Albert Hammond Jr: 'You need to find someone to love you'

The Strokes' Albert Hammond Jr talks to Elisa Bray about his new solo album and the things that make him happy

Sunday 23 October 2011 08:32
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Albert Hammond Jr is in London for a whirlwind trip, before he returns back home to New York for the release of his second solo album.

All members of The Strokes are known for their celebrity supermodel girlfriends and 28-year-old Hammond is no exception; current photographs show the singer and guitarist out with supermodel of the moment Agyness Deyn who recently made her foray into the rock scene singing with indie band the Five O'Clock Heroes.

"When it comes to girls, it's all about whether you fall in love with them, not what they do," Hammond says casually, wearing his trademark black leather jacket and his hair the same curly mop as ever. "I'm retarded when it comes to that. I've no idea who they are – I always think it's the exact opposite and then you find out and you're like 'oh, ok. I'm stupid, of course'. You just want to find someone that loves you back and takes care of you."

That he passes this off so casually would suggest that glamour is in Hammond's blood. He was born into rock royalty and last month his father, who wrote the international hit "Nothing's Gonna Stop Us Now" for Starship and co-wrote "To All the Girls I've Loved Before" famously sung by Willie Nelson and Julio Iglesias, was inducted into the 2008 Songwriters Hall of Fame. Hammond Jr attended the celebratory night with his father in New York City. Is he proud? "Are you kidding? It's so funny, my dad and I never really bonded on music growing up. It was something I've always seen him do and I know it's something he loves so to see him be honoured by his peers is very touching."

"Touching" seems an oddly non-passionate choice of adjective, and further shows Hammond's feeling of distance from his father's music. "It never felt like we were doing the same thing. When I fell in love with music I was like 'wow you can write music and make a living', I wasn't like 'oh that's what you do'. It's almost like I'd never heard of it. It was in his early teens that Hammond fell in love with music, when he saw the musical Buddy, about the singer's life. "It was amazing. That night was it. Ever since that night I played guitar," he says.

At 15 he started to write the songs that would become the foundations of his debut solo album Yours to Keep released in 2006. His new album features fewer musical guest appearances than his first, Sean Lennon being the exception, but the songs are more diverse and ambitious including an instrumental track "Spooky Couch" (with Lennon on piano). His Strokes bandmates have given their seal of approval – singer songwriter Julian Casablancas's favourite is the outstanding "You Won't Be Fooled By This" – which is also the most Strokes-sounding. That the cover to new album Como Te Llama features not just Hammond, but also his band members, is integral to the way he sees the project as a band rather than solo project. "I like working with people and bouncing ideas off them," he explains.

Although the band is a four-piece, live they become a quintet, and Hammond sings with a guitar strapped around his neck whether or not he is playing it. "I couldn't sing without a guitar, I like the way it feels to sing and be holding a guitar even if I'm not playing it that much. All my idols that I grew up liking always had a guitar on them but they didn't play it – Buddy Holly, John Lennon, Lou Reed, Elvis Costello. It's like having a partner with you. It's more fun to dance with someone than dancing alone."

Hammond has always been a wary interviewee. He's excited about his new record and he's delighted to talk about it, but there is a sense of tension as if he is sitting on the edge of his seat just waiting for the inevitable Strokes questions. Ask him about his dayjob and his answers take on a terse tone.

When they released their debut album Is This It in 2001, The Strokes were widely credited as changing the face of rock music. Now aged 28, how does Hammond see those early days? "I was 20 and I got to play music around the world, I think it's pretty self explanatory how amazing it was. Just friends having the time of their life. I don't waste time to look back at what I've done. I don't want to live back then. Then I'll be stuck and that will be the only achievement," he protests, lest we suggest his Strokes fame is the only point of interest.

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"The thing with me and The Strokes and talking about stuff is I hate reading about it. I wish they just didn't write about me. I mean, I'm putting out a new record and it's like 'The Strokes are getting back together!' If they wanted to do that why don't they just write an article on The Strokes? I don't like being the spokesperson for the band. I wish they'd just make a statement so I wouldn't have to. It's really annoying. I'm the least likely to be the spokesperson and I'm the one." It's a passionate rant and one he's obviously made before. However, he adds: "I'd be very excited to see where things go. We're all in different places now. So it would be exciting to see where we take the next album to. We've spoken and know we're going to meet at some point. It's not my choice. Everyone thinks it's not me getting back because I'm making records, but it's not."

What is most important to him at the moment is the new record. For Hammond, there is a "bigger buzz" surrounding this second release than his first album. "I imagine the more you put out, the more excited you get. I want people to hear it. The first one I wasn't planning to put out so it was strange. This one I went in knowing I was going to put it out." For him it was about writing songs that he could play to friends. "If I worked as a waiter I'd go home and write songs and record them. I'd have to. It's the only thing I know how to do. It's the only thing I can do," he states.

He is more confident than ever about the new music – he wouldn't put it out otherwise, he says. "When they write a bad review and you agree with it, that's the worst feeling. When you know you've done what you wanted and the best you could and you love the outcome, then you look at everything differently. Not everyone's going to love everything you do."

Has there ever been a time when he agreed with a bad review? "I guess it was the third Strokes record – I really wasn't into it so it was really hard to do press for it because they'd ask me about it and it's hard to fake liking something. You like certain things about it but you don't want to talk negative about it – that makes no sense. In a weird way I described how I lost myself – maybe that's what I was feeling."

If there's a clear thread through everything Hammond says, it's the intent to focus on the present and leave the past behind. He hardly goes out these nights, except to drummer Matt Romano's DJ night each week, for this reason. He explains: "It doesn't really interest me anymore. There's nothing new there, everyone's talking the same. It's boring.

"I can't hear people, just everyone reminiscing and slowly staying where they are, until they get old enough when they are just going to fade away. I think my life now is better than it's ever been. I've learned so many things and changed in so many ways, and decided to choose things to make me happy – once I had realised that it's a choice – it's not something that just comes. If you don't want to be happy then you won't be happy."

Albert Hammond Jr's album, 'Se Como se Ilama', (Rough Trade Records) is out Monday

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