Albert Hammond Jr is one of the most influential guitarists of the 21st Century. In addition to his over 14 years with The Strokes, Hammond Jr has released two solo albums and an EP. His latest record, Momentary Masters, was released in July 2015, and is now being toured across the world.
After trekking out to the Hare and Hounds in Kings Heath, Birmingham, we were lead through a winding series of cramped stairwells and passageways into the back of a second(!) gorgeous rustic style pub by Albert’s tour manager. I had no idea what it would be like to meet one of my musical idols in person, but when he entered the room – finishing off his post-show pizza order – my trepidations melted away.
Boar Music: Hey! How are you enjoying the tour?
Albert Hammond Jr: It’s amazing! In the UK this is only the third night though: we did Oxford and Manchester already, but by December 9th, when we finish, we’ll have done 60 shows since September 16th. It’s weird in the UK because in America every day off was a travel day – America’s big – so that gets pretty tiring. But in Japan we did like two shows in five days, so it was like a vacation for us.
BM: The last few times on tour would have been with The Strokes, right? So how are you finding touring alone?
AHJ: It’s great. I mean I don’t feel like I’m on my own. Maybe if I was literally by myself it might be somewhat different. We formed this band to make an album, go on tour, and to spend the next couple of years trying to establish, trying to say something, trying to build a career and a whole body of music. I do feel this has a purpose, so every time you feel like “why am I doing this?” [laughs] you can have a bigger picture in mind, which helps.
BM: You had the Jimmy Kimmel performance broadcast last night which is naturally a big deal; but you’ve been doing this for 14 years now, do you find you still get nervous?
AHJ: No, I mean you still get nervous, it’s part of the excitement – the best part and the worst part is the feeling you get before, like ‘something’s happening!’ But that’s – that’s fun. You don’t realise it at the time but I think if you didn’t feel that then you couldn’t go on stage. You’d just be like – meh – you need that rush.
BM: Has anything really interesting happened on tour yet?
AHJ: Well [laughs] it’s only been two shows so not much! But Manchester is always loud, that’s great, and Oxford was fun because there was a bigger crowd than last time we were there. Manchester’s always great. We have this small room that we fill to the brim, but like across the street is the dream: the O2 Ritz. It’s a very visual representation of what you want to do, it’s pretty funny. Actually, there was one thing that happened – I saw a guy in the crowd with a black eye and after the show whilst I was signing stuff out the back the cops came! I was pretty nervous I thought it was for me [laughs]. Then another guy told me it was someone he was mugged by five days ago and took his phone! It was just pretty amazing that he was at the same show.
BM: You included a Bob Dylan cover, ‘Don’t Think Twice’, on your record. Is there any reason you chose that one?
AHJ: It’s not really that fascinating a story. I feel like the sound of it and what it turned out to be is more important than the result. I was doing a fest (Dylan Fest) that my friends run and they came to me with eight Dylan songs to perform. The EP (which turned out to be AHJ) was actually going to be an album of reworks of Frank Sinatra songs, but that never worked out, so I got excited about having the opportunity to do a rearrangement, and this one just started happening. When I got back I finished the demo, and it kinda just sat there until we made this record, and I felt it fitted really well.
BM: When I first heard it I didn’t even realise it was a Bob Dylan cover.
AHJ: Yeah it started with different melodies and all the fills are different – it’s only really the same song lyrically.
BM: Would you say Bob Dylan is one of your big musical influences?
AHJ: I’m not like one of those guys who knows all his stuff, I mean, I know the greatest hits and he’s amazing at what he does. But anyone who’s that big will have influenced me, I think it’s impossible to ignore them and claim they haven’t had any effect on you.
BM: I guess in the same vein you and the rest of The Strokes were kind of responsible for the indie movement in the early 2000s…
AHJ: Well we were one of many! [laughs] But I feel the media gave it that name not us!
BM: Does it ever feel weird that you inspired all that?
AHJ: I don’t really think about it to be fair, I feel that if I thought about it I would just be stuck – I wouldn’t go anywhere. I could just be a dick and I feel, like, I’d be boosting my ego over very small things. I’m really trying to do something bigger than just that. That said in the end you realise unfortunately it doesn’t really matter. You want it so bad that when you get it it’s awesome – but it’s not really gonna define anything.
BM: My favourite track on the new album is ‘Losing Touch’. Is there a story behind that song in particular?
AHJ: Funnily enough that song has had the longest life of any of the tracks on the record. The opening riff I wrote in Japan in 2003, and it had just been sitting on my computer. The verses have had loads of variations and the words “Losing Touch” have been there for about five years. The chorus is brand new though; the old one sucked. One big thing about this record is that parts of it just kept getting better and better – I had to keep changing stuff around to keep the average quality up.
BM: Which track do you like the most from the record?
AHJ: I usually try not to have favourites of anything, because it all depends on, like, feelings. I feel having favourites limits my possibilities. I really liked the process of doing ‘Coming to Getcha’, I think it’s the most powerful chorus I’ve ever had melodically and word wise. But ‘Sideboob’ was a huge change in how we actually worked in the studio. I mean we could do this for any song on the record and we wouldn’t get to a proper answer [laughs].
BM: Did you end up scrapping anything from Momentary Masters?
AHJ: We had recorded two more songs. In reality, the process of editing happens that fast that if we start something and it doesn’t sound good It’s almost immediately pushed aside. When I finished the last song on the record it just felt like I was done. I didn’t even realise it was ten songs, I just did it and it was like – “yeah I’m done.”
BM: One last question – do you find your most popular songs are enjoyable for you, or do you prefer your more obscure tracks?
AHJ: It’s usually different. I’d have to say most bands always have hit songs that aren’t our favourites. There’s certain ones for sure, I don’t know if it’s just because you have to change songs so much to release them as singles, or play them on TV. It’s amazing when you have people singing along to new songs regardless though. In Manchester yesterday the whole crowd was singing ‘Losing Touch’ and it felt great even if it wasn’t – y’know. Once you’re on stage and the crowd are loving it it’s just fantastic.
The first thing I said after leaving the interview was: “what a lovely man.” I had a grin on my face throughout the whole evening and the gig was fantastic. In the intimate setting of the Hare and Hounds, Hammond Jr, dressed in all white, absolutely stood out, and his guitar solos and voice filled the room – especially in tracks like ‘St Justice’ and ‘In Transit’ from his 2013 EP, AJH. Special mention must also be given to the support act Tempesst, who’s almost Mogwai–esque blend of guitars had the crowd cheering after every song.