Talkin' Shop With Albert Hammond Jr.

By: Martin Halo

Albert Hammond Jr.
It has been close to a year since The Strokes finished their First Impressions Of Earth world tour in Rhode Island last October and their absence is evident. Marriages, very public romances, creative tensions, extensive touring and selected sobriety have all been factors in rewriting the boundaries of how New York's most beloved rock ensemble operates as a collective musical unit.

Surviving the backlash of critical scrutiny, The Strokes followed-up the release of Is This It (2001) and Room On Fire (2003) with an album that showed tonal maturing under the guidance of veteran rock producer David Kahne. First Impressions of Earth was a step forward for The Strokes, but as tour buses idled the band gracing the stage at the Hammerstein Ballroom for two sold out nights in March of 2006 had their creative energies caged. With the shower of spotlights pouring down upon them and the weight of Manhattan on their shoulders, the brotherhood was experiencing a shift. They were no longer battling the owners of CBGB's for extra set time, they were now battling each other.

With smoke rising through his curls from the cigarette dangling from his mouth, guitarist Albert Hammond Jr. was fighting the battle of creative satisfaction in a project that wasn't fixing his craving. It was this rift within his heart that eventually led Hammond to his own songwriting, free from the political structure of a band under the constant scrutiny of the relentless rock press.

The Strokes by Cody Smyth
With singer Julian Casablancas on his honeymoon, and a couple days free from band obligations, Hammond decided to retreat. The result was an inspired writing session that reignited Hammond's lust for music. The demos recorded at Hammond's house soon found their way to friend and producer Greg Lattimer, who continued work while The Strokes reconvened in upstate New York to put the finishing touches on Impressions.

While still on tour with The Strokes, Hammond would fly back to NYC on days off with drum tech Matt Romano to record on what eventually became a solo LP of original material. The songs were recorded as they were written and when The Strokes tour finished Hammond put the finishing touches on Yours To Keep (New Line Records), completed at the iconic Electric Lady Studios.

The project made its worldwide debut at The Saint in Asbury Park, NJ on October 28, 2006 with a supporting cast of Matt Romano (drums), Steve Schiltz (guitar), Josh Lattanzi (bass) and Marc Eskenazi (guitar). As Hammond started racking up substantial tour dates across the UK, Strokes manager Ryan Gentles left his afternoon poker games with the bar owners below WizKid Management to focus his attention on traveling with his client and preparing for the stateside release. On March 6, New Line Records released Yours To Keep in the United States and since then supporting tours with Incubus and Bloc Party have put Hammond's solo work on the map.

JamBase: What is it about music that you find to be inspiring?

Albert Hammond Jr.
By Aaron D. Mihalik
Albert Hammond Jr.: I guess for the most part we are all influenced by Western music. I like rhythm and melody. I like finding ways to change up melody by changing rhythm, because in rhythm you can hear melody. I like to be able to come up with something that will leave people humming or singing. I listen to a lot of bands and I don't remember anything that they did. I am trying to find ways to plant memories. I like the challenge of it. I guess you just fall in love with the challenge of it.

JamBase: Is the three-chord structure approach of songwriting something you find yourself going back to?

Albert Hammond Jr.: It is a start. When you start I think you can grow and it doesn't just have to be the three-chord structure. It is harder than you think to write a good melody using just two or three chords. Sometimes less is more, and it is a good place to start, but once you start to gain your confidence and you start to learn a little more about music you can branch out a little bit and try new things. There is definitely an excitement when you hear a Buddy Holly song or a Beatles song, a Beach Boys song, a Libertines song, a Cars song or a Clash song because they are all different sounding and they all have great melodies and hooks. It is amazing.

I know you originally grew up in Los Angeles and then moved to New York. I hear this comment a lot but I wanted to bounce it off you. "You go to Los Angeles to get discovered but you come to New York to discover yourself."

I grew up in L.A. and I had to leave because I was trying to do something when everyone else around me just didn't want to do anything. It was frustrating me. I had gotten into film school in New York City and I thought it was the only place I could think of going that would make sense. I wanted to leave my house when I was fifteen as soon as I could and I was just like, "This is great. I will become a loner and just burn myself out [laughs]." I needed to make mistakes and learn but it is hard to do that when you are around your parents all the time. I feel like people have to find a place where they are going to fit and they are going to do their best. For some bands, I would say, "No, don't go to New York" but it worked out for me and I couldn't have imagined doing it in L.A.

Continue reading for page II of our talk with Albert Hammond Jr....

The only reason I called it my name is because we couldn't think of a better name. I don't personally like to just sit there and do whatever I want to do. I feel I have ideas, and I feel like I have things I want to accomplish. I try to surround myself with people that I trust and respect their opinions, and then you send out your ideas and see how they come back.
-Albert Hammond Jr. on his solo band
Photo by Lane Coder:(L-R) Matt Romano, Albert Hammond, Jr. & Josh Lattanzi

Can you describe what was going on creatively and personally for you during the recording of Yours To Keep?

I started recording it while we were recording First Impressions, when Julian went on his honeymoon and I had a few days. I just went in and did a song. The album is actually in the order that it was recorded. I had a couple songs that were lullabies. They were very simple and I thought if I could just get this to sound good, by leaving my house and leaving my demo sound behind, that I could record other songs. I hoped it would lead to writing better songs, like a second record of better songs. I just started having fun slowly because it was exciting and fun being around the people I was working with because they were always so excited. So every three or four months when I had a break I would go and work on songs.

When you are sitting down and writing with The Strokes how does that process differ from this process?

I don't know I checked out of that process years ago. I wouldn't know.

Do you think it is harder to work creatively within the confines of a band rather than in a solo project?

Albert Hammond Jr. at Electric Lady Studios
with Gus Oberg & Greg Lattimer
I think I am in a band. The only reason I called it my name is because we couldn't think of a better name. I don't personally like to just sit there and do whatever I want to do. I feel I have ideas, and I feel like I have things I want to accomplish. I try to surround myself with people that I trust and respect their opinions, and then you send out your ideas and see how they come back. A lot of times people can make your ideas better by little simple things. I have the fun part of working with other people. If I wanted to do it alone I would just sit in the room and do it all myself.

How was Greg Lattimer as a producer?

He was fantastic. The hardest thing I feel like there is to do, especially for me, is to get a warm or inviting or unique vocal sound. I feel like we were learning as we were going on. We ultimately did that very well. I think Greg helped me get out of my shell in terms of my vocals. He helped me make a record, where I thought I was just doing songs.

When you are up on stage what does it feel like when music is flowing through you?

It is funny. It feels like two things. When you are really into the song it is just like a roller coaster with just pure adrenaline pouring through your body [so] your heart is pounding so fast that you can't think of anything. Or, you are thinking of the most random thought because you are so into it that it is just like thinking about something that has happened or something that you want to do.

Can I ask you how "In Transit" came about?

(L-R) Josh Lattanzi, Matt Romano, Hammond, Jr.
By Lane Coder
Well, that one and "Cartoon Music" were the beginning of everything. I wanted to write a song where the verse had guitars that were not playing any chords and the bass was just holding down the root. So, I came up with the part and recorded it. I don't know if you notice this but when it starts it goes D – A – G, and then when I start singing it goes D to G. So, I have this thing where I like doing stuff like that because you don't really notice it but motion-wise it feels faster. Then I can slow it down when a melody comes in, so it doesn't get boring, or solo over it, whatever you want to do. Everyday I would be singing things and then one day I sat down late at night and sang the vocal. In the morning I woke up and pushed play and there it was. It was pretty good [laughs]. I was happy I found a chorus. Do you know the song, "Some Guys Have All the Luck" by Rod Stewart?

Yes [laughs].

I was just trying to create a chorus like that.

What about "Blue Skies?"

That song happened really fast. I wrote it as a joke to my girlfriend at the time, and then I was thinking of Madonna's "Like a Virgin" for the chorus, started singing and it just kind of all came. I was like, "Oh man, I think I kind of like this." I thought it would be kind of interesting with the rhythm and the simplicity of it. I was thinking about what it would be like if you were looking up from a grave or something like that. I recorded it with strings behind it doing these different harmonies, and then I had to go upstate to do The Strokes stuff and I left it with Greg. He called me and said that he was doing this bell thing - the same notes we were doing with the strings just with bells. Then I sang him a solo part over the phone. I sang him both melodies going over each other and I wanted to make it sound really weird with the arrangements of instruments. He just took the melody I sang him and did a little thing to it. We were going to add a bunch of more stuff but when we were mixing I was sitting at the drums and got this idea to just add drums because there is the this Elliott Smith song where the drums come in just at the last five seconds of that song. I laid down the beat that I always play real fast. A lot of it is really cool because we add a Rhodes, a tambourine and the other guitar is playing little licks. But, on the record it seemed fine to just keep it the way it is and not add anything.

Continue reading for page III of our talk with Albert Hammond Jr...

There is this weird thing that's happened. If you say you want to sell records you immediate become this evil person. The point is to reach people, and that is true for every artist, back from when music started.

-Albert Hammond Jr.


That must be a surreal experience to be able to work creatively over the phone.

Albert Hammond Jr.
That is how I like to work, which is why I told you I am constantly in the moment and thinking of things. Just being in the moment is very important, at least for that record. That is what I remember to be most important. For this [new record] I feel like being in the moment would mean having a set amount of time. It would be exciting to see what we can do with that because that changes everything. So, even though it had no set date, it felt rushed. We were on fire even though there was no album plan. This time I would like a normal three weeks in the studio.

I was having a conversation with Matt Helders of the Arctic Monkeys when he was at the Warfield in San Francisco, and he was saying how you were good friends. Then a couple weeks later I caught you at the Arctic Monkeys gig in New York City. I was wondering if your relationship with other artists like the Arctic Monkeys opens you up to a creative process with them?

Yeah, I get inspired by The Libertines and the Arctic Monkeys. Like on the first Arctic Monkeys album they had these really cool rhythmic things going on with the guitars that reminded me of other stuff from other past things that I like. You kind of put it all together and that inspires you to do something. Same way when I was a kid and I saw Blue Velvet I was inspired. Whatever inspires you to play music is great.

Hammond Jr. & Nick Valensi (The Strokes)
I was talking with Brandon Flowers [The Killers] and Jack White [White Stripes] and they were mentioning this gray area in pop music. Either you are a Creed musician who wants to sell records or you are a Bright Eyes artist who is just to cool for everything.

There is this weird thing that's happened. If you say you want to sell records you immediate become this evil person. The point is to reach people, and that is true for every artist, back from when music started. Pop music used to be whatever the popular music of the day was and then it became "Oh, you wrote a pop song" even though it is not popular.

What would you say to loyalists of the indie rock scene or the jam scene that believe pop music is just timely music because it's used on MTV or something like that outlet?

Albert Hammond Jr. by Justin Jay
I just want to create something that will be there when I'm 50 [where] somebody would hear that record for the first time and think it is cool. It would be a feeling like, "Holy shit, I made that thing like 25 years ago." There is an emotion - whatever people think, if I am a playing pop or I am here to sell records or whatever it is - I know what emotion I put into it. I know what it was, and that is all that matters to me. That is the only thing that is true and real. To feel that emotion back from someone else is exciting.

I wanted to ask you about the media. I was sitting in on an interview with Julian Casablancas when he was doing press for First Impressions of Earth and he was saying how the British Press has always been really good to you guys and how the American Press was always very critical. I was wondering if you feel the press approaches you with an agenda?

Everyone has some kind of agenda when you are doing interviews, some kind of angle they are not going to tell you about. Then, when you answer their questions they are going to fit your answers into their story, like when you write an essay when are in high school. You use quotes from a book to prove whatever point you want to prove. The press is silly because you can watch the Beatles' Anthology now and "They're over" is coming from all these journalists and the Beatles are the biggest band in the world. The press is good because it helps you reach people and tell people your message but sometimes it is not good because the people that are writing sometimes don't love it as much as you do. Things come across as frustrating but in the end, if you do what you love to do, you can make something that people love to hear that will last longer than any press. It is just music and I feel like people are too serious sometimes.

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Chapelchilla starstarstarstar Tue 7/3/2007 04:21PM
+1 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!

I talked to Albert after a Strokes show a few years ago. He was very cool, friendly and polite. It sounds like he still is. Best of luck on the solo stuff, Albert. Nice write up, Jambase.

HoodooVoodoo Tue 7/3/2007 04:53PM
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Albert is a cool dude. Not many people know this, but he also invented the Hammond Organ.

Luthur starstarstar Tue 7/3/2007 07:32PM
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rtavare Wed 7/4/2007 12:49AM
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peaton Wed 7/4/2007 01:55PM
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If you saw Albert Hammond Jr. on his latest tour, you probably saw a band called the Dead Trees open for him. If you havent checked them out, they fuckin rock and they are worthy of attention. Just throwing that out there, if you like it you can take it, if not, throw it right back at me.

guitardave starstarstarstarstar Thu 7/5/2007 07:39AM
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Hammond organ, indeed! In actuality, he DID author the Hammond Road Atlas. Thanks to Albert we can all properly navigate the highways and byways of our great land. Three cheers for Albert!

piper2 starstarstarstar Thu 7/5/2007 09:04AM
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HoodooVoodoo Thu 7/5/2007 05:30PM
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Actually you're right Piper...Albert Hammond Jr invented the Stratocaster and the Rhodes. My bad.

petemora starstarstarstarstar Fri 7/6/2007 07:08AM
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He actually invented the question mark.

HoodooVoodoo Fri 7/6/2007 11:30AM
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I believe he also invented Camel Lights and Ribbed Condoms.

karacter0 star Sat 7/7/2007 10:42AM
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karacter0 Sat 7/7/2007 10:44AM
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so, i guess his dad sang the song 'It never rains in California'? I'd much rather listen to that.

petemora starstarstarstar Tue 7/10/2007 06:36AM
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He re-invented the obligatory Hendrix perm.
P.S. the Strokes are a kickass group, even though they are antithesis of a Jamband.

jr2037 Mon 7/23/2007 11:36AM
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Anyone actually heard this album?

petemora starstarstarstarstar Fri 7/27/2007 12:59PM
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Bringin' Back The Joofro.