Strokes guitarist Albert Hammond Jr. has had himself a rough few years, but you'd never know it to listen to his new EP AHJ.
The five tracks don't total more than 15 minutes, but they are a generous 15 minutes, bursting with purpose and promise. Hammond sounds alive here.
Which is kind of a relief, considering the place he was in five years ago, when he released Como Te Llama?
Hammond told NME
that he would "shoot cocaine, heroin and ketamine 20 times a day." Now sober, Hammond seems to be doing well living the straight-and-narrow life. Ahead of his show at the Riot Room this Friday, we spoke with Hammond over the phone from his New York apartment.
The Pitch: Tell me about the EP. It's fairly short - how did you decide on these five songs?
: Well, they were the only five songs. I told Julian [Casablancas] that I was working on a new song, and he was like, "We'll do an A-side," and I sent him what I had, and then he wrote back an e-mail with a bunch of "yes-es," and I just kept on working. I started sending more songs, and it kept on growing. Finally, we had five, and we were like, "Well, let's put it out."
That's right, you recorded this with Julian Casablancas on his own Cult Records. What was it like working with him on a non-Strokes project?
Well, I moved to New York at 17. We lived together for seven years, so if anything, it felt like that, like when we just used to sit around and talk, like just friends talking about stuff. It's so normal that it feels weird to even talk about it. It's what you do when you talk to people that you can just reflect upon with things. He wasn't there during the recording of songs - he'd pop in when we felt like we had most everything done and he'd tell us what he thought, but it was like moving up the cycle of being friends. It felt great.
You've been through a lot in your career, including some well-publicized substance problems. You're sober now, and this is the first solo album you've released since that achievement. How does your sobriety affect your music?
Good question... I think it's allowed me to use all the knowledge I've amassed in the 12 years of playing music professionally, and allowed me to be the most creative that I could be with all that information. Sobriety... It's just something I'd lost along the way, not like I gained something along the way.
You sound so much more confident on this record. Does it feel that way?
Yeah. That just came from the songs, and when I was just excited, when I was hearing them back - your mind always wants to talk to the little guy that's there giving you shit, and you just quiet it down a bit, and that just makes you more confident. It's not the best stuff I can do, but I own it in this moment.
I hear that you're already working on a new full-length album.
Yeah, well, I mean, it's because it's not playing music or writing music - it's a lifestyle. It's not a character you jump into and jump out of. It's like a muscle, and you have to build it back up, and it's a pain in the ass. I'm just continuing to write. It's not like I have plans to make another record right away. I have new songs, and you want to create something that sounds different.
Is it important for you to separate yourself as a solo artist versus as a member of the Strokes?
I think it's understanding roles and accepting certain things. Being in the Strokes is wonderful. My role is wonderful. Playing with those guys is amazing, and everything we do will be amazing. We're a bunch of hard workers, and I feel like we try to do the best, always. It's not about being popular. It's about doing something that we think is great, and doing that myself is important, too, but it's different. I don't have the other guys to bounce ideas off of. It's not that one is better than the other. It's just that there's different ways of doing it. We roll the dice as often as we can and try other things, and if we don't do it right, we're kind of back to square one. Rolling the dice could have not worked, and doing that constantly is what keeps things fresh.
Albert Hammond Jr. is coming to the Riot Room on Friday, November 15. Details here.