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In a dimly lit lounge on East 10th Street, Albert Hammond Jr. agreed that, sure, he might appear to be a dapper, Margiela-clad rock icon just trying to get his hands on a can of Coca-Cola. Another reality, though, was that he was a bundle of “shadows, different sides living together and competing all at once.” The founding member of the Strokes admits that the notion is “not a light subject” and a tad metaphysical for this celebratory Thursday night, but it’s what we keep returning to.
Ensconced in a mosh pit of friends and fans, Hammond Jr., 35, is here to fete the collection of neckties he collaborated on for designer Elliot Aronow’s Jacques-Elliott label ($79 each; jacques-elliott.com). And while the musician is proud of the sleek handmade-in-Brooklyn product (“We went to the Garment district and spent a few hours looking for the perfect fabrics and then haggled”), he’s also a little uncomfortable.
“It’s so funny, because when I talk about fashion and menswear designers, it’s really like a small percentage of my head,” he says. “I don’t mind talking about it, but I always worry that it’s gonna seem to the outside world that that’s all I think about.”
But there is no denying he has a penchant for it. Perfectly tailored suits, Rag & Bone jeans, Acne Studios leisure wear, the silkscreen-printed Jacques-Elliott tie he wears tonight: these are the ingredients of a refined but relaxed aesthetic the musician has honed. Though he shies away from admitting it, fashion is part of what makes Hammond Jr. an artist.
It’s this tug of war — the friction between Hammond Jr.’s shadowy identity — that forms the core of his upcoming solo album, Momentary Masters (out via Vagrant Records on July 31). The record, a compilation of generally dry tracks with upfront vocals and a seemingly all kill or no fill mentality, “is a reconciliation of our best self with our worst self.” He says the shadows and projections on the album art aren’t something he planned. “I had this moment of ‘Wow. That really all came together a little too magically,'” he pauses, looking down at his tie. “It’s a beautiful feeling when you don’t know why something happens and then it all comes together.”
DESIGN DUO: Designer Elliot Aronow, left, and The Strokes’ Albert Hammond Jr.
When did you first learn to tie a tie?
I think pretty young actually. I still remember when my dad would tie it and undo it and put it on me. But I’ve been dressing myself since I was very young. My mom recently told me that since I was like 2 or 3 I would dress myself.
Wow, so you were conscious of style at a really young age.
Yeah, I’d be like ‘ehhh‘, or I wouldn’t like something. I’m not saying I did it well, I’m just saying that I was trying to figure it out. I think it took a long time. I don’t think I found out what I liked to wear until I was like 18.
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Where do you think you got your eye for it?
I don’t know. Friends of mine used to say, when they come over to my apartment, see my car, little things like that, they’re like ‘oh, it looks good.’ I don’t know, maybe there’s a slight neurosis about it. I’m not a person who wouldn’t know what their house would look like or certain things like that. I enjoy doing it.
What’s your favorite tie out of the three?
That’s hard. I do like the screen print. I think my favorite might be the ‘ace of space.’ It’s very subtle and it’s reverse fabric too.
How involved were you with this process?
Very. The only other step would have been for me to sew the ties, but then no one would’ve bought them.
Who, in your opinion, cuts a great suit?
I’ve really gotten back into wanting to wear suits again. I stopped wearing them for a while, because I just didn’t feel it anymore in my personality, but there’s an awesome feeling that goes along with wearing a suit and looking sharp. I feel like for a man back in the day, that was the thing. There’s a place called Doyle + Mueser on the Westside that I’ve been really into — they make suits from scratch.
That’s such a beautiful experience, to have something made.
Yeah, it really is. And the guy there, a Swedish guy Jonas, is really great. You get to pick the fabric, which is awesome. And they measure you, and you tell them little things about how you want it cut. That’s when suits always feel the best.
You have a new solo-album out this summer.
Yeah, July 31st and it can’t come fast enough. The whole record just has … it has this debate about me basically talking to my shadows.
You should read the intro to Paradise Lost. It has a lot of shadow references.
I will do that right when I get home. Maybe I’ll find other things to say in other interviews. Sometimes other people, they’ve mastered the language that you haven’t, so it’s better to use their words as a starting point and then branch out in your own way … create your own thought.
Do you journal or write a lot?
Yeah, for sure. I’ll write lines or words in a notepad. You work on little things and little parts, sometimes they turn into bigger songs. A lot of lines in this record just came from these one-liners I liked. And whether the song kept that line or not, it goes somewhere else. A friend of mine told me that actually. I met this girl for like two weeks, and then she passed away, unfortunately. She showed me all of these poets that I never knew. And she was a poet, Sara Anne Jones. I dedicated the record to her.
How did you meet her?
On Instagram. She made a Richard Pryor joke and I wrote something back, and then she started commenting. We just had this thing … hours just hanging out talking. I just felt a connection, we’re both kind of f—-ups in some way … I was in a good place, and we bonded over that. When you’ve been through something and you see someone who’s finds the good side in it, you kind of admire it. We kind of bonded over that. She showed me all this stuff and she told me ‘I write a unit of crap everyday.’ And I was like ‘shit, of course you write’, even if it’s just a line.
It’s a muscle.
I don’t know why I didn’t realize that sooner. Everything is a muscle, then eventually you go to make a record and you have all these pieces.
The dots connect.
I don’t know how to explain it, but when you’re working on something constantly and you’re digging in deep, things kind of fall in and you grab them and you’re like ‘that one!’ and ‘that thing!’ and it starts to build something right.
Do you get nervous just before an album comes out?
I think you get nervous for everything. There was this cheesy but funny book called Feel the Fear and Do It Anyways. The title is weird but it’s about how fear never goes away. I just thought that was so awesome. I feel like fear is just always there, but that it’s part of the excitement. Your body lives in anxiety and adrenaline. That’s how you know what’s happening.
What other plans do you have on tap for the summer?
I think I’m doing The Tonight Show. I’m gonna be in Europe, visiting my parents. And I’m taking a little trip to Sardinia and Poland, because my wife’s from Poland. Moved here when she was 19, didn’t even speak English. She’s got balls.
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