Back when the Strokes were kicking in the early ‘00s, the band took five years to follow up its 2006 album, First Impressions of Earth
. Later, it was revealed that part of the hang-up had to do with guitarist Albert Hammond Jr., who had a drug problem. A stint in rehab did him good and now a clean and sober Hammond Jr. is not only still a member of the often-dormant-but-still-vital Strokes, but he’s also re-launched his solo career with the release of the 2013 EP AHJ
and its follow-up, Momentary Masters
, a terrific collection of pop/garage rock tunes that came out earlier this summer.
“After rehab, you find a way to enter life and you don’t know how,” he explains via phone from his upstate New York home. “It reminds you of how you did everything in the beginning, as cheesy as it sounds, but like when you were a kid. You get that back with a bunch of knowledge. It’s this great place to be. Since you learn how to not live solely on emotions that constantly change you can feel things and separate things from how you’re living. You don’t have to go with everything you feel. That also helped. Having the time to think about those things is good. You go on pause when you get too fucked up and stop learning things. There’s a flood of new things [when you sober up]. That in turn gives you new inspiration, which is probably pretty natural if you didn’t do drugs.”
For Momentary Masters
, which he recorded with producer Gus Oberg, he took demos he had cut in New York City out to the upstate barn he’s transformed into a studio. He then realized that the songs could be reworked with a little help from his band, which includes guitarist Hammarsing Kharhmar, guitarist Mikey Hart, bassist Jordan Brooks and drummer Jeremy Gustin.
“The band excited me,” he says. “I wanted to arrange with a band. We were trying it out with a few songs. When I saw how everyone pushed their parts in new directions, the songs would change and I’d rework them in the moment. I thought, ‘Oh shit, I should bring in the raw forms.’ So I did that. It was a bit shaky at first. Then, we figured out how to communicate with each other and it just took off. Everyone gave me so much feedback. I could focus on melody and words and other things. It was a great collaboration. Everyone took this album to the next level.”
One highlight, “Losing Touch,” commences with a gritty bit of guitar before Hammond starts crooning, “I’m just losing touch.” With its loud-to-quiet-to-loud approach, the tune eventually evolves into something that sounds like a Strokes song.
“I liked that idea of losing touch with things,” Hammond Jr. says when asked about the song. “Things are almost better even though you’re getting away from them. It’s an emotion that we can all relate to. Things pass and you feel like you’re no longer a part of them. You can understand that or not. I like the idea of not going anywhere.”
With “Don’t Think Twice,” he reworks the classic Dylan song into a pretty pop number characterized by percolating percussion and baritone vocals that have a bit of heft to them.
“My friends who have Dylan Fest and Stones Fest and Petty Fest for this charity called Sweet Relief were doing one in Dublin,” he recalls. “They were doing a Dylan one, and I said I would do it but I didn’t want to just play a song. I did a demo of the song and it was fun. Then I got home and I liked listening to new melodies and the in-between parts where the harmonica used to be. There was a modern arrangement of it. I wanted to tweak it and find the right rhythm for my voice and everything. It fell into place. It worked on the album. It felt like a good thing to make the last four songs work better. It was a good ear break.”
Hammond Jr. describes the album’s first single, “Born Slippy,” as a song about living “in constant cycles and constant change.”
“We’re constantly slipping away from things we have a grasp on it and starting something new,” he says. “I guess it’s not a word, but I like it. In music, you can get away with stuff like that. It’s like “Coming to Getcha.” It would be 'Coming to Get You,' but that doesn’t sound right."
Being the frontman isn’t anything new for Hammond Jr., who played second fiddle to singer and primary songwriter Julian Casabalancas in the Strokes, but began his solo career years ago. But he says he's still growing into the role.
“I always feel like it’s a work in progress,” he says. “I think at first, I didn’t fully understand because I had been in a band. It was partly there but I was afraid to put the weight on my shoulders. The only difference with this one is that I’m aware of what it is. I’m accepting good or bad and putting that on my shoulders. I’m going forward with something that can establish myself. The songs really came together for this album. It’s a different thing and sometimes it can be exhausting. If anything, I tried to figure out how to pace myself because my personality will give everything and then nothing and not realize I have another eight months to go.”
Albert Hammond Jr., Prinze George, 8:30 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 10, Grog Shop, 2785 Euclid Heights Blvd., 216-321-5588. Tickets: $15 ADV, $17 DOS, grogshop.gs.