momentary Masters'
Albert Hammond Jr.'s life is a lot different today than when he first started making music with The Strokes. Now 35 years old, the singer and guitarist is no longer that scrappy kid living a wild life. He's confident, a little jokey and, most importantly, finally sober. Though Hammond has come a long way, one thing still remains: the guy knows how to work his way around a melody.
In July, Hammond released his third solo album (and first in seven years), Momentary Masters. Fans of The Strokes who are a little confused of put off of Julian Casablancas' Voidz will find comfort in this music. While it has introspective lyrics and rich tones as well as Hammond's voice to make it unique, the insatiable and irresistible hooks that helped launch The Strokes to the forefront of the music world are very much there.
On Wednesday (Sept. 9), Hammond will embark on a North American tour in support of Momentary Masters. Music Times chatted with him about the new LP, hitting the road and Miss Cleo.
Music Times: I want to start talking about your new album Momentary Masters, it's a little less poppy sounding than your first two solo records; it has deeper tones to it. What influenced you to go in this direction?
Albert Hammond Jr.: I grew up with what was once called pop, but is now -- I don't know what it's called. Beatles, Bowie and Talking Heads you know melodic rock 'n' roll so it's always there. A few years ago, I started listening to The Wipers and Wire and Misfits and there was this energy in it, and I loved their songs but I didn't want to mimic their sound so much. I didn't want to all of a sudden be that but I definitely wanted to mimic their energy. So I focused more on that and other things that happened were just happy accidents I guess, or just a process of working something out and having a band and the song getting better so I had to keep on pushing and pushing. I did my own arrangements. I was doing demos myself to arrange it and so that only can get so far. I'm pretty lazy when it comes to stuff like that got to be honest, so it only goes so far when you don't want to record it 15 times.
MT: The album starts off in a unique way with a phone message about Miss Cleo, what's the story behind that?
AHJ: Ahh, it's this great four-minute thing we have. Some woman called believing that my wife was, or I guess me, Miss Cleo. Some man she was with was cheating with this girl and that she found out she had... she went to the doctor or something so she wanted to call and tell her that she had something. It's good fortune that Gus our engineer and producer started recording it, 'cause it's really funny. She just goes on a rant and Justyna gets calmer and calmer and she just gets more and more angry. Yeah it's a wrong number essentially.
MT: That's a really strange fortune; I kind of love that.
AHJ: Gus had it in there he likes stuff like that in albums and then Ben who mixed it, he placed it in that spot and when I walked in to hear the mix it like, "Well that's not going anywhere."
MT: Speaking of the album's tones, I noticed that the lyrics on Momentary Masters feel a little more introspective as well. What was your inspiration for those?
AHJ: It's hard to get a general theme but I feel like in the songs I can go over words and give examples to what I was thinking but in some of my thinking there are 10 different reasons. An example I'll give "Born Slippy" because it's right there. "Sometimes the sun goes behind the clouds and you forget the warmth that could be found." Just that idea of basically this too shall pass. When things change you can get stuck thinking things were never good. Or there was never a way out. Everyone's always survived; you know when people say, "I can't live if life's like this," and then they are living as they are saying it.
So just that idea of that it's always there and that just kind of involves a lot of shadow work I was doing and just reading about one's shadow and inner things. So that comes out in different parts. But it's basically just different emotions and then mixed with, it's different than writing a poem, not that I write poetry. Melodies have power over words. Depending on what things say, so sometimes you just, like creating imagery with what the melody is doing. "Side Boob" does that to me, and the choruses for "Coming to Getcha" and "Drunched in Crumbs" are really, I feel, like the best combination of what I thought I was doing.
But I don't know what themes aside from I really enjoy it. It's the enjoyment theme. It's fun to think different thing and ponder and try to find new ways to write ways people have felt or think about -- things we all have in common. Mix that with entertainment from the music and see if we can all have a good time a laugh leave a little more awesome than when we came in.
MT: I was reading that initially after you got sober a few years ago you struggled to get back into the way of writing. You sort of eased into it first writing a single for The Strokes then your EP from 2015. Can you talk about how this album actually came about? When did you start working on this record and what was the writing process like?
AHJ: You're always kind of writing. Some of those parts came from that time that I was in-between, before the EP. Some parts are really old. You have like a Dictaphone and you put it on your computer and you have folders and everything named like working titles, everything. So that's already takes a while but then you start listening to stuff and stuff comes together and it's all new. The intro to "Losing Touch" is from like 2003. That's like a small thing most of the things are very very new.
I don't know after the EP, or right around the EP, I just kept on writing a lot of stuff and it got put in folders and when the time came I had like three rough demos of "Born Slippy", "Caught By My Shadow" and "Touche." The band came in and when I realized that we could do something bigger than me making demos and them playing it, we started to interact with our playing and that grew the album to a different place. We went back and forth with each other kind of pushing each other and then I was able to bring in songs that were rawer state.
"Side Boob" was a good example. It was four piano songs, and I had always wanted to spread it out over guitars but I hadn't had the chance. Instead of doing that and showing them, I was just like, "Well look this is the idea and see where we go." That's where the breakthrough was; we started that day and it was a bit of a nightmare at the start. Everyone just wanted to play over each other and then we kind of figured it out and everyone began to understand where I was coming from. By the nighttime we were doing the end part and I was beating my chest with the beat and singing the melody and somehow they all followed me and it was very exciting day. I remember it fondly.
MT: You're still in The Strokes too and this album came out just a few weeks after you guys played that massive gig in Hyde Park. What is it like to balance your solo work and performing with The Strokes?
AHJ: They haven't really mixed that much. I think if anything it makes me appreciate whenever I go back to Strokes like, "Oh this is what it feels like when you make it." It's two different things. Right now I'm so focused on trying to have people hear this record and tour it. I feel like it's my chance to create a moment for myself, if you will. I'd love to have a career and help the guys I played with have one as well and do that and I feel like you have to test the waters and see if you can actually do that. Maybe no one wants you, and you have to go figure something else out to do.
MT: In anticipation of your tour that kicks off Sept. 9, your life is really different now than when you first started touring so what's life like on the road now in 2015 versus The Strokes were first starting and what do you do between shows these days?
AHJ: Travel. Just a lot of travel. I'm in a van with everyone so it's a lot of that kind of travel so what do you do? You do what good band people do, I guess. The difference Is maybe I'll try my hardest to get in some kind of activity and try to eat well on the road just to keep the stamina of wanting to give all the shows all I have, maybe the focus is a little more on that. When you're younger you have the stamina anyway but you're destroying yourself every night out of whatever. Maybe it isn't always like that that's definitely the biggest difference, I see a bigger picture now of what I want to achieve as you get older you got to get better at what you do cause there's less cuteness from being young.
MT: What could fans expect to see on this tour?
AHJ: Hopefully a few murders will happen on stage. I mean, it's just a great rock 'n' roll show if you like music and you like singing along and you like having fun and you like going out. It's hard to describe any show. "Oh they are just sitting there and playing music." That's what everyone does. We try to always create mood with lights and stuff like that but that's for the privileged people who come and check it out you know. You have to put some faith in the people that you want to see. Like if I see a movie or a TV show from someone I just put some faith in to see what they are going to bring to me.