Every so often in life you find yourself in a situation that you never expected to encounter. Depending on the circumstances that led you to this absurdly surreal point, it is a moment that can feel like a second or an hour. Either way, it is ultimately fleeting and unlikely to ever be repeated.
One such instance happened to me as I sat in my teenage-hood bedroom talking to Albert Hammond Jr on the phone. We are over halfway through our very chatty interview when he stops and says: “I’m sorry, for some reason right now, my brain is misfiring. But every time you’ve said something, I’ve been like ‘Wow yeah, I’ll go with that. Can you be me for a little bit? You can take over.” I feel my professional-writer mask begin to crack as my eyes wander over to my well-worn CD collection that features the entire back catalogue of The Strokes. We both laugh at the comment -perhaps a little too enthusiastically on my part. As articulate as ever, I managed to squeakily retort with “Oh my God I would love to be you” before I regained my composure, straightened my notes, and continued my line of questions. The moment had gone.
In hindsight, it was befitting that that moment happened. Hammond Jr was calling to discuss his third solo album entitled Momentary Masters. The title references a line in astronomer Carl Sagan’s 1994 tome Pale Blue Dot. Analysing both time and space, Sagan explores the place of the human race within the vastness of the universe and the world. For Hammond Jr, the words ‘Momentary Masters’ amusingly captures the futility of trying to completely master anything, especially when our existence is so transient. “It’s an inspiring idea that [life] is meaningless and that we create our own meaning” muses Hammond Jr.
Although music is a large part of Hammond Jr’s life now, it hasn’t always been the case. Growing up as the son of the respected musician Albert Hammond, he simply saw music “as something my Dad did; in many ways, I might have gone another way because of what he did. But then in my early teens I fell in love with Buddy Holly and suddenly couldn’t imagine doing anything else”
This lightning bolt moment eventually led Hammond Jr to become the guitarist of The Strokes, a band that has near-mythical levels of critical acclaim garnered over five studio albums to date. Hammond Jr released his debut solo album ‘Yours to Keep’ in 2006 which was followed by Como Te Llama two years later. They were created during a period of Hammond Jr’s life while he was afflicted by drug and alcohol addiction.
Now some seven years after the release of Como Te Llama, Hammond Jr is a changed man. He is clean, married and living in upstate New York, the man talking to me on the phone is both philosophical about his past as well as excited about his new lease on life and the effect it is having on his music. “I can almost explain better now what was going on then now that time has passed.” Hammond Jr laughs. “I really feel like I have a collection of songs because [Momentary Masters] helped define the better parts of my other songs…with these songs I have something to move forward with. It feels like the beginning; I’m a late bloomer, and I feel like I’ve just started [with my solo music] and energy now. I’m feeling very positive about it.”
It had always been a dream of his to work with a full band in the recording studio as a solo artist. As he toured his 2013 EP entitled AHJ, he established a close connection with all of the musicians involved, and was keen to see what they would make of his new material. Inviting them all to his home in 2014, they started laying down tracks in his converted barn. “It felt reinvigorating to try something different and [Momentary Masters] is a result of figuring out this process.” Previously, Hammond Jr would “beat [himself] up during the recording process” as he worked for 15 to 20 hours straight. But post-rehab, he decided to take a different tact. Nowadays, Hammond Jr prefers to work in “productive chunks” tempered by downtime. “We would wake up and go for a run before going to the studio. Afterwards, we would always eat together and at the end of the night watch John Oliver on HBO. Looking back, it felt fun and easy, even though it wasn’t.” The album was also overseen by Gammy-winning producer Gus Hammond, who has also worked with The Strokes, and considered a personal friend by Hammond Jr. “He was really tough on me, like if [a song] wasn’t right he’d make me do it again but it was good to have someone who pushes you” remembers Hammond Jr.
The resulting 10 song 36 minute album expertly strikes a balance between the ideas that inspired it and rock n’ roll entertainment. It features the signature hooky charm that one has come to expect from Hammond Jr, as well as a newfound boldness and funky vigour to each track. When considering the bigger picture of the album, Hammond Jr says “There are two sides. I am trying to be as vulnerable as possible but still entertaining. The bigger picture is that you forgot to have fun.”
This article was first published in Rip It Up magazine on August 10th 2015.