This is Really It

Playing lead guitar in one of the 21st century’s biggest rock bands carries gigantic cache. For Albert Hammond Jr., the revelry and responsibility of the job he’s held in The Strokes since their inception in 1999, has also cast an equally large shadow over his life. But with that big machine now running on fumes and a public battle with addiction far behind him, Hammond seems determined that his third solo album, Momentary Masters, is the beginning of another chapter. Maybe even another book altogether.

Brimming with the crystalline guitar melodies that made him famous, Momentary Masters is the slacker indifference of the Strokes put into overdrive. It’s focused and sharp, more quirky and playful. While the cliché of reinvention might be a stretch for Hammond on this record—it’s a must-have for anyone who has been a fan since the salad days of Is This It?—the idea of reinvigoration is on full display. In speaking with Hammond as he drove through the streets of his now permanent home of Los Angeles, that demeanor of positivity was prevalent. Certainly some shade and frustration was directed at his past, and future role in the Strokes, yet the theme was always self-direction and how’s he’s thriving in the present moment.

When you released your new album earlier this year, you talked about wanting your solo career to stand on its own legs. Do you think you are accomplishing that goal now? I do. As the tour goes on, people get it more, and there’s a connection I’m getting from the audience. You walk into a room and there’s no vibe, but by the end of the set you’ve brought all of these people closer to you. It’s a positive step towards doing that. I want nothing more than to have success and plays bigger shows if only because I want to keep making music and playing with these guys.

I’m interested in the band and the dynamic you have with them as the leader, opposed to playing on the side with the Strokes. It’s built up over many years of knowing people, finding the right personalities, and making a connection when you go into the studio. You just know. I’ve always been told I’m just a guitarist, but in my head I’ve always known this is what I wanted to do. The guys will tell you that I’m the best band leader they’ve experienced, so maybe I learned a lot from, you know, all those years being in a band.

“I’d forgotten what it was like
to love music when you’re a kid.
I get more excited now about playing songs and writing than
I did when I was younger.”

How do you decide between what you bring to the group and what you keep for an album like Momentary Masters? Any of those songs could fit on a Strokes album. It doesn’t work with me bringing songs to the band. Either they don’t want them or they don’t grow. And that’s fine. I don’t even really think about it anymore. I’m accomplishing what I want by myself and it’s more exciting. The other one feels dead in the water to be honest.

Seems like you are very happy in these songs. There’s a lot of fun and an energy on Momentary Masters. What then was the inspiration? I’d guess I’d forgotten what it was like to love music when you’re a kid. As you start to get older you start to ask questions about who you are and what you’re doing. You start to get lost. I imagine rehab and getting clean really had a lot to do with me revaluating everything. I get more excited now about playing songs and writing than I did when I was younger, which is kind of funny. Back then I was writing more with ambition than with actual skill and using what I learn every day.

With all of the momentum you have now, there’s been news that The Strokes are back in the studio. Is that something that prohibits your solo work at all?  Well we didn’t tour Comedown Machine, and I put out my EP, and there was just no word for a while. So I told the people that I work with that I was going to tour this record for a year and get it to stand on its own two feet and if they didn’t want to be a part of that then I would have to find other people. It’s too good for me to not give it everything I have. It would be silly to just let it sit there. That whole cycle of an album—writing and recording and projecting those songs live and connecting with an audience—is what I love and what gets me excited, and we didn’t seem to be doing it anymore. I can’t wait. I can’t sit around and be 45 and not be able to do it. There’s a plan to record in February when I’m off, but I’m not really thinking about it. It’s not that I don’t care. I love it very much, but it’s not what’s in front of me right now.

That said, as a solo artist, this is your priority. So are you writing even more, quickening the pace, thinking well into the future? It’s always been a priority, but my life has always been such a mess so I’ve never been able to showcase this. Now I can. I’m in the right place. I also want to showcase the band, and their talents. I always like a variety, instead of just me hashing things out. The problem is you want to make money so you can keep doing it. I don’t want to make money to have a particular lifestyle. That’s not the case. I want to make money so that I can continue to work with these people, and record, and tour. It’s a gift not a given. You have to earn the right. I feel like that’s why we are going around and spreading the word. We belong here and I’m going to show you why.

Albert Hammond Jr. plays the Basement on November 6. Visit alberthammondjr.com for music and more information.

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