It’s been seven long years since Albert Hammond Jr., guitarist for seminal New York City rock band The Strokes, has put out a full album under his own moniker (that was Come Te Llama all the way back in 2008) and two since he first got back into writing and recording his own work with the AHJ EP in 2013. This year saw the release of his third LP, Momentary Masters, an album Hammond Jr. wasn’t sure would ever get made but one that has brought him storming back into the hearts and minds of his many fans.
He took some time out of his ongoing mammoth tour of the United States to have a chat to us about the album and his forthcoming tour of Australia, including a set at New South Wales’ stunning Mountain Sounds festival on the Central Coast, his first time back in the country since The Strokes played Splendour In The Grass in 2010 and his very first time here as a solo artist.
Hey Albert, how are you doing?
I’m good! How are you?
Yeah I’m getting there. Where in the world do we find you at the moment?
I just got home to New York but I’m leaving tomorrow to LA. So just New York right now.
Not a lot of rest time on this tour I see, how’s that going?
Oh it’s amazing. We just finished an eight week tour of America and in the middle of that there was a week in Japan. Going really well.
Great to hear. Well I’ll jump in to what’s the biggest news for you right now, which is the new album that you’re currently taking on tour Momentary Masters. It’s your first album since Como Te Llama back in 2008. Can you tell us, seven years on from that record, how different it was for you to be back in the studio writing and recording your own work?
In some ways it’s… I guess I knew it, so it’s not really like anything has changed like that. I guess I really felt it on the EP. After rehab I didn’t write music for a while, not because I didn’t want to, I just didn’t really have the energy to do too much. So the EP kind of brought me back and I did a tour for that and the band came from that and so when I went in to do this with a band, I mean I wasn’t as confident as I feel now but I was definitely on the way. I was excited, I was really excited. That’s probably the best way to put it.
Is there any extra pressure on you given that this is work you’re putting out under your own name?
No. I mean there’s pressure in anything that you do that you like, just the natural pressure of just wanting to be great. I mean, you’ve looked up to all these people who you think are great and you’re just trying to get there, watching yourself make mistakes and maybe try to reach some things. There’s pressure but nothing that you wouldn’t expect when you’re trying to make it in the music business.
(Laughs) If I didn’t want pressure I should have done something else.
You mentioned just before you didn’t write anything for a while and you were feeling a bit flat and I know I read that there was a period of time there where you weren’t all that sure that this record would be made. How did you overcome that?
Well that wasn’t really this record, the EP kind of brought all that forward. Actually One Way Trigger (from The Strokes last album Comedown Machine) was the first song I wrote again and it brought me back and made me excited and I kind of held onto it to work on it and didn’t want to show anyone because I was kinda like ‘Oh I feel like I’m back for me but maybe I don’t really want to show anyone’ in case they didn’t like it and then it would be back to the drawing board for me.
So it finally happened and it came out on The Strokes record and we didn’t tour so I started working on some stuff that I had and then this EP came out, sort of this mini record and it kind of felt cool to me, so different and fun, and so it went from there, it just kept on growing.
With that floodgate of creativity that you opened, is there some stuff there that didn’t make the album that you might revisit?
Yeah we had recorded these two other songs but I just didn’t get to put any singing on them but I was going through the songs and when I reached ten I thought it just feels like a record so let’s stop going through all this stuff. I don’t know, maybe I’ll look at them later and they could be fun little things for when you put out a record, I don’t know what you call it, like B-sides? I don’t know if that really makes sense.
Also yeah I have a bunch of new ones that I want to try so I don’t know, we have a lot of stuff to go through.
Do you think that Momentary Masters might have been a gateway to more frequent output from you?
Well I want to make it on my own in the music business so I can’t just sit back and relax. There’s this perception of me that I’m just doing this for me because there’s nothing better to do but I always wanted to have a career in it because I feel like I can do it and I want to be an entertainer. So I’m just trying to do that.
And how are the songs that you’ve come up with now translating from the studio to the live stage?
Yeah that’s one of the best parts of doing both things, doing the recording and then going to play live and then going back to record. They kind of feed each other with what you want to make. You know because there’s certain things that you get tired of but it was everything that I was missing in this record. So we play between eight and nine of the new songs every night and the setlist is really fun and amazing.
I ask because you’re about to come out to Australia for your own headline tour.
The first time you’ve been out here since you were with The Strokes for Splendour In The Grass back in 2010 and I don’t think you’ve ever toured here as a solo artist.
I have not!
Is there anything in particular that you’re looking forward to doing while you’re back down under?
Everything (laughs), I love it down there. I’ve been trying to get down there since the EP but it’s just kind of hard to get all the way down to the bottom of the world you know. Or I guess it’s on top of the world if you’re you guys. I don’t know.
We’re tragically far-flung. You’re also dropping in at the Mountain Sounds Festival while you’re here, was there anything in particular that drew you to that festival?
Oh man, I think there’s too much knowledge being credited to the artist there. My booking agents have been working really hard to get me there. I mean I wish I had my pick because if I had my pick I’d be booked on all of them (laughs).
No you’re just trying to get one to have you. Sometimes it takes a year or two for anyone to notice but yeah, I mean I don’t know why exactly, they just said that we could make it to Australia and I told them fucking book it then! (Laughs).
Well I’ve no doubt you’re going to enjoy it, you seem to love Australia and that festival happens to be in one of the nicest parts of the country. Really picturesque down there on the Central Coast.
Oh man, sounds awesome. Can’t wait.
Have you had a chance to check out the bill you’re on? Anyone you know already or you’re looking forward to seeing?
No I haven’t yet! Someone else asked me that too and I told them that usually when you’re playing a festival your tour manager the day before will ask you if you want to see any bands and you’ll look at the list and be like ‘oh cool these ones!’ but no, I haven’t had a chance to pre-look at it yet but I feel like I should now if I’m going to be doing more interviews, I feel bad! (Laughs)
I like hanging around and watching bands though. You’re saying it’s picturesque like that, I think I want to go and just hang out and listen to bands and enjoy that you know.
Exactly. There are some really talented Aussie musicians on the bill so maybe some fantastic new introductions there. As far as your Aussie fans go though, what can we expect from your shows while you’re down here?
Yeah I don’t know, we put on a really great show. I don’t know what to call it anymore, there’s just so many genres and subgenres of stuff that I don’t know. But we put on a great, entertaining show that I feel like, just based on it in America, that I get a lot of surprised people who didn’t know that they were going to have so much fun. Which I kind of like, it’s like, ‘oh, I had to convince you that I could do that’. I feel like I’m at that stage with this record.
Well we’re all looking forward to it immensely. Just to wrap it up, aside from continuing on your album tour and then coming this way, have you got any plans for the near future? Do you get any time off at all?
Yeah I’ll get some time off on the holidays for sure. I wanted to go to Australia and then to South America in March and we’re going to try to record when I get back so that then we can fill up Spring and Summer with European and American festivals. I just wanted to record some things and see where it can go without the pressure or the idea that you’re trying to make a record.
Excellent. Albert I’ll let you go catch a break before you head out to LA but thank you very much for your time this morning and we’re all looking forward to seeing you when you get here.
Oh that’s right, it’s morning for you guys.
Monday morning to be exact, which is just awful.
Ah man. Well I’m looking forward to coming to Australia too. Come say hey while I’m here!
Momentary Masters is out now via Vagrant Records. Albert Hammond Jr. is on tour in Australia for the following dates and venues:
Tue, Feb 16th: The Gov, Adelaide
Wed, Feb 17th: Woolly Mammoth, Brisbane
Fri, Feb 19th: Oxford Art Factory, Sydney
Sun, Feb 21st: Corner Hotel, Melbourne
Albert Hammond Jr. is playing Mountain Sounds Festival on New South Wales’ Central Coast on Saturday the 20th of February. Tickets available here.