The Strokes’ Albert Hammond Jr. talks star treatment, trouble and the state of rock

Albert Hammond Jr. has hit more than a few highs. But he’s taken some knocks too. With The Strokes he found fame but suffered longstanding addictions. He’s come through these excesses a better person yet makes no claim to perfection.

In the following conversation, Hammond talks about his newly arrived fourth album Francis Trouble before generously expounding a few thoughts on that age-old, once again circling around question of whether rock has truly met its end. He’s not too sure.

Discussion inevitably leads to the breakdown of an Arctic Monkeys lyric. Yes, it’s the one you’ve been thinking of. Read on.

albert hammond jr. interview splendour in the grass 2018

“I think people see me as a guitar player and I’ve always seen myself as more than that.” We speak to Albert Hammond Jr. ahead of his Australian appearances this July.

HAPPY: As an artist you’ve had a career defined by some tremendous ups, but you’ve also come through some real low points as well. Where do you see yourself as being at now in 2018?

AHJ: I’m probably the most active, productive, creative version I’ve been of myself. But even in that, there’s still ups and downs. I definitely have those different elements. But my growing and understanding just happens a bit quicker now you know? I’m excited that I’ve found new ways to look at the same thing which I think is just a constant thing that happens in life. Things don’t really change that much. Just how you look at them.

HAPPY: Francis Trouble. I think this record goes to some dark places. It can be introspective but also has a lot of energy. It’s upbeat, euphoric, and playful in tone. Music you can dance to. How did you see yourself coming into this album? Was it something you wanted to make following 2015’s Momentary Masters?

AHJ: I think when you get off the road, when you do a record and get off the road, you know what you’re missing. And so, after Momentary Masters I knew the kind of record I wanted to make. I just knew different vibes that weren’t there for the last record live. I knew I wanted a very visceral record. I wanted something that would move you physically because I feel like that was something that seemed to me lacking in some parts of the music and that I liked.

Some of my favourite artists have that ability where even if they are speaking of something they care about the song, in general, would still be fun! (laughs) I just knew what I needed to a be frontman and to be the certain entertainer that I wanted to be. Even if I couldn’t do it I wanted that. It’s a very slow process and it all ties in together looking back. But this album has definitely helped me be the person I want to be onstage.

HAPPY: You’ve collaborated with other songwriters on the record but how do you see yourself as progressing as a writer? Relative to your work as a guitarist, do you find have to dig deeper to get lyrics and melodies and things like that?

AHJ: No, I think that was one of the things too on this record. I think people see me as a guitar player and I’ve always seen myself as more than that. A big part of this record is trying to take that out. There’s this bigger history of guitar players in bands. This idea that they do this and not that. I don’t know, I didn’t fall in love with music that way. To be more of a guitar player with The Strokes I learnt more and got better at the soloing element. There’s that. But I fell in love with singing and songwriting.

All my favourite guitar players are rhythm players. The people who wrote the songs. So no I don’t feel like a guitar player who is struggling to find melody and words. I’ve spent this whole time trying to get better and better at crafting them. And I feel good at it. I feel good!

HAPPY: Do you remember the first song you wrote?

AHJ: It was just a bunch of shit really! The best thing is realising that you love something and you’re not good at it. There’s something in that that’s really wonderful. There’s this weird belief when you fall in love with music that you’re like, “Oh, I can do this!” But there’s no rhyme or reason why you think you can. You’ve never done it!

You’re just kind of like, so in love with it. It’s the same way you fall in love with a girl. You’re so in love with it that it makes you believe fantastical things. And sometimes it doesn’t work, you fall on your face. But that’s alright.

HAPPY: Now there’s a little festival in Byron Bay just around the corner which you’ve played once before in another capacity happening this July. Of course, I’m referring to Splendour In The Grass! Plus, some sideshows as well. What’s in store? What can fans expect?

AHJ: Well I always like to look at it like this. If you’ve seen my show and you come it’ll be the best time you’ve seen me. If you haven’t seen me or don’t know me, you won’t forget me! That’s really how it feels to me.

HAPPY: What do you make of all this current talk that rock is dead? It seems to be a conversation people have again come back to in 2018. Is it something you think about?

AHJ: I think that from the day I fell in love with music in the mid ‘90s they’ve told me that rock ‘n’ roll is dead. So I mean I don’t know. Maybe it’s kind of exciting when they say that because it just means that the cycle is at the point where it’s going to come back around. Maybe something will come off of the top of that. I don’t know. People like saying that. It’s fun to be dramatic. I think music and they way it’s consumed has changed. And I think maybe the idea of a song has been lost more than rock being dead.

It’s so hard, I never really think about it! I’m thinking about for you right now! (laughs) So I’m just trying to imagine. Indie music probably killed rock you know? The sex appeal got lost so that killed it a little bit. But everything comes and goes. But it’s just really funny because I’ve been told that for so long I don’t know what to make of it. It’s just been consistently dead. But no one has ever told me that it hasn’t been dead! They’ve never been like, “Oh! Rock is more alive than ever!” So it’s always dying.

HAPPY: Well I’ve read the first time someone actually said it was around the time of Rock Around the Clock in 1955.

AHJ: What? They said rock was dead in 1955?

HAPPY: Yeah you know the song, “We’re gonna rock around the clock tonight.”

AHJ: Yeah, Bill Haley and His Comets!

HAPPY: That’s the first quote. Someone wrote an article after that song came out pronouncing it was all over…

AHJ: While it’s in the present moment, people don’t know how to take it.

[The phone line drops out. A few minutes pass before we reconnect.]

HAPPY: So you were saying something profound about Rock Around The Clock and the line dropped out.

AHJ: Oh yeah, such a bummer. I was talking about Rock Around The Clock and then I totally realised – it made me think of this comment inside a Beatles record I have. It had a review saying how they were over and that they had faded. And then I was just thinking about how The Clash came out and The Ramones and people were like, ‘Look at how they’re ruining music!’

Or just with any new thing, rock doesn’t know how to handle itself in the moment. It seems to only really understand itself looking back when that part is gone. Not everyone obviously. It’s always the underdogs. There’s always like a thing. Even in The Strokes, as large as that feels it still feels like an underground band compared to how other things are seen. You know what I mean?

HAPPY: Totally!

AHJ: To me, even if my goal was, ‘I want to be on radio with this album and I want to play arenas with this album, play huge places.’ Even if I did that I’d still be underground! It’s just the way rock music works. (laughs) It’s weird!

HAPPY: The new Arctic Monkeys album starts with a lyric that goes something like, ‘I just wanted to be one of The Strokes, now look what you’ve made me do.’ Did you have any reaction to that or was it just another lyric?

AHJ: I’m annoyed because I get asked that all the time! (laughs) It’s like why would I know why they did that? I’ve come up with my own reasoning.

Just maybe [Alex Turner] was thinking of a lot of the times – you know you’re thinking of your youth. Thinking of the romanticised version of wanting to play music and seeing what you saw as escapism. The dream of it and the reality. And then it mixes in with the business side, all these other things you have to do. It’s not as simple as that first band you fell in love with and just wanted to be part of it. It just seems like it’s an answer, but it’s not as simple as that. So I just thought it was a reflection on missing being young.

But I don’t know if it’s a grounding thing. I got a lot of texts about it! It’s cool. I like that band so it’s cool that they mentioned us, but almost at the same time it feels, you know, ‘Thank you! You’ve helped add another level to whatever that the band has.’ But I don’t know. I still feel the same as I did before I heard it!

HAPPY: Now that the new album is out there in the world and you’re touring quite relentlessly, what else is coming next for you?

AHJ: Now that the album is out the goal is to tour it. I mean touring at my level is something you don’t take for granted. I enjoy going to places, I enjoy the shows. But you can’t forget that you’re trying to build it. It’s a process of reaching a wider audience. I guess my focus is on that for the rest of 2018 and hopefully some of 2019.

I’d like to get down. I’d really like to do Laneway [Festival] in January! I’ve been trying to do that for a few years. It’s a hard one to get.

HAPPY: So you enjoy playing shows down here?

AHJ: I always get asked that question. I wouldn’t do something I don’t enjoy! Yes, I love going to Australia. It’s a lot of work. It’s a big deal to make it down there. It’s not just like, ‘Oh I want to tour Australia! Let’s go.’ When you’re a bigger band I guess you can do that but for me the effort it takes to get down there and having to figure out how to make it all work is not an easy thing. But you do it because you want to go down there more! You have to figure it out.

I don’t know if it’s important to look at that or it’s better just to lie and be like, [taking on dopey voice] ‘Oh whatever. Okay.’ I don’t know, it’s not me to say that. I do really love going to Australia a lot. I wish it was easier for me to go. I think that just depends on your success, so your goal is to always to have a record that maybe pushes boundaries and new people can reach to it on radio. I’ve definitely felt that in America, I’ve played to bigger and more sold out shows. Word of mouth and social media has spread it more. So hopefully that continues in other places.

On Tour

20-22 July – Splendour In The Grass – Info
Tues 24 July – The Factory Theatre, Sydney – Tickets
Wed 25 July – Corner Hotel, Melbourne – Tickets