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Nine Songs
Albert Hammond Jr.

The singer/songwriter talks the pivotal songs that have inspired his work with The Strokes and as a solo artist.

06 April 2018, 09:00 | Words by Steven Loftin

From his time in The Strokes to his prolific solo career it’s always felt like he’s been searching for something and for now he’s found that in Francis Trouble.

It’s an album based on the search for identity, which Hammond explores vicariously through the loss of his twin brother in utero, a record that's led him on another voyage of discovery. As he talks us through the songs that inspire him from various stages in his life and career, Hammond is both fanatical about the songs he loves and is someone who finds inspiration that goes beyond obvious touchstones, where he’s constantly on the search for art that has its own unique truth and authenticity.

Whilst the songs Hammond has chosen range from cult classics to mainstays of the songwriting canon, each of them were pivotal in informing the ideas that formed his musical path. “This is the duality that I live in. I’m trying to make myself accessible while at the same time trying to fit into all these things that I love and admire. The Clash are a great example of that, but even The Ramones sound modern now. If they came out right now, people would be blown away. Back then it was cool, but they should’ve been an arena band.”

Just as with his work as a member of The Strokes and as a solo artist, what Hammonds values in music are songs that have their own distinctive voice, that revel in relatability, expression and just being yourself.

“Hybrid Moments” by Misfits

“I got the internet later on in life - in my early ‘30s, compared to when people get into it in their early teens and Misfits are one of those bands that really changed my direction when I was directionless. So I found them at a moment when I was directionless, but just later on!

“I bought the album Static Age on vinyl because I heard their song ‘Last Caress’. That’s what got me into them and I just love that song and the chord changes, They’re very melodic, but they also have very biting words. I feel like some of their lyrics could offend people and I enjoy that.

“I feel like listening to music is something you collect and over time different things can come out, but I don’t listen to something and then want to write it. It's never in that moment, I never hear a song I really like and want to be in the midst of doing a record. It’s always different times, doing different things, and things that have a whole process, so I imagine elements of what excites me about them is hopefully in my music.”

“Champs” by Wire

“Sometimes people will know certain bands and then listen to a bunch of them. I got Pink Flag and “Champs” came on and I just put it on repeat constantly, I really love that intro. They were another band that helped to breathe new life into me at the same time as Misfits

“I fell in love with these two bands roughly the same time. I always think it takes a few years for your body to absorb something, well it has for me because I remember the feeling I got with these bands, and it wasn’t until I heard this record that a lot of those feelings came out.

“I remember when I first got into the Talking Heads. It took me a few weeks of listening to it; I was kind of hearing it and I liked it, but then all of a sudden one day I just loved it! Something happens, how you change your ear-palate, your taste buds or whatever, you perceive things differently.”

“Wait a Minute” by Wipers

“This is another band of the same group. I was totally blown away by this whole record Is This Real? I feel like these three bands reminded me that as much as there’s a lot of prog in the ‘70s/’80s that I love, this reminded me that I don’t want to play keyboards, I just want to have songs that have heart and that are guitar driven. They were so visceral for me and made me feel so alive, a lot of times you could feel jaded with life, but these songs made me feel very alive.

“Everything is roughly the same, just executed differently. These three bands, Wire, Wipers and Misfits, definitely helped to get me out of a rut. It was at a weird time when I didn’t know what I was going to do musically, so it was just fun to get excited by music, to feel just fun, without it being just a job, It made me excited to pick up a guitar, just because, not because I was writing.”

“To Ramona” by Bob Dylan

“This song is one of my favourites, it’s just so good. Once again though, variety is the key. It’s about being able to like this song that makes me like those other songs even more.

“I don’t remember when I heard it, but it was definitely way after I knew his other stuff and it was definitely a hidden gem. It always makes you feel like, ‘what was I doing that I missed this? I have a few songs like that.

“What’s so great about him is he’s a master of writing a bitter song, but he makes you want to be a cooler man and for some reason, it’s out of understanding. He makes you feel like Humphrey Bogart, where it’s like this romantic notion of staying with a person, but knowing that you have to go or understanding the flows of life.

“I feel like many people have lived it, but actually they’ve not, he’s just good at it in a way that he’s able to tell someone that he thinks they’re doing it wrong, or he’ll realise that he’s doing it life wrong. It’s just all so cool, it’s like this skinny guy from Middle America is badass! People think heavy metal is tough, but it’s more theatrical to me, his fighting words are tougher.”

“Twin Falls” by Built To Spill

“When I moved to New York, Built To Spill where one of the first bands I went to see. The third time I saw them they had a cassette giveaway of their new album. This song wasn’t on that, but that cassette was played on very early Strokes tours, when we were opening up for Guided By Voices and we just played that tape till it basically wore away.

“This song was from Perfect From Now On, and I just didn’t understand how this song wasn’t huge. It felt like I was falling in love with music from the ‘60s and ‘70s and then I heard this and I was confused why this wasn’t big. It’s an amazing song. Do you know what kind of world we would live in if this was a hit song, instead of Nickleback or Staind? Imagine if this was on the radio? I feel humanity would be better off if it was.

“We had Richard Pryor tapes and this Built To Spill tape and they just went back and forth. It’s funny that we became friendly enough with them so that when they came back to New York and played Irving Plaza, we saw them backstage and realised they were such stoners! Like, smoking before the show. They had written out the setlist but they’d crossed out this song, and Julian and I were confused. They were doing three nights at Irving, we went to every night and on the third night they did this and it was weird that they crossed it out so hard. It was because they were covering ‘Someday’ and they didn’t want us to know.

“To this day we both still think their cover was better than our version, it was amazing. It was very, very moving, but it was also really good. I shit you not, it was better! It was the guitar tone and Doug Martsch made the melody very him. He’s got a good voice which is very cool.”

“Life On Mars?” by David Bowie

“I recently got into this again with my wife and we listened to Bowie's records on vinyl. It was this album, Hunky Dory and a Police album, that we would put on all day, just doing house stuff and we'd keep flipping him over. With ‘Life On Mars?’ I learned that she’d never heard it and it became a favourite, so we just kept on listening to it over and over again. It’s an amazing song, I love it when people ask what lyrics mean but I’m like, 'who cares'?!

“For me, it’s how it reacts to you, his meaning might bring you closer to what he was thinking, but further from where you would want it for you, so it’s a weird price to pay. But it always takes me to a new place, always, I never get tired of those lyrics, or that melody, it’s just, 'goddamnit!' I miss the days when that’s what would be successful and on the radio, when those songs had a chance. They were just melodic and just so cool.

“I think it goes in cycles, there’s always a lot of good stuff. It’s a bummer Van Gogh couldn’t have been super successful in his lifetime, as opposed to people paying a shit tonne of money for his stuff after he died thinking everyone thought he’s a loser. So it happens, but I still think it’d be a better world with Elton John on the radio, those days were really cool."

“I’d Rather Go Blind” by Etta James

“I never thought I’d have a favourite song, but I think ''I’d Rather Go Blind' might be my ultimate song. It’s like when I first heard Sam Cooke’s ‘A Change Is Gonna Come’, it’s just perfect, a masterclass in songwriting, it's eternal. It’s just everything, so much so that I play it if I DJ a dancehall and people will always come up and ask what it is. I’ve always gone around and created moods and I always put that in the middle somewhere.

"It’s another one I heard later on. I don’t know if I heard it on that movie with Adrian Brody Cadillac Records. but think I saw it on that and I was like ‘Woah, what’s that?’ Etta James’ version is just unbelievable.

“No matter what you listen to, when you put this on, afterwards you’re just in it.”

“Always Crush Me” by Guided By Voices

“This is a hard one because there are so many GBV songs for so many different reasons but I always liked the way he was going high in this chorus. With Alien Lanes, I mean that’s basically where we took everything for Is This It, from those records, but no one got it right.

"That’s where we took it from, but they were also the beginning for me. When I was 15 or 16, they were what took me from falling in love with an instrument to wanting to do it and putting my toe in. They gave me hope, they were my Beatles. They were when I became a young man, but I felt like I was a man, I wanted to leave home, I knew what I wanted to do and I was blindly committed to it.

“They were the band that made it feel it was possible and that I could do it. It changes and it has waves - at first it was Buddy Holly but then you take it from a dream to ‘I’m going to do this’, and then it was them. I don’t know if it’s because of the way their songs were constructed, but they were the coolest things I’d ever heard. Especially from a time like the mid-‘90s, where guitar music sounded like it was recorded in a hospital - every microphone was the same, everyone had the same distortion and all the guitars sounded as boring as a guitar could be.

“Obviously there were great records but whatever was on the radio was easily accessible and it felt terrible! It was the most middle of the road sounds you could get and people were eating it up!”

“No Time” by Jay Reatard

“I don’t know much about Jay Reatard’s career but for some reason this song is kind of like the modern ‘I’d Rather Go Blind’ for me. It’s very cosy and at the same time it’s so catchy.

“In a different time, I wish I had been into him or met him, when he was around. I know he didn’t live long enough for that to happen, but sometimes you hear a song and they catch your ear like a surprise. Like you’re going through the day thinking nothing’s going to happen and then all of a sudden you see the world differently. It doesn’t happen a lot, it might only happen once, you might only have one of them.”

Francis Trouble is out now via Red Bull Records
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