With the release of CÃ³mo Te Llama?, The Strokes guitarist has extended his solo output to two albums. Here we reveal all the juice that wouldn’t fit into the latest issue of State.
When Yours To Keep, Albert Hammond Jr’s debut solo album, hit the shelves in 2006, a lot of people were surprised when The Strokes’ (mostly) rhythm guitarist stepped into the spotlight. Is he more comfortable now with the role of frontman?
‘I don’t wake up and think about it like that,’ he avows. ‘People who were close to me weren’t surprised that I put out a record: I’ve always made demos and done stuff. I don’t consider myself a singer or frontman, but I just love writing songs so that’s the place I get put in. But I love being in a band and I love playing songs with friends, having a great time. Whatever position it’s put me in, I enjoy being able to grow, write new things and move on. That’s the way it started: I felt like I had better songs than I had in the past and I kinda wanted to leave the safety of my home, the safety of just hanging in my apartment, and I wanted to find someone to help me record these songs, to see if I could get sounds that I liked that weren’t just me sitting in my home making demos.
‘That’s when I found the band and started making songs, and it turned into the first record. Then, the whole touring of it just gave me more confidence and I just felt I had all this stuff coming out of me then, that I had done what I set out to do and wanted to move on and create something new.’
Was he nervous the first time he stepped up on stage and realised -Oh shit, I have to sing’?
‘Yeah,’ he laughs. ‘Of course. We were all scared shitless, because it wasn’t a planned thing. We weren’t gonna put it out, then we were just gonna put it out in one state, then we were gonna put it out in a few more places. Then, all of a sudden, it was like -let’s play some shows’ and I was like, -Oh my god’. But there’s no time like the present, I guess, and you just throw yourself into it. It was definitely strange, -cos most bands get a few years of playing and discovering things to do on stage without being watched or reviewed, but I was only playing my fifth show ever and people were writing about it, so it was very intense. But you don’t get to pick how things happen, so you either go with it or you don’t and you have regrets, so I just went with it and said -I believe in this record, so fuck it, let’s just go’.
‘It turned out awesome. It was a great experience for me and I’m excited to do it again with this one. When we were rehearsing, it just sounded so good, and I can’t wait to mix these songs in with the ones from the first record. It’s gonna be so much fun.’
Some of the new crop of New York bands, like MGMT for instance, have a lot of hype and expectation on their shoulders very early on, which reminds us of the when The Strokes Interpol and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs exploded within a very short time-frame, with the result that the world’s music press turned its collective eye to the Big Apple, focusing on the new New York scene [Albert laughs]. It feels like there’s a lot of that happening again. We wonder if Albert feels that too much attention too early can put unfair amounts of pressure on a band.
‘Once again, you don’t get to pick how you get thrown into the circle of your career,’ he muses. ‘I feel like, if that’s the way you get given a chance, and there’s pressure and it feels weird, you just have to accept it and try to do the best you can. At least accept that you’re getting to have a career and a lot of people don’t. So whichever way you get it, that’s the way you got it: you don’t have any control over it so don’t stress out over what you can control. All you can control is the writing, the practice and how you feel, if you choose to be happy about it or not. You have no control over it so start to embrace what you can control.’
Albert’s father, songwriting legend Albert Senior, was recently inducted into the Songwriters’ Hall of fame. But is it true that Albert more or less twisted his dad’s arm into recording again a couple of years ago?
‘We never really bonded over music. That’s something I try to tell people when they ask is my dad an influence: I discovered music on my own,’ he states. ‘But it had been many years since he had played and he kept on saying he had songs. I wanted him to do it differently, so he didn’t fully listen to me, and I think he should have, but I told him that if that’s where he finds fun and joy, which I know he does because he’s been doing it all his life, that he should just do it and not think so much about it. It’s important to do it sometimes, just to grow.
‘When you think you have something, sometimes it’s important to let it go to be able to go somewhere else: to take whatever they’re building up inside, put it down as something and move on from it, fill up your juices again. So I guess I kind of mentioned it [to my dad] but he’s pretty strong so I dunno if I twisted his arm on it.’
It’s been said that Albert holds his guitar on stage the same way that one of his heroes, Buddy Holly, used to…
‘I used to get a lot of shit for wearing my guitar high, but that’s the way I liked it,’ he sighs. ‘John Lennon, Buddy Holly, they all wore their guitars up high. I wore mine a little higher to create my own little thing and I liked it, -cos I thought it was a little different. I used to get a lot of shit for it and now I can count tons of bands that wear their guitars super-high. So I think it’s funny that I used to get made fun of for it. It’s just the way I like to play. You grow up seeing all these guys who wear their guitars so low, and I always felt that something about it wasn’t the style I play. It didn’t feel right. But as soon as I put it up, it felt natural.’
Another little-known fact about Albert is that he used to have an alter-ego, Paul Spencer, the fictitious manager for The Strokes, who regularly called and harangued venue owners, promoters and record labels, in a bid to help the then fledgling band on the road to rock -n’ roll success.
‘I was calling and bullshitting the label people. I just wanted to make it. I didn’t think about them being annoyed by it. I didn’t care. I was just thinking that the five of us had created a good band with good music and so I felt like it was easy to get the feeling to do that. I would find out the names of the people [in the record labels] and I would call their assistant saying that I sent them the record and they told me to call them to discuss it: I had never sent them anything. I basically had four or five companies that I was doing that with and would call them every week. That’s not how we got signed, but all those people that I phoned, I’ve met now, and they’ve all remembered getting phone calls from me, so it’s very funny.
‘I just thought it was bigger to call Irving Plaza and see if they needed anybody to open the show. I’d be like, -Hi, my name’s Paul Spencer and I manage this group called The Strokes. We’ve just come over from Europe.’ If you’re in the band it makes it sound less concrete than if you’re the manager.’
As well as being a Stroke and a successful solo artist, Hammond is also turning his attention to producing, recently twiddling knobs for fellow New Yorkers, The Postelles on their song -123 Stop’.
‘Gus [Oberg, Hammond’s engineer] and I are trying to start this production company where the two of us go in and engineer and produce people’s records,’ he enthuses. ‘After I did this record, I thought that it would be cool to do some cool things with some young bands. I heard The Postelles and thought the song was really good: I just felt that from a songwriting point of view I could add some little arrangement changes to it and get some cool sounds.’
So his plan is to work with more bands?
‘I like being in the studio and I like not having to think about my own songs sometimes,’ he explains. ‘You can have all these different ideas and maybe give them all these different ways they can go. That can be great, especially for a young band.’
He’s definitely not starting a record company though?
‘No,’ he laughs. ‘That’s too much work man. I wouldn’t even be able to write any more. That’s a 24-hour job. I remember, JP, my old guitar teacher, tried to do it once and he was like, -Don’t ever do it Albert: ever ever ever. I guarantee you that you will lose yourself in it and the payoff isn’t what you want to do if you love playing music’. I wouldn’t do that if you paid me.
‘I just feel that there are young bands out there with really cool songs and the combination of of those songs and myself and Gus, who love finding interesting sounds and putting things in a unique way, we could help them forward: the combination of a band that’s good and two guys who get along and work well in the studio. It’s just another outlet that seems fun.’