We’ve Got A File On You: Albert Hammond Jr
We’ve Got A File On You features interviews in which artists share the stories behind the extracurricular activities that dot their careers: acting gigs, guest appearances, random internet ephemera, etc.
Many years ago, Albert Hammond Jr struck out on his own. During the first of the Strokes’ long pauses, he released two ’00s solo albums. That kicked off a whole other life parallel to the gig that first brought him notoriety. Now, with the forthcoming Melodies On Hiatus, he will have released almost as many albums under his own name as he has with the Strokes.
Ahead of its release, we caught up with Hammond via video chat. He called in from his home in Los Angeles — shirtless, tan, and fit in the Southern California sun, as personable and jocular as ever. With the Strokes having been around for over two decades now, there have been lots of twists and turns in Hammond’s life. We talked about everything from the new album to his big cocaine cameo in Babylon to touring with the Chili Peppers and more.
Melodies On Hiatus (2023)
You’ve said you didn’t intend to make a double album.
ALBERT HAMMOND JR: It was not pandemic writing. I don’t sit down and write for an album in that sense. I’m always writing. I just kept recording songs. The only thing the pandemic did was slow down the release of it. It was supposed to come out in probably 2021. I started to realize I had to write lyrics [for all these tracks] and I was like, “Oh, I’m in trouble.” It felt like homework.
Francis Trouble was a band. We were in the studio together recording it and working stuff out from demos I made. This idea was like, “Let’s deconstruct the band, let’s go on tour with less people.” Let’s basically do our demos for the album. In demo-land, I could probably keep going forever. It’s so fun and you just come up with little bits. Words are the last thing for me. I like song titles, and I’ll come up with a few lines, but I’ve come to notice to do past that is work.
Right, that’s different from your other albums — you collaborated with Simon Wilcox on the lyrics.
HAMMOND JR: It was very special and unique for me. I started out and I was like, “There’s no way I’m going to write lyrics for all these songs.” So I started reaching out to friends in bands and other people I knew who wrote. In my mind, if everyone I know helped me write one or two I’d be done. That wasn’t working out. My publisher at the time introduced me to Simon, and we hit it off on the phone. I played her music and she loved it. We would talk for hours and hours about the songs and go into other stuff.
In my demos, some songs will have lines and then whatever gibberish comes to mind. When I do the demos, my phrasing will be different than when I write, because I’m not trying to rhyme or fit anything, and I’m still figuring out some of the melody. She was able to take this Frankenstein and actually write lyrics that make sense to it, but with the flow of someone who’s not thinking. Maybe that’s why it weirdly sounds more like me than when I do it myself.
She typed all the lyrics out. She’d leave it in my mailbox. We never met until like a year ago or something. I hadn’t seen her face in like the two years we did these phone calls. Ever since I fell in love with music, working with people you get along with is the best part. Seeing how someone else thinks of it, and they push you, and you push them.
One thing you mentioned in the album bio was going through some big life changes. The lyrics have a lot of recollections on early meetings in a relationship, some near departures. Was there a lot of personal stuff you were drawing upon?
HAMMOND JR: The label said it just sounded like “experiences over time.” I’ll be honest, I don’t know if I think or care about that stuff. [Laughs] You have to remember, in the process of creating you’re not thinking about how you’ll speak about it afterwards. For me, I try to get sounds to make you feel something as much as lyrics. You create in all these different spaces and all these different times, and maybe one line is for something and it changes once the song is done. A lot of them end up sounding like relationships because that’s what we all know, and what we have. Whether that’s a partner, a friend, yourself, with life or death.
When I was a kid, music would hit me and changed how I looked at stuff. I had no idea what they were talking about, but I would be a different person after hearing the song. That’s more my goal. I imagine there’s little moments in there, but afterwards you listen and it’s almost like someone else wrote the song.
Cameo In The Opening Party Scene Of Babylon (2022)
HAMMOND JR: It’s small, it’s one line where I say, “The chicken stole my coke!” It was such a wonderful, funny day. There’s naked men, naked women. It looks like a minute of filming. But especially those long [tracking shots], they spend an hour getting the camera right before they even start filming. You don’t know where to look because there’s a thousand naked people.
I started auditioning for stuff for fun. Doing an audition is like beating yourself up a little bit. I went to film school, I fell in love with movies when I was a teenager. I always wanted to do stuff like that. I was just too scared. Then I was like, “What’s the worst thing that happens, I’m bad?” It’s OK, I can deal with being bad.
That one, funny enough, I’m friends with Damien [Chazelle], but I still auditioned for it. [Laughs] They were looking for small scenes, and they knew I’d done a little role in a movie called Newness. It was very stressful; I didn’t realize my one line was after this two-minute-plus shot. They wanted it so over the top. It was the last one I did it, finally, very, very over the top. You always wish you could go back and do it a bit differently.
So Newness was your first role and you’ve had a few other things. You also auditioned for Stranger Things.
HAMMOND JR: I did a callback for Stranger Things season two. It was a very big callback though. It was like, from 18-40, male or female, kind of anyone. I think it ended up being a younger Indian girl? I’m behind on Stranger Things. I felt like I really nailed that first taping, but then I did not nail the callback. It wasn’t meant for me anyways.
So you’re still going out and auditioning frequently now?
HAMMOND JR: Yeah, you know, it’s hard. There was a cool one I wanted to audition for now, for Aziz [Ansari]’s new movie. But they’re filming now and I’m going on tour. I’m not going to audition and then not be able to do it. I think they’d be more pissed at that. But yeah, the whole thing makes you feel uncomfortable, and I possibly think that could be healthy. I’m not sure yet. [Laughs]
Co-Writing “Maybe It’s Great” With Natalie Imbruglia (2021)
You’ve welcomed plenty of collaborators into your own world, but you haven’t stepped out into other people’s songs too frequently. One thing you did do was co-write a song with Natalie Imbruglia a few years ago.
HAMMOND JR: That was great. [Strokes producer] Gus [Oberg] and I went down to Byron Bay, which is one of our favorite places in Australia. That’s where she was. I’ve been friends with her for a long time, and I’d always text her, “Can we write? Can we write?” This time it actually worked.
I’m doing that kind of thing more now. When I moved to LA, it became more of an avenue I could try and do. I’d like to write a song for a movie, or a score. It’s fun to collaborate with different people. You write songs sometimes that don’t fit what you’re doing but might fit someone else more.
I grew up with it. My dad was a songwriter. It’s the most normal thing I’ve seen. Maybe that’s why I stayed away from it for so long. It’s also nerve-wracking. I’m slow. I’m not a studio musician. It takes me a long time to figure out what I wanna do. I wouldn’t hire me to figure something out quickly and record it, but I do think I come up with cool parts. There’s insecurities, but it’s fun to roll the dice.
The Arctic Monkeys Referencing The Strokes On “Star Treatment” (2018)
Obviously there are a million pop culture references to the Strokes over the years. But since you’ve got Matt Helders on your new album — the Arctic Monkeys opened Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino with the line, “I just wanted to be one of the Strokes/ Now look at the mess you made me make.” Did you know that was coming?
HAMMOND JR: I didn’t. [Laughs] I think the first time I heard that was someone asked me in an interview. I had no idea, and I made up my own theory. I’ve never asked them.
What was your theory?
HAMMOND JR: They asked me a certain question, like “Why do you think he wrote that?” or something. Which is a weird thing. Why would I know why he wrote that? [Laughs] It was fun to guess. I was like… he’s in a band that’s successful now. When you’re in the game, what you fell in love with changes over time. This whole thing you’re playing in, it’s not just what you dreamt of or what you wanted to do. Every negative has a positive, every positive has a negative. You get success, you get to have that as a career. But there’s things you have to figure out with that.
Maybe he was reminiscing to when he just started and he saw this band he liked and wanted to be a member. A simpler time. It was a cool way to say “I wish I was young again.” No idea. I still feel like the 18-year-old… it seems like it maybe would’ve been cool to see us and want to play music. I can’t see myself like that.
Yours To Keep (2006) And ¿Cómo Te Llama? (2008)
The first time you and I spoke was many years ago, when Momentary Masters was coming out. At the time, we were very much talking about that as a new chapter — you had gotten sober, the Strokes came back, then you’d done the AHJ EP. Now you’ve been releasing solo albums for almost 20 years, let alone the whole Strokes arc. When you think back to your first two solo LPs in the ’00s, are there lessons you learned then you’re still carrying with you now?
HAMMOND JR: The whole thing of releasing Yours To Keep was just because I felt like if I didn’t finish and do stuff like that, I wouldn’t grow. I didn’t think I was going to tour it. I didn’t think I was going to put it out. Once it’s really out and like, “Oh, I can’t really change it,” then you don’t like stuff. Every record is you striving and not getting there, and then you strive again. But you have to finish it to not get there to want to do another one.
On one side, all I ever wanted to be was in a band. So, the solo thing was weird. I was being seen through the lens of the band. I didn’t fully understand it. I would’ve maybe come at it a little differently, try to prepare myself for that. I fought for a long time — do I call it a band name? Is it just my name? I realized over time… I’m in such a great, cool band, I can’t really top that. I’m in a band, I’ll let that be that journey, and I’ll have this other journey with this. It was accepting fronting something that’s just your name. It’s just you. You’re feeling all the weight.
Maybe now on this one, I’m not thinking about that. I’m just comfortable in it. It’s always hard though. You’re at home. You’re doing laundry, making food. Then you go and you’re in front of people like “…oh.” [Laughs] It takes a second to switch to that person. I don’t sit at home and feel the way I’d feel after doing five big shows with the Strokes. You’re like, “Oh shit, this is my life!” and then you go home like, “Is it?”
I wouldn’t have done so many drugs for the second album. There was some cool stuff in there I could’ve made better. I mean, sure, the journey of getting tremendously high… I have hilarious stories.
The Strokes Opening For Red Hot Chili Peppers (2022-2023)
There are not many bands who remain from the early 2000s Meet Me In The Bathroom era who have the same stature as the Strokes. When I saw the tour announcement with the Chili Peppers, I sort of wondered: Is this what happens? There’s only so many survivors from each generation, and eventually they tour together? Growing up, I listened to both bands, but I thought of them as so separate. Did you feel like you were in some sort of different club now?
HAMMOND JR: First of all, I don’t think about this often — only when someone asks me. But there’s two parts to it. Yeah, time does interesting stuff to bands. You survive certain things while still creating new music. You have this nostalgic power and if you can still create stuff that moves people it sets you off on a different road. I think it’s a really cool bill. It’s a lot of fun to play stadiums — I never thought I’d play stadiums. I listened to the Chili Peppers when I was, god — I sang “Under The Bridge” at the sixth grade graduation. Which is weird in itself, let’s not get into that. There’s a 20-year difference, or around that? I don’t think they’re going anywhere. They’re very active creatively.
As you get older, if the opportunity presents itself, it’s fun being able to think of yourself still playing music as you get older. It’s not something you think about when you’re trying to make it or sustain it. I’m actually curious what we would sound like [at that age]. Time puts limitations on certain bands. Age does. I think we’re a very creative band, and our chemistry together is unique and strong. So the idea of what we would do if we were forced into certain corners. Whenever a band has good chemistry, they’re good when their backs are against the wall. They find their way out. We hadn’t played shows yet. This record came out during the pandemic, and this opportunity presented itself so perfectly. Let’s, on the next record, as long as there’s not another pandemic, we’ll do our own tour. But we’ve done a bit now beforehand. It seemed weird to start our own summer tour after the album had been out. But yes, yes to everything you’re probably thinking. [Laughs]
Eddie Vedder Singing With The Strokes (2006-2022)
I can’t find a decent video of it, but I had this recollection of Eddie Vedder singing “Juicebox” with you guys way back when it first came out.
HAMMOND JR: He did, at Hammerstein Ballroom or something like that. When we did it in Seattle [last year], it was the third or fourth time.
Right, I did find videos from PJ20 and Ohana. You guys also did that “Mercy Mercy Me” cover. What’s your relationship been like with him over the years?
HAMMOND JR: This last time we played, I got to hang out with him the most. I quit smoking for like 10 years, but sometimes I’d have a rolled cigarette once in a while after the show. We had a cigarette after the show and we chatted about stuff, it was really cool.
It’s really fun to talk to other musicians, especially older ones, on tour. You live similar lives. From the outside, tour looks amazing. But the wear and tear on your mind… After a great show, you can feel beat up just from what your brain released. It’s kind of like doing drugs and being hungover the next day, really. You live a weird life. You’re trying to find routine, but you can’t find it. [Talking to people like Eddie], you’re able to understand each other’s darkness and you can have a dark humor, where if you said it to most people they’d freak out or not be able to understand what you’re talking about. It’s a good release. It’s weirdly a very isolating world.
The Strokes Winning A Grammy (2021)
This has been happening for a while, but it’s always been sort of funny to see the bands of my generation sort of belatedly get embraced by the establishment. You guys won your first Grammy in 2021.
HAMMOND JR: First nomination too, you know?
Did that mean something to you?
HAMMOND JR: To be honest, it was more moving than I would have wanted it to be. [Laughs] I never thought about it. From the beginning, when we got signed, the label was like, “No one’s going to play you on the radio.” It was always like, “You’re never going to make it, because no one listens to this.” For it to be 20 years later… getting the first nomination and actually winning, it might be better than getting it right away. It’s almost like a new chapter. We did 20 years of certain things, and now we’re going to try 20 years maybe a little different.
My daughter was born on March 7, and then March 14 we won the Grammy. That month — it was too much. They were in New York, Nikolai and Fab and Julian. They were at Julian’s place and did it remote. As soon as I got a text like, “You guys won,” it didn’t register. It means a lot, actually, it’s strange. I didn’t think it would, but it does.
Room On Fire (2003)
Stereogum does a lot of anniversary content, and Room On Fire is turning 20 in October. There are those fans who say it’s their favorite, and it was kind of my gateway Strokes album—
HAMMOND JR: But the press ripped us apart and almost tore apart the band? Because they thought it was just a #2 and “they never create.” Sure, sure.
Right, it was a complicated legacy from the start. I was wondering how you reflect on that era now.
HAMMOND JR: All eras I’ve had in my life, I look back on fondly and I’m grateful for them and I try to learn to feel that way about where I am now sometimes, because you can lose that. It was amazing. We were a band-band. We were still young enough that you don’t have many things to do besides hang out with each other. Successful but nothing crazy. It was just really good times.
I didn’t understand [the reaction]. I thought it was a really cool record. Just the fact that it had “Under Control” and “Reptilia.” Just those two songs and the different sounds — I was confused that wouldn’t just blow everyone away. [Laughs] Like if you listened to what was coming out then [in comparison], I’d be like, “Do you hear this!?” I thought they were powerful, strong songs. I mean, they are. Twenty years later you play them live and they resonate.
We got a lot of slack for doing “Is This It Number 2.” I didn’t think it was like it at all. Sure, sonically there were similarities. But it’s very weird in the modern day — we’re talking about 20 years ago, it’s still the modern day — what kind of sound shift do people expect a band to do? To change instruments? Did they want us to be produced by someone we don’t like so it sounds a little more radio-friendly? I’m not putting anything down, just different sounds. It’s strange to me. It was hard after that. Even for me, and I’m saying it now.. I feel like we should’ve tried to… “stay smaller” is the wrong thing. We should’ve just kept chipping away. Like they were judging a statue and we were chipping. Like there was a bigger arc we didn’t get to. It’s OK, we got to other arcs.
Melodies On Hiatus is out 6/23 on Red Bull Records.