“The small steps lead you to very big distances in time”
He is not the most famous musician in The Strokes, but he’s proven to be the most versatile member so far. Albert Hammond Jr looks like a new person. You can feel the energy and the positivity when you talk to him, just the same feelings you get when you listen to his new solo album, “Momentary Masters” (Vagrant, 2015).
We got the best of Albert in this dinamic and vivid album, and we had a pretty interesting chat with him at Primavera Sound festival. He talks about his brilliant album, his new plans, the music industry and the odd times with The Strokes.
How are you doing Albert? Third album, fourth with the last EP. How did you approach this new album?
Oh God, in a very new and exciting way, to be honest, through all the steps. After touring the EP for a year, I had this band of guys that I just thought were amazing and we were doing unique stuff with my old songs so I wanted to see what it was like to record new songs with them. And then that started going really well and fun so I started to bring in even more the songs at even a raw stage and so… I couldn’t have made it sound the way it did without them. So that was special.
And then lyrically, I just… a friend of mine who I’ve met, and two weeks later she passed away, we kind of have this amazing relationship, showed me all these poets. And then, I don’t know, like a year later, when I was writing, or maybe it was two years later, it just… it came to me and I was reading it, it just… it helped so much put me on a different plane, writing-wise. So… I don’t know, those two things together kind of just took it up a notch.
“I play every show like it’s my last”
Okay. I think it has beautiful arrangements, really good melodies and it still sounds very dynamic. Were you looking for an evolution from your previous EPs or it just came naturally?
No, it’s not. It’s not that it comes… Change is constant. You know what I mean? You’re constantly changing so I feel like I don’t look at things the same way as I did when I was writing the other stuff. You know some things you keep, you don’t throw away everything but… and then other things you try different things. And then sometimes, based on the reaction of how you felt or how the fan felt, how our crowds feel, you start writing in different directions.
Like the last song. I don’t know if you heard Momentary Masters, but the last song we did together was Power Hungry. And that was like, when we were done, it was the most exciting thing to me. I was like, “Wow. Look at…” This is where we ended. I can’t wait for the next one just because that’s… it seemed… It wasn’t like trying to get to the end and like just putting together anything. It was like the best thing.
So… I don’t know. Those kind of things change and then maybe the next record, you’re writing and you start to do different things. The small steps lead you to very big distances in time. You know what I mean?
Is there an extra pressure when you were making this album?
There’s always pressure because you want to succeed. So I feel like just my own ambition is enough pressure.
What’s the meaning of success for you?
Yeah, yeah. I mean, there are different versions of success. I mean, I already feel successful just from having achieved this record. But I guess when I’m saying it to you as I mean, I’d like to be able to stand on my own two feet and to be able to continue making records, and that takes success in how you know what success is, which is fans and playing bigger shows and, you know, all that stuff.
But nowadays, you don’t have to get on the radio but it’s fun to try, to try to beat that other option. Yeah, you know, I’d love to be able to do this for the next… till I can’t do it anymore and no one wants to see me and my face.
“I’d like to be able to stand on my own two feet and to be able to continue making records”
Have you worked with Gus Oberg in this album, too?
Yes. He’s like… he’s my partner in crime. I couldn’t have done it without him either, you know? Because he’s like an extension of myself and he pushes me so hard. Like, where I might be like, “Oh, that’s kind of okay,” he’ll be like, “Oh, it’s not very good,” and we’ll go… and I’ll keep on trying to get better. So it’s like… and then add the mix of my life being in there that’s… You know, it’s like they’re constantly pushing me. I say sometimes, “I need a break.” But yeah.
And then, even the mixture we had, Ben Baptie, he gave the whole record a… without him, it would’ve sounded different. It felt very… In the art work, you’ll see I put everyone’s photo from the band to Gus to the mixture to Lizzie who did the art work and Jason to the photos, just because I felt like all of them contributed into making this moment.
Just like a family.
Yeah. Or a record just captures the moment, and that’s that moment. So if you look back on it 10 years, it’d be like, “Oh, those were the people that helped create that. I couldn’t have done it alone.”
There’s a song I really like. It’s “Don’t Think twice”. But do you reckon, there has been sometimes in your career that you actually didn’t think twice or do you ever said that you have to?
It’s so funny. I don’t know. I don’t know if I’ve ever done that. But definitely, that song took on different meanings for me. It started off as I was doing it for my friend’s cover festival and then I thought the arrangement I did was really cool. I’ve written new parts for it because it’s just an acoustic song, and then we recorded it and then it kind of took on its own life as though I was speaking to this friend of mine. You know, like I was saying “goodbye” to this friend. That was kind of like, even though it’s a man talking to a woman in its own, for me whenever I hear it, I feel like I’m saying “goodbye” to this friend.
I think it feels very spiritual.
Yeah. There’s something there, right? I know. It is. It feels like that.
“I don’t look at things the same way as I did”
How different you see things now in your 30s than when you started? When you started 15 years ago?
Well, you change just without playing music. I mean, you must feel different, now as time goes on goes on.
Would it be different to start making music right now?
I mean, it’s so — I know but it’s so hypothetical, I don’t know. I’m not 20 again, you know? You are just different. And I’ve been successful at some things so you just… you know, if anything…
You know, as you get older, you kind of feel like you lose touch, but in a weird way, you’re also happier so… yeah. I don’t know. I think… I still love it as much or maybe even more so I would find a way to have it, be something that I could do. You know what I mean? It’s like, I love it that much that I would try my hardest to find a way for it to support me.
“I’m like low on the list of being used for Strokes’ music”
What do you need in order to make a band work? You need to be friends?
There’s also different levels of friends. I mean, there’s like, that when you go school, there was acquaintances that you got along with really well but maybe never… you never hang out at home, you never had a sleepover, and there was that one friend that you would, you know, you’d sleep in the same bed together, you know? So I feel like I’ve been dynamic.
Obviously, it’s going to be different for me than… it will always be because I’ve already come from a successful band so it will always be a different dynamic, you know, than when you first start out and you’re all just—
I think that “friend” idea is just like the dream of, you know, you always want to be in a gang, like you want to be with people. It’s natural to want to like, you just feel stronger. But yeah, you don’t have to be best friends and just be musically well.
I find a lot of ideas that would fit in a Strokes album. How do you know which one is better for each project?
Oh God, I’ve been lucky that it’s never been at the same time. But One Way Trigger that I wrote — it’s the first song I wrote like after I had not touched the guitar of like a year and a half — that was… I was, you know, at first I was thinking that was going to be my song that I was going to record and it’d be the beginning of a record. But it so happened that we were doing Strokes stuff so I brought it in and it became… It’s obviously different than I was doing it. It became a Stroke song. I feel like… I don’t think it would matter. I think it would just… whoever was playing it would do different stuff to it.
And a lot of songs, you know, in The Strokes, everyone would have an opinion or it might be like, there’s all these stuff coming in and you might take a part or something and like throw away the rest. So it’s just different… it’s different ways of working. So it’s not so much me changing, it changes.
“I play every show like it’s my last”
Julian has collaborated with you sometimes.
He’s collaborating with everyone, you know? I feel like… weirdly enough, I feel like… I’m like low on the list of being used for Strokes’ music. You know what I mean? I usually I’ve written little parts. Granted, they’re parts you remember but they’re not like, you know… A lot of songs get… I don’t know. But that happened. I brought in in Transit and 101 and I know Julian wanted to do that one but just it didn’t work, you know, and I was just strong enough to fight it. That’s just like how… it’s like the politics of friendship and like how much can you push.
How do you keep the interest alive so many years?
I think you try your hardest to make the best thing you can that you think will last the test of time, you know? That’s like a goal, isn’t it? To be like, oh wow. Imagine if, like, what I made sounds really fresh in 15 years and like, sounds like it could have come out then. But you don’t know if that’s going to be the case, you know? You’re just trying.
Is there something that you haven’t tried out yet?
There’s lots of things I haven’t tried yet. I feel like I’ve just really began. As you get better, you then push yourself more and then you get to that point you want to push yourself again. It’s like a motorcycle race car. Like you know, like MotoGP. They keep on pushing and pushing and pushing and as they get better, they just want to push more. Then I can be like, “Well, that’s pretty good.”
Do you get advice from your relatives, from your bandmates, from your father? Or do you prefer not to be influenced by someone else’ opinion?
Yes sure. I like people’s opinion that I trust for different things. I like hearing what they have to say because I’m making this because I love to do it but it’s also entertainment. And so if everyone… you know, if everyone hates what you’re doing but you feel in your gut that it’s right then you can fight it. But if everyone hates what you’re doing and you also makes you doubt it, that’s kind of what you use it for. Less to change it and more to see how strong you believe in it. Someone’s like, “I don’t know if that’s right.” You can kind of tell. You’ll be like, “I know you’re right,” you know? Maybe you’re just being lazy and don’t want to change it.
So there was some hard times with The Strokes. Which future do you see brighter? Your own career or with your mates?
Well no, it’s not that. It’s just that I don’t know… I want them both to be bright because I love them. I love them both but part of it in my career, I don’t… I can’t control… I can only control what I put out and I feel like I’ve done the best I’ve ever done with the best people I’ve ever been with. So it’s like, that’s positive. And where it goes from there, I hope it’s bright but I can’t control that. And with The Strokes, I’m one of five and I try to bring in the most positive stuff but I don’t control that like I control mine. So it’s like… it’s a lot of factors in there that I don’t know. Every… I look at… I go and play every show like it’s my last.
Momentary Masters is your best album yet?
By far. I really love the first one but this one… Well, the first one has like… I know why everyone likes the first one but that’s why it’s… It’s always there. It’s not going to go anywhere and it’s like… The first one is… has something special to me too but I feel like for continuing, if I… I couldn’t remake the first one and even if I did, no one would like it because they would just… it just wouldn’t work. I feel like this is like, if you got to hear the first one and this one, I feel like you’d be… it would be good.
What are your plans in the short term and long term?
Yeah. I want to try to tour this album to a whole year. I would like to be able to tour… I like to finish it, having done next year, summer festivals. Because I’m going to miss the this year. So I would like to finish doing that.
But like, now rock, Indie bands, for the most part, for like my category, don’t sell that many records even if it’s popular so it’s hard to travel. You know what I mean? It’s hard to… it’s expensive. I don’t think people realize how hard it is to get everything going. It’s not a complaint. But I just mean I’d like to get everywhere but sometimes you just… you can’t.
Would you see yourself starting right now? Would be difficult or easier?
There’s definitely some things that are positive about it but with that… with the positive always comes negative. They live together. They don’t exist in a different world, you know? It’s always… left and right is always together. So there’s a lot of positive with the internet and then there’s a lot of negative. But then things come in cycles and they reset. People take the best of, hopefully, the best of what they learn and… But even with the best thing you’ve ever seen, you’ll also have a negative thing to it, you know? It doesn’t exist without.
Okay. “Born Slippy”. That tittle.
I know. It’s… I mean, I felt like in the UK, that was a big song. I knew when I was a kid, it’d been like 20 something years, I just… I really like the phrase. And that song to me was about letting go of something or the fear of letting go of something that you identify with your whole life. So it’s kind of like, just… I like that phrase, “Born Slippy.” Like you’re just… if you can only remember that. You were born… where you just kind of wiggle your way through stuff and, you know, but at the same time, it’s so fragile.
Okay, and last question. Are you happy?
Yes, I’m very happy. I’m actually… I’m very happy, yeah. I don’t think I’ve been happier, to be honest. You’ve been in many kinds of sadness. I’ve never been happier.