Albert Hammond Jr talks to Matthew Dunne-Miles about going solo, the future of the Strokes and playing in Paris
Albert Hammond Jr is chatting to us casually down the line from his hotel room in Manchester. The previous night he had played Gorilla, one of the North West’s hippest live music venues, but ironically his “dream” venue was just across the road – The Ritz.
It may be a stretch to refer to Hammond’s UK tour as a ‘homecoming’ for the Los Angeles-born artist, but his connection through his father – Hammond Sr, born in London, left for Gibraltar as a child during World War II, before coming back as a musician in the Swinging Sixties – his love for playing the UK and his knowledge of venues with a history is clear.
Despite The Strokes single-handedly laying down the blueprint of indie music for a decade on both sides of the Atlantic following 2001’s Is This It, Hammond Jr believes that the band never got to “go deep” into the UK as he would have liked.
Now with his solo career flourishing, following the release of his third record Momentary Masters earlier this year, The Strokes guitarist has nine live dates in the UK – with the hope of returning back for more in the future.
Hi Albert! You’re currently in the middle of your UK tour dates, how are they going so far?
“Oh, it’s amazing. Oxford and Manchester have been wonderful. They were wonderful. I don’t remember if I’m playing nine shows and I’m here for 12 days or I’m playing 12 shows.”
Does the UK have a special significance for you? Seeing how massive your music has been over here for a number of years, you must have played here hundreds of times?
“That’s actually not really why it has a significance. The Strokes never got to go in. I don’t think they really wanted to go as deep into England as I’d like to go. My Dad used to tell me stories about when he lived here. I have a British passport. I came here a lot when I was younger.
“I always thought one day I would live here. Or that I was from here, some weird stupid thing like that.”
That dream could still happen, you could still live here.
“I know! I mean last night [Manchester] the dream was literally across the street from Gorilla. It faces The Ritz. If we could play bigger places, then we could stay here longer. Then I would go really deep into small towns.”
Your new album was released earlier this year. There was quite a gap between that and the previous album ¿Cómo Te Llama?. Is that just because you’ve been busy with other things?
“There was the EP in 2013. But yeah, exactly. When I finished recording ¿Cómo Te Llama? – I did a whole tour with Coldplay. Then I didn’t really tour it much more.
“The Strokes got together and started writing – I went to rehab and then we did Angles and Comedown Machine. Then I did the AHJ EP. I was always in the middle of doing something.
“Had I known we weren’t going to tour Comedown Machine, I would have started doing something sooner. Basically, when I got out of rehab I was just like ‘I’m going to focus on The Strokes and give it my all’ but then it kind of just faded away. I found myself with a bunch of songs and then a band formed around the EP – so it all just worked out wonderfully. A whole new dream arose from the ashes… (laughs)”
Was the solo material something you always thought you would do again? Did you, in the back of your mind, think ‘I still want to do solo records’ when you were back with The Strokes?
“I mean, I never seemed like that. I fell in love with music wanting to basically be Buddy Holly, then John Lennon and then Lou Reed. I basically always wanted to sing and write songs and play guitar. Then, I joined this band who were awesome.
“I didn’t know as much as I know now – and what I’ve learned throughout a career in music is that I wasn’t ready to do something like that. Now I feel like I can and we’ve been doing something really cool.
“I don’t see it as two different things. I see it as one is me and the other one is a part of me. This seems like very like myself, I don’t feel like I’m putting something on to do this.”
Is there a sense of freedom with that as well?
“I don’t know if freedom is the right word. The hardest thing about being in a band is that everyone has an opinion about stuff and you never know when things are going to go a certain way. Maybe if The Strokes were a band that kept doing stuff – maybe I wouldn’t have thought about it.”
Are there some songs from Momentary Masters that have connected with audiences that you didn’t think would? Or have they connected in a different way?
“It constantly changes. That’s what is so funny about it. It depends on the amount of time the record has been out. Also in different cities with the radio plays. You see how much that has an effect, it’s very funny.
“The first towns you play, where no-one has heard it yet. You see which tracks have a better reaction. But it’s always changing. The one that has been on the radio, or that people have seen videos for, will always have the most reaction.”
It’s funny that radio still has that power. You think with online media, people would be able to select what they listen to.
“Oh my God. Radio is just the quick way. You build a career slowly but then if the radio plays your song and you get into the top 10 of the rock n’ roll section, it’ll change your life. I don’t of any other way.”
You’re appearing on Jimmy Kimmel Live! tonight. The UK doesn’t seem to have the commitment to live performance television that American seems to have. Do you think that’s something American audiences appreciate more?
“I don’t know. It’s an age-old question, do you appreciate something once you have it? I don’t think they know the other option. It’s definitely fun to go play the shows. It’s wonderful to have.
“I mean everyone wants to play Jools Holland in the UK – so it’s really hard to get on. I guess now I realise it’s the only show. That’s why everyone drops everything if you get invited. You’re like ‘Yep, show is cancelled. I’m going there’.”
Where do things currently sit with the possibility of a new Strokes record? And how do you feel about going back into the studio with your band-mates?
“It sits in the hands of others. I don’t know. How do I feel? I don’t know. I just have to wait and get there. I mean, to be honest, it can be half exciting and half scary. It can be not a fun place to go.”
What would be scary about it?
“It’s intense being in a band. It’s hard to describe, it just would be.”
But you’re still open to the idea of going back?
“Yeah of course. I’d go see just out of curiosity. If nothing pans out about it then you can be like ‘okay, well whatever’ – but to not go, it would be to let down your friends. I feel like that you definitely have to have enough in you to at least try.”
Your music, for many people, has been a staple part of ‘indie discos’ over here. I don’t know whether that translates over to America?
“Oh for sure. I know what they are. We definitely don’t have that, or at least I don’t know about it.
“You know, the joke was that had we lived over here when we were getting successful – we would have felt it in a different way. In America, as big as you can get, you still feel underground. I feel like our name is bigger than we actually are.”
Songs such as ‘Reptilia’ and ‘Someday’ made up the fabric of those club nights. What would make up your track list at your indie disco?
“It depends. That’s one of my favourite things is curating a vibe. I’ve put a bunch of song in my playlists when I’ve DJ’d – songs I like to hear. Off the top of my head – you’ve got to put some New Order in there, Bowie, The Cars. I don’t really dance though.
“For me, it’s always fun to go through your library and feel it out. There’s Joe Jackson ‘Steppin’ Out’, which is a good beginning. It’s always fun to put on a certain type of song out to see where you’re at. Like, ‘oh, it’s one of those nights. Joe Jackson has failed’.”
That’s a crowd you don’t want , if Joe Jackson is failing.
“I know, I know. But that’s unfortunately where the mass is. If the mass is without Joe Jackson then that’s a sad mass.”
You have a show set for Paris at the end of this month. Many of your musical contemporaries have pulled out of gigs there. Are you still going ahead?
“I think it’s just the Foo Fighters that have done that. I mean, Pearl Jam played the next night. I don’t know. We’re waiting to see. We just have to feel it out. The promoters still haven’t said anything and the manager still hasn’t said anything. We just to have wait and see. See how it feels.”
How do you feel about going ahead with it?
“Playing a show? I mean, I feel like what happened is terrible. I know people who know people who have been murdered.
“I mean, you ask them ‘how does this feel?’ and they’re like ‘please play, don’t not play’
“It’s a tough one, I can see both sides. It’s been five days and it can feel like a lifetime ago or like it never happened – then it feels like it just happened. It’s a very strange emotion to feel.
“My feeling right now is that if you don’t play, it just seems like that’s just going to be a thing. That you don’t play there any more. I don’t know. I need more time. But it’s truly terrible, words can’t describe the senselessness of that.”
Momentary Masters is available now via Vagrant Records
Albert Hammond Jr plays the following UK tour dates:
Nov 19: Hare & Hounds, Birmingham
Nov 20: O2 Academy, Leicester
Nov 21: CCA, Glasgow
Nov 23: Wedgewood Rooms, Portsmouth
Nov 24: The Fleece, Bristol
Nov 25: Islington Assembly Hall, London
Nov 26: The Old Market, Brighton
More info: alberthammondjr.com