It may seem as though the once city-living quintuple from New York, who we know as The Strokes, have been in and out of the limelight's immediacy. Not to say myself and my immediate camp included don't miss the intuitive and electrifying shows, because indeed we do. Unless you've been living on Mars, you would know that each member is engulfed in personal projects, which naturally are moving with the smooth speed of a zeppelin, not too high in the clouds that we can’t see what's going on, but just high enough above ground to where we feel like it's almost within reach. Their particular sound came at a time when gears were shifting and rock was embracing transition. It's no wonder their sound detonated an explosion of cool throughout the newborn cyberspace of complicated musical genres and the all too well-known god we kneel before as “the download” began to inherently stake its claim. Genres and timelines aside, it's difficult not to mention the roots of a band who influenced so many. No matter where you were or where you've been between 1998 and 2017, that cohesively fuzzy, melodic, knockout sound we know has unconsciously been maneuvering its way through the airwaves which has brought us here — with Albert Hammond Jr. and his fourth solo album that we've all been waiting for.
Circle back just a few months prior to the new year and you’ll find me and my crew trampling through The Observatory in Orange County at the annual Beach Goth festival. Although we got a late start in our day, we managed to make it just in time for Hammond’s set. As the evening sun was settling in, Hammond made his way to the stage carrying that classic, white 1985 fender reissue we rarely see him without. As expected, the set was incredibly tight and inspiring. Hammond and his crew, The Excuse, charged through their set, which consisted of songs from all three of his previous albums. They even managed to get in a few songs from a personal favorite of mine, Yours To Keep, his first solo album released back in 2006. From our view, you wouldn't have known the guys didn't even have a proper line check. I asked him how he felt about not having the opportunity to do a proper line check and how one deals with those sort of extremities, he candidly replied:
“You don't deal with it. It's really hard, but it's still fun. It just gives the show a different feel; it gives it a little more of an edge.”
The day after the festival, I met with Hammond for a sit down in West Hollywood. I arrived just prior to our 2:30 p.m. meeting at Erewhon Market. I was met by his contact from BB Gun Press who informed me that Hammond was getting lunch. Ten minutes later, Hammond sat down and we properly introduced ourselves. He was wearing a red shirt with a fitted, jet blue blazer, black skinny slacks and black Chucks. As he sat down, he seemed to be at ease; maybe because he was on the tail end of touring or maybe it was just the West Hollywood air — either way, the mood was relaxed.
William Lankford - Thanks for meeting with me — it's much appreciated. So, to get to it, how's the new album coming?
Albert Hammond Jr. - I've got six songs done and another seven that are just waiting for vocals from me.
WL - Where are you guys recording the album?
AH - At my house in upstate New York, where I also recorded my last two albums.
WL - Where are you currently living upstate?
AH - Eldred, which is in Bethel, New York. Well, ten minutes from Bethel where they held Woodstock. I got a drone for my birthday, here's the shot from above just to give you an idea (sorry kids, that picture was for Gross’ eyes only).
WL - How's the recording process? Do you feel like you find more solitude working up there?
AH - I mean, it's where I could afford ten acres. There's something magical about that spot. I would say going to the country could be magical or it could also be a nightmare.
WL - So, for this album, who are you working with?
AH - Well, we're still in the process — Gus Oberg produced it. We approached this album a little more raw. There's something really energetic about this record. Gus has been with me since my first album. We went to this studio, Loho, in the Lower East Side of New York, where he was the house engineer. I just don't remember not being friends with him. He's one of those people I just became best friends with so fast. We've been working together very closely. We push each other, which is the reason why I keep working with him. The work always feels really new and exciting. He wouldn't even begin to do it if he felt like we were just “making music.”
WL - So, when are you guys trying to drop this album?
AH - I’d like to do it by the end of April . I try to set goals for myself and meet them.
WL - How did you link up with this band, “The Excuse,” that you're currently playing with?
AH - Just organically. I mean they were with me on the last album. We became more and more of a band. Now we went in for the second time to work on our record, so it was different, you know; that's a hard thing to do — to open up and play or create with people. It's not an easy thing to sit in a room and be that patient; things don't come out fast, and even if they do, you have to be able to serve it back.
WL - Talk with me a bit more about this album.
AH - It’s not really there yet. I mean, I'm in this weird time. I'm in this limbo where I know it’s happening, but… I mean this is what's happening. I feel like I got confused by music. There's a lot of keyboards and synths and stuff, and I'm just kind of tired of hearing what you think is rock or what indie rock has become. It's this weird sound to me that I don't fully understand, so I just want it to be something along the lines of people you want to hang out with; that feeling you have when you're growing up, and everything feels exciting and dangerous, but just unknown. Everything's a little sexual you know — it doesn't seem to be like that anymore. I just wanted a modern idea for a rock band. I'm going with how I feel in my gut. I felt like I've played rock 'n' roll, so I wanted to exude that.
WL - Let's go back to The Strokes — you guys were together for what, like fifteen or sixteen years — and then here you are now, working on yet another solo album. What's the cause?
AH - I'm just a different person. I don't even know who that person is!
WL - When I first moved to New York back in 2006, literally the first day, I picked up your first solo record, "In Transit." With that said, I was enamored at how you transitioned into your own sound aside from “The Strokes.” I feel like you've discovered your own sound and your own voice.
AH - Thank you, I mean if anything, my voice on this record will definitely be something that people are excited about. I do honestly feel like fronting a band, singing in a band or writing songs for a band, especially with these guys from the EP to now — it feels established. The first record was very much like an album done in my living room, and you would listen to it on headphones or by yourself with a black light — stoned. And the second album was just a debaucherously wonderful time and then everything from the EP on built to this. It'll make so much sense when you hear it!!
WL - 😂😂
AH - 😂😂
The remainder of the day, Hammond and his wife, and myself and friends, took to LACMA in circles. Hammond's willingness to express his love for music, art and all things fundamentally compelling is as humble and calm as his demeanor. For a musician who was involved with one of the most pronounced and influential bands to come out of New York in the late '90s and early 2000s, he remains as humble and hungry for artistic and musical expression as the day he started. Early in our conversation, Hammond harped on the curiosity with the discovery of sound and the unknown. His ideals couldn't be more accurate. Flash back to being a teenager, sitting in the back of your friend’s truck, drinking beer and listening to the first Strokes record, and just enjoying the music in the moment. Hammond has made it his life's work to refurbish that ideology.
We continue to listen.
Photos: Mike Anderson - @msa_photography