A Moment with “Momentary Master” Albert Hammond Jr.
by Anika Krause (English), published September 16th 2015
Today, longtime Strokes guitarist Albert Hammond Jr. embarks on an international tour in support of his newest solo effort. Momentary Masters is heartfelt and raw, addressing the challenges and changes Hammond has faced since his early days as an artist, including a battle with addiction. But despite these heavy themes, the guitarist finds the space for some whimsy alongside characteristic guitar licks. Tastemakers caught up with Hammond to discuss Carl Sagan, side boob, and what it means to be human.
Tastemakers Magazine: This is your third full length LP as a solo artist, almost ten years after the release of your first, Yours to Keep. What did you do differently this time around?
Albert Hammond Jr.: I mean, my first record was me just trying to get out of my apartment and finish a song. Then it became songs, just so I could grow. I feel like if I never finished something it would be very easy to always be like, “But it’s not done yet!” I feel like if you never finish anything, you never get to grow.
This one, I had just come off touring [the AHJ EP], and the band I was touring with had been wanting to record… so that kind of sparked it. The other time, [I] was this more shy person coming out. This person was like, ‘I know what I’m doing,’ and then found the people to help him make it the best thing possible, and gave it all he had. I feel like the difference is very strident. The other one was this romantic story of recording in a living room, and this one was, you know, ‘I want to see if I can make it in the music business.’
TMM: It’s interesting to hear you say that, because I feel like most people would say that you have “made it,” you know? At least from an outsider’s perspective.
AHJ: Most people are wrong then [laughs]. If I was going to stop trying to do this, I’d have to get a job, you know? That’s what I mean, I want to be able to make another record with these guys. Touring and making records is a gift and not a given, you know? You see some artists that over time that are just killing themselves because they can’t get people to listen to them or follow them. It’s not something that’s just there, just because I had success in one band that’s not doing anything right now.
TMM: Why the change from Cult Records [Julian Casablanca’s label] to Vagrant?
AHJ: I guess I had wanted to release something on my friend’s label. And I did, I got that chance. And then on this thing, I was trying to push in a way. I wasn’t sure I wanted to mix that with friends or Strokes-related stuff, you know? I was going to demand so much from people. I wanted a bigger reach, so that was the conclusion that came up.
TMM: In terms of influences, this album jumps around a lot. There’s the cool Carl Sagan references, the Underworld mention with “Born Slippy,” and then the cover of Bob Dylan’s “Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright.” Can you speak to those choices?
AHJ: Well, that’s life you know, it’s really just a little bit of everything [laughs]. But I think variety feels like a pretty modern statement. There’s not just one side of one thing to everyone, there are always multiple sides. I mean, “Born Slippy” is just taking the title of another song [by Underworld], but the Sagan thing was something that I liked to meditate on. That whole Pale Blue Dot thing. I thought it would be interesting to bring up – to show that side of me.
But I guess the biggest theme in the record, if there is one – I mean, I try not to get into that because I like when people come up with their own meaning – but I think a major theme was trying to understand how we are all these emotions and people, all kind of in a circle and everything is floating around each other. You don’t get to throw away things that are a part of yourself, even the darker sides. You hate and love at the same time. People always get confused by that, and I never understood that. It makes sense that you would have both emotions at the same time. It makes sense that if you understand how to love, you would understand how to hate.
I wanted to look at how those [emotions] interact with the world. In “Born Slippy” it goes, “Sometimes the sun goes behind the clouds/and you forget the warmth that could be found.” That’s just a way to phrase the idea – a mixture of “This too shall pass” and the idea that a lot of times, when something negative happens to you, you forget that happiness ever existed. I know I get wrapped around this idea that I can’t escape, so I just want to put it in some kind of visual way. I like the idea that the thing you want, or are looking for, is there – even if something is covering it. I felt like that idea was universal.
TMM: It’s a tangible image. I definitely got that from the “Losing Touch” video, where you’re running away from images of the devil. I just love the juxtaposition of these beautiful images of nature with this kind of cartoonish, car chase-type scene.
AHJ: [laughs] Yeah, it’s hard to make it anything but that. If it feels more cartoony, it’ll make more sense.
TMM: I have to ask: where did “Side Boob” come from, as a title?
AHJ: Oh, I thought you meant in general, like I was a doctor [laughs]. It was a working title. I name all my songs, even at a young stage in the song. I had these four piano songs, and one was called “Side Boob.” The lyrics seemed too serious whenever I tried to put down an idea of what it was. It just sounded to heavy for me. You always have to kind of make fun of yourself. When you put down something too serious, you’re just like, “gosh, I’m trying too hard.” [laughs] So “Side Boob” just gave it some humor and a different point. I like that some people hate it, some people like it. I love things that cause a reaction when you aren’t really saying anything at all [laughs].
Albert Hammond Jr. will play the Sinclair on September 20th. His new album, Momentary Masters, is available now on Vagrant Records.