The Strokes Guitarist Talks New Solo Album, Sobriety, Going Indie (Q&A)
As his band goes on hiatus again, Albert Hammond Jr. discusses the steps that led to his best solo work yet — the new EP, "AHJ."
When The Strokes last went on hiatus in 2006, it spurred an out-spilling of solo releases and side projects by the bands' five members. Albert Hammond Jr. stepped out and proved his own songwriting chops spanned beyond the iconic riffs with two albums that leaned handsomely on the lighter side of pop. Yours to Keep in 2006 and ¿Cómo Te Llama? in 2008 were sunny departures from the heavy direction The Strokes had been heading and an interesting reveal from the band's brunette ringleted guitarist.
Now, following The Strokes' Angles from 2011 and Comedown Machine that was released earlier this year, by all reports and suggestions the band is now again taking some time off. Lead singer Julian Casablancas recently hinted at a new album titled Voidz, and Hammond Jr. has already rolled out a new EP, AHJ, on Oct. 8 via Casablancas' Cult Records label. It’s easily Hammond Jr.’s best solo work to date, as guitars fill each track but never overwhelm the album's persistent drive — his expected cool prevailing throughout.
Sitting in his tour van as it headed through the Midwest, Hammond Jr. spoke to The Hollywood Reporter without great certainty for what will come next. Acknowledging the cliché, he explained he was focused on the moment now, talking through the benefits of releasing music through an EP format and his decision to release it on Casablancas' indie label. "I’m just having some fun in this van right now," he said. "I'm focusing on that."
Hammond Jr. plays the El Rey Theater on Nov. 20.
After putting out two Strokes albums, this is your first solo release in five years. Why an EP rather than a full album? Is there something about that format that was more attractive to you?
Yeah, I really like it. But at the same time the hardest part about it is that as something you’ve put out you know for press and tour stuff, it’s taken a little less seriously than an LP. So that part is harder. But for me it feels better to work on little chunks. On all these long drives I’m listening to stuff I have and then I can go home and spend some time working on new music and possibly put out two to three songs or five songs and then tour for a bit. So I'm not thinking of a whole record that'll take six months and then six months waiting to put it out and you have to tour for a year.
What led you to release this on Julian Casbalanca's label, Cult Records?
This decision was different than if I was choosing between going bigger or smaller. As soon as Julian was putting out things on his label, I’ve been wanting to put something out with him. This came to be the right time and so, it was just like, “Oh cool, let's try a song,” and then it just kind of just grew from there. The benefits of something smaller is there’s an excitement in everything you do because you’re all kind of growing together and there’s a feeling of, you know, “We all need to succeed so we can all succeed. If not we’ll all just fail.” That you might not get on bigger labels. But, for me personally, it was just exciting to work that closely with one of my best friends, you know?
It kinda felt like when we first met, 'cause it wasn’t band-related. We lived together for five or six years and it felt just like that. We would talk about music and he'd be writing things and I'd hear him come up with stuff.
Coming off two albums with The Strokes, what were the inspirations to pick up your solo work again?
It’s a very hard thing to pinpoint exactly, to remember something that sparked it. What I remember most about it is "Cooker Ship" is what sparked the whole thing. What sparked "Cooker Ship," I do not know. Maybe just patience and consistently trying to write something better, and then editing yourself. But you definitely get moments that push you forward. You wouldn't go through the whole process of it if there wasn't something that excites you so much you wanna see it all through. That was the beginning of it and then once I went through that I was just so happy and proud of the EP that I just wanted so see it through all the way.
At this point in your career, both as a solo musician and member of The Strokes, how do those two projects affect and inform each other?
I’ll always feel direct influence from those four guys in the band. So much of our identity is that, whether we admit it, like or not. It’s us. So of course it’s influenced me in many ways. All their writing has influenced me tons. You can’t really get rid of that, nor would I want to. So yeah, I learned a lot in those two records, in that time. I challenge myself entirely.
You've talked about working through problems with addiction during this time. How did this affect your creativity and how does that compare to creating in sobriety?
I feel like you’re you in all situations, it’s just … You want and want that can put you in a strange place sometime and you think things you wouldn't normally think in a certain way. But, over time, it takes whatever it gave you away, unless you you can still go back and use those experiences. I definitely feel much more creative now just cause of the energy I would have. I feel a little more random and chaotic. I would never give an outside influence like that power to think that in that is where you get inspired or where your stuff comes from. It definitely can make you think cool things, you know? But I feel like I’ve done it enough to think of all the cool things that I could possibly think of with it.
The first Stokes album came out more than a decade ago and you've seen outrageous amounts of success there and in your own music. What do you have planned now and what do you want looking forward?
I really, to be honest, don’t think that far ahead. I’m so busy right now that I’m trying to think of how to make now better. I’ve always wanted a career in music so I definitely want to write better songs to make that more possible. It’s easy I can easily go there and I do, don't get me wrong. But I try to pull myself out whenever I do that because it seems pointless going through all this stressfulness and then looking back and I didn’t enjoy the middle time. It's always, “I will enjoy when I get here or when I get there,” and then when you get here there, there’s another new there here. I dunno. I’m just having some fun in this van right now as we drive to Kansas City. I'm focusing on that.