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Albert Hammond Jr.: “We'll always be compared in ourselves to ourselves”

Albert Hammond Jr.: “We'll always be compared in ourselves to ourselves”

19 November 2013, 10:30

Albert Hammond Jr. doesn’t avoid who he is. He doesn’t avoid the fact that he is his father’s son, or that his father, Albert Hammond Sr., happens to be an accomplished hit-making singer/songwriter in his own right (check out such feel-good numbers from the 70s as “It Never Rains in Southern California” and “The Air That I Breathe”). Nor does he hide from or deny the fact that he is and will always be one of the Strokes. He couldn’t if he tried.

“I’ll be 60, and it’ll still be there,” Hammond says. “Even if I wrote a book, they’d be like, ‘Watch the Strokes write a book.’ I wouldn’t trade it for anything,” he adds, “but that’s the downside of having that kind of ‘you-can’t-pick-anyone’… that kind of success.”

As I interview Hammond on the occasion of his new solo EP AHJ, released on Julian Casablancas’ Cult Records label, it proves impossible not to make the focus somewhat, if not a lot, about the Strokes. After all, they literally, and very purposefully, submitted to zero interviews and didn’t tour for this year’s Comedown Machine. (In an interview with NME, Hammond offered some reasoning for why the band eschewed the usual press junket, saying that “ get everything wrong.” Which isn’t totally inaccurate to say, especially if you’ve ever read any post-Is This It? album review.)

While the Strokes as a self-sustaining commercial entity may opt for official and consensual silence, Hammond comes off their operative spokesperson, being the only actual bandmember currently speaking to the public for any reason whatsoever. At this, Hammond quickly protests, saying, “I would say that I’m only 1/5, and I’m not speaking for the band.” He budges only to say, “We thought it’d probably be a good idea to not speak, and one day when we do speak it’ll be interesting…But I don’t feel like a spokesperson, nor do I want to be. I’m not. I’m just 1/5 of a band.”

The Strokes have certainly their unity to explain their success, as well an unwavering vision from the get-go: ”I think then it was very important for us to come across the way pop bands do, like how you know everyone’s name. That was very important for us in the beginning. We just didn’t like when it was just like one of the band members was just a singer and the rest a few blurry guys in the back.” Although recognition and creative input was evenly-distributed, Casablancas was clearly the bandleader and primary musical impetus: “He knew kind of early on more directions than us, so we just went with it because we just loved it.” Hammond is very much hitting the road for himself right now, and for a kind of recognition not previously or co-constructed by others. Although he’s no less a Stroke for pursuing his own voice removed from the lot, as he compares his two roles: “One is just like you’re riding in a gang. And one is just you’re alone. It’s just different tasks. I can’t even really compare them.”

“We still have dreams of having success,” Hammond says, “because you feel like you’ve worked really hard on music that you like, and you want it to reach out there. That’s kind of why I’d be touring this EP or talking to people about this EP. I feel like you write something cool and you want it to reach as many people as you can. It’s the only way of doing it. I’d gladly let it sit there, but no one would hear about it.”

The Strokes may be on break, but only so the band members can live their own lives a bit. Hammond says, “It’s not that I get away to go and do this, but I just write songs and I want to play them.” He adds: “People always have to find words for it, but it’s the same as it’s always. Except you have more time to do things. You’re just kind of exploring different things.”

Life in general inform a lot of Hammond’s directions. With the way he describes the genesis of his first two LPs, 2006’s Yours to Keep and 2008’s ¿Cómo Te Llama?, the process sounds like a series of welded shrugs: “The first one was kind of like ‘written in your living room,’ and I never thought of writing a record until it became . And the second one, I was just pissed that people were thinking of me with an acoustic guitar. So I just made a different record. It was just a weird time. And this one [AHJ], it’s how I feel now. It just captures different copings in time, I guess.”

When it comes to discovering new music, Hammond admits that “I’m not a great seeker. Sometime people show me stuff and I’m like, ‘Oh wow. What’s that?’ I sort of get stuck in certain things.” Such explains his earliest interactions with music, which were handed down from the parent you wouldn’t expect (given things). Hammond elaborates, “The first person who showed me music was my mom. She was the first person to teach me like those little scales, you know, when you’re younger. The ‘do re mi’ stuff, ‘La ti do.’ She was always kind of just interested to hear what I was doing next, or little demos I’d make when I was 16. I don’t know, I’d always send her stuff when she comes. I’d always play her things.”

When asked about growing up in a household headed by a veritable pop music legend, Hammond says the ray of influence was hardly felt, let alone a blinding factor: “He was kind of just my dad. For a while I never even wanted to do music really. When I fell in love with it, I kind of just fell in love with an unrelated idea. Even though he did it, which was unrelated, it didn’t feel like it was coming. Even though people would say like, ‘Oh, that’s what your dad does, I was like, ‘No…’” Does his dad acknowledge his own contributions to the annals of music history, I ask? “I feel like now more than before – like when I said I wanted to do it, or as it was happening. I think now as time has passed he has. Yeah, for sure.” Hammond reflects further: “I never even really thought about if I wanted it, or needed it, or asked him for it…”

But even if it’s not coming from his dad’s legacy, or that of the Strokes, Hammond acknowledges the earth-swallowing shadow he stands beneath as he ventures out under the banner of the name he was given at birth. “I have the heavy weight of this band, that did this thing, that had this certain amount of success, that sparked when we came out. We’ll always be compared in ourselves to ourselves, and alone to ourselves. They’ll never just be like ‘Oh, that’s cool,’ but they’ll always be like, ‘It’s worse.’ No matter what I do, they’ll be like, ‘If you were thinking about the Strokes, check this out.’” How does he take the heightened expectations at every turn? “You naturally have your own pressure, but pressure just means you did something good and people want you to beat it.”

However, when asked about the future, Hammond’s plans clearly transcend the constraints of any pressure. He continues, explaining “I hope to be able to play music for my whole life, so I’ll always be trying to do something – whether I’m producing someone, or recording music myself, or doing stuff for the band, or, you know – whatever. I’ll always want to do that. And if I can’t, that’s a bummer and I’ll figure something else out to do…I’m a musician. I record music. It feels pretty normal to continue to do that if I can’t find an audience for it.”

AHJ is out now on Cult Records.

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