Albert Hammond, Jr. has been busy since his solo return in 2013. He released the excellent ‘AHJ (EP)’, followed up the superior ‘Momentary Masters’, has toured with and without The Strokes and dabbled in fashion design and music production. We caught up with the iconic axeman to chat about everything from football to that elusive sixth Strokes album.
Hi Albert, how you doing?
I’m good man, how are you?
Really well, thanks for taking the time to speak to us.
Where are you now?
I’m on my way to Austin from Oklahoma on highway 35.
You’re not driving and talking are you?
No, no no. I’ll drive after I’m done.
Was just about to say, safety first eh?
(laughs) Yeah safety first man.
You’ve got a pretty famous cover on your new album: Bob Dylan’s ‘Don’t Think Twice’. If you could have one person cover one of your songs – alive or dead, who would it be?
To be honest it would be fun to see what anybody did with one of my songs. It’s a dream y’know? I once actually tried to get Willie Nelson to sing ‘Blue Skies’. That’s about it.
That’s a great song, it transports me back to my youth.
Thanks! Yeah I love stuff like that. That’s what’s so cool about music in general is that it can do that. All of a sudden you can feel a similar emotion or it can transport you to a future feeling.
You just produced The View’s new record ‘Ropewalk’, how was that experience for you?
Yeah it was amazing. We spent three weeks in Hamburg. I co-produced it with my friend Gus Oberg who does my stuff. I think we made an amazing record together. I still listen to it now.
Is that something you would like to do more of?
I mean I’d like to say that life was that easy. That you could just decide there’s something you’d like to do and do it. Me and Gus took it on as a team because we were excited by what they wanted to do and they were open to let us try things. Yeah I’d love to do more stuff like that but all things in business are hard to crack into. A lot of people want to do it (laughs). Hopefully we get more offers.
What’s been your highlight of the recent shows Strokes shows this year?
I think Hyde Park was the best one. The vibe from the crowd was amazing.
We caught your two solo shows in Brighton in 2013/14 – at The Haunt and at The Great Escape in Wagner Hall. You remember that weird conference centre?
Oh god yes of course (laughs). That was with The Doves singer Jimmy Goodwin.
Yeah, it was a pretty surreal show. Beside that where’s the weirdest place you’ve played?
When you’re building a career you play lots of shows in different places including some weird bunkers in Germany. At SXSW they put me in this giant conference room, it was so weird and un-vibey. Very strange (laughs). Even though they’re strange while it’s happening they’re the ones that create the stories later. When you talk about being on the road you rarely talk about the normal places you went to, it’s always that weird thing that happens. Sometimes they can be great. Like yesterday in Northern Oklahoma we played this small bar owned by these cool people and it was just packed and fun. It was an interesting place to play. A lot of the time you remember crowds more than venues. Sometimes a place can surprise you and the crowd are not what you’re expecting. A lot of the time venues might not have a vibe so you have to build it throughout the show and sometimes that’s hard too.
I read somewhere that you like to play a little bit of football, is that true?
Yeah, I’m not like a pro or anything but I enjoy athletic things. It’s fun to play sports with people.
Did you have a kick about with the Foo Fighters not long ago? Obviously not Dave Grohl I guess…
Erm no I didn’t. I think that was Julian.
NME had me misinformed.
(laughs) We were trying to organise a game for tomorrow because we’re at Austin City Limits and so are Foo Fighters but I’m not sure if there will be time.
Do you follow the Premiership?
I follow it through my dad, he watches everything. He’s an Arsenal fan so I just kind of follow it through him.
I wouldn’t have picked Albert Hammond as an Arsenal fan, that’s a nice bit of trivia.
(laughs) Yeah I know it’s funny, right?
Your videos for ‘Losing Touch’ and ‘Caught By My Shadow’ follow on from each other. What was the inspiration for these? There’s a bit of a Bill And Ted’s Bogus Journey thing going on.
It was based on ‘The Seventh Seal’, the Ingmar Bergman movie where the Knight plays chess with Death but yes Bill And Ted did a great spoof on that. I used to love that as a kid. “Two out of three?” (laughs). The director is French and so he came up with it. I don’t think I would have ever thought up something like that. It seemed like a fun way to modernise it. You get a low budget and you use what you have wherever you are. As we were both in Spain at the time we took advantage of the fact that we would never usually be able to afford to go to Europe to record. Since we were so close to the port we went to Morocco by boat.
Yeah we used that to our advantage because there was no way we would be able to fly from America, we would have blown the whole budget (laughs). So that was just a happy coincidence.
It was the same thing when I did ‘Strange Tidings’ with him when we were in Paris. We were just walking around Paris all day filming. The tour was just starting at the time and that’s where he was living so it worked out perfectly. The video was just the two of us and there was no crew or no rehearsal. it was very on-the-go and we were figuring it out in the moment. Sometimes it works sometimes it doesn’t.
You had a bit of a horror theme going on with the ‘101’ video as well, how did that come about?
That was Patrick Daughter’s (director) idea. That was still when people had more money for videos. We had a bigger budget for that than I would get paid to make a record now (laughs).
Yeah that was pretty crazy. It was fun shooting that in LA. We actually had this different idea at first. I was this friendly giant but I kept accidentally crushing and killing all the people I loved because of my size. Weirdly enough that was out of budget (laughs).
Well maybe now with advances in CGI right?
(laughs) Yeah maybe one day.
Important question now: when you come to the UK are you going to bring any of those cool ‘Drive’ dog jackets with you?
I was dying to get hold of one of those
(laughs) Yeah, we could never make enough to not lose money you know? We made this run and we had a few extra but it never took off enough for people to do it. They were awesome, I still have mine that I wore onstage. We have some cool new merch anyway. Again, one day (laughs).
What are you listening to at the moment?
I have this playlist that we’ve been listening to on tour. The newest thing that I heard was Kurt Vile ‘Pretty Pimpin’ which I thought was rad.
I heard you were planning on getting into the studio again with The Strokes in February, is that still on the cards?
Yeah, Julian said it onstage. I guess a little prematurely but yeah that was the plan for a week or two in February.
Any idea what a sixth Strokes album might sound like?
I have no idea, I really don’t. We’re just in a really different place right now so who knows what the record’s going to sound like.
As the records have gone on they’ve become more and more different. You could never be criticised for doing the same thing twice.
(laughs) Yeah, definitely not. I think that time gives you more options if you choose to use it wisely you know? Sometimes things can come in cycles too which is nice.
You’ve got a extensive tour coming up. You’re finishing up around Christmas time?
Yeah December 11th and then a little bit of a break and then we go to Australia in February, Lollapalooza in South America in March. That’s about as far as we go but we’re planning stuff for Spring and Summer. So hopefully some European and American festivals.
Any road essentials that you need on tour while away from home?
No, I feel like all I need to do is pace myself. It’s not that long. For a modern tour it’s on the lighter side. We’re just trying to give it a big push. You’ve got to tell people what you got… show em’ what you got! (laughs)
Cheers Albert, take care on the road.
See you in Brighton man.
Albert Hammond, Jr. will play The Old Market on Thursday 26th November 2015
Interview by Andy Baker