2013 has been a year filled with surprises, one of them being the return of Albert Hammond Jr venturing into solo territory with his latest release, AHJ. This five track EP is filled with infectious tunes that each greatly differ from one another yet still come together in a cohesive fashion. While fans of The Strokes yearn for the band to tour they’ll have to make do with Albert touring for his EP. After experiencing his show at Webster Hall I can easily say that when Albert is on stage the last thing you’ll have in mind are The Strokes. Instead you’ll be presented with one of the best concerts that you’ll ever experience. A few days back Albert was kind enough to sit with me and talk with me about various topics. Some that include: what drives him musically, what he missed about touring, and much more.
When were the songs from AHJ written and do you feel the recording of the last Strokes record influenced your solo work?
The songs were written…. it’s hard to calculate that because I’m always writing songs. To be honest though these songs really took shape while I was in the studio recording them, even in the writing phase. It’s like a muscle, if you were to take three months off from recording/writing you wouldn’t be as good at it when you went back to do it. I think breaks are needed at times to kind of re-evaluate what it is you’re trying to do but I try to make sure that writing is something I do everything.
But usually for me, I can’t complete something unless I know how I’ll approach recording it. Sometimes a song will sound exciting and it’ll make me want to record even more. As for the album influencing the EP, yeah, it totally did, but as much as anything you do in life would influence other things you end up doing, you know?
That’s true, it’s almost as if you can’t exactly stop experiences from other projects to seep into what it is you’re doing?
Yeah sure, well I’d imagine that after twelve years of playing music with these guys that I’d be influenced in ways I wouldn’t even notice. Probably in a tremendous way when it comes to writing.
I discovered your solo albums about a year ago and it was incredible to find them because those records had a very different approach to how you usually write songs. The songs on the albums felt very observational, though I found the latest EP to be quite introspective. Do you think this is accurate and was this at all deliberate in how AHJ came about?
That really is an interesting point of view. I like to view every record I do as a picture in time of many different thoughts and feelings. It definitely feels different (AHJ) then the past records I’ve done. I honestly haven’t thought about it in that way, observational vs. introspective, but I think if that’s something you think/feel then that’s a positive outlook on my work already haha.
I don’t know, I haven’t analyzed it like that.
It’s interesting you say that about a ‘picture in time’ because with the last records it felt like you were peering into your own life and writing about it but with AHJ the songs and lyrics feel very more direct, as though you were writing down experiences while they were happening, almost like a letter.
Yeah, I don’t mean for you not to think that but I don’t know how to analyze it in that way. I haven’t given it much thought. All I know about AHJ really is that I feel that these words and melodies are the best that I’ve ever done. I remember doing the first record not thinking that I’d even make a record. They were the type of songs that you’d write in your living room; there was a sense of inviting someone into that space while I was playing the songs live after I recorded them.
The second one was made out of the frustration; I’m so tired that people thinking that I acoustic guitar. I was in a really dark place so that record has a tone about it that’s very droney and weird. And with this latest one, I think it’s a mixture of both. Like it has the strongest parts of everything that I have. But if I feel that if I start to analyze myself in that way I’ll just end up over thinking it.
Since we’re on the subject of that, I’ve heard many different takes from other musicians on how it feels to have your songs live with other people. Like, how you’ll spend so much time writing/recording a song and then after it’s released other people make the song theirs and give the songs their own meanings and interpretations. How does that make you feel? Do you ever think about that?
Sure, I think while you’re recording there’s always this understanding that although you’re writing a form of expression you’re also making a form of entertainment. You can’t lose the fact that you’re not only making it for yourself. There’s a certain element of that that people are going to hear, it’s a thing that makes you want to impress and perfect a song, whether it be with a melody or a word. It’s fun. My favorite thing is when people get their own idea and feeling for a song, it just goes to show how universal music can be. We all have similar feelings, even though we all look and act differently.
That’s my favorite part, that middle section of recording/releasing music, where you have a song done and you want people to hear it so bad. When it goes out (the song) and people get hold of it that’s great because it allows you to grow as a musician. The worst is when you’re in the studio and thinking ‘oh but maybe this can change, let’s tweak this and that.’ Being able to share music, to have people put their feelings into music, stops tweaking like that from happening.
That seems to be a constant amongst musicians, hating that feeling of completing a track but not being able to share it with fans right away. The wait sounds like it can be a bit of a hassle.
Well, yeah definitely. Record companies tend to want five months to prepare for a release and it’s weird because usually it’ll take five to six months making a record and the record itself becomes such a milestone of a time in your life that once the record company wants to release the record you’re already past that time in your life, you’ve already moved on to something else. But that’s why I think in the future people will get music quicker since music in itself is such an immediate thing. Maybe people will release a couple songs in a month or two, as opposed to spending two years with just a handful of songs and repeat, repeat, repeat. I feel like that, artists getting to release songs quicker and easier, will keep artists smarter and creating more, and change faster.
It’s interesting you bring that up because there’s this band called Ash who did something similar to what you’re describing. They had this format called The A-Z Series where they released a song that corresponded with a letter of the alphabet every two weeks for a year. It was a subscription based service that let them just release music as opposed to dealing with an album cycle. They released the music digitally and through vinyl as well. It’s funny you bring that up because with that instance and with what you’re saying it seems more likely then not for that to be a common desire, to have alternative means to release and support music.
Yeah, I think the way it works is that someone creates a ‘rule’ and in this case it’ll be the album format and then people just continue to follow along with it. Like, I understand why, but eventually the times change and you have to ask ‘why does it have to be that?’ it just gets to a point where it becomes silly. Right now it’s hard because a lot of big bands will do it, and that kind of halts the change of it but it’ll happen eventually. Big companies are constantly shrinking and the need to have an online presence just becomes more important.
For example, I don’t know anyone who buys CDs anymore. Some people will tell me that they do but I don’t really know anyone who does in my world. Everyone just downloads music and then buys vinyl; at least that’s what I do. It’s interesting you brought up the Ash model of releasing music because that to me makes a whole lot more sense then just releasing a CD or a bunch of them at once.
It’s almost like, how many times will somebody buy the same product multiple times? With a download and vinyl I can understand that but with CDs, it seems now CDs are just obsolete.
When I was reading up about the release of AHJ I was surprised to see how you had a different approach to releasing music. Most artists will just record a couple of songs and be done with it but you have been stated as saying that: I’m only releasing the songs I felt to be the best. It made me wonder, when it came to writing/recording did you come across any difficulties in the studio or did these songs come out in an easy manner for you?
It started pretty organically because I didn’t even know I was going to be recording/releasing an EP. I was talking to Julian a lot because he said how he was going to start Cult Records and that he wanted something from me on it, whether it be a cover or an A/B side single. The company hadn’t started yet at that point and when it finally did I had already called Gus to do songs with, because I was at the point where I needed to record the stuff that I had. And he got really excited, so it just grew from there.
Whenever we were recording a song we got wrapped up in the moment of that song. Whenever we were recording it was only ever about the song we were working on. I didn’t record anything more then the five songs on the EP.
I know that I said before that the band…it’s just the idea is that if one of the songs weren’t working what should I do from there? Not include it onto the EP? Make it four instead of five? I think people keep tweeting me non-stop going ‘this is so good, I wish it was an album’ and it makes me go ‘yeah well you have five great songs so just enjoy that.’ Like to me saying ‘I wish this was the album’ is the same as saying ‘these drugs are so good I wish they wouldn’t kill you.’ Haha.
I dunno it’s like if there was something delicious to eat you wouldn’t want to eat it constantly you know? There’s just something that fit well to me with all of those songs. I don’t know if it was an organic thing or not but yeah I dunno.
It’s interesting you bring that up though because I’ve been noticing that it’s much easier to connect with an EP as opposed to an album sometimes. I still love albums but there’s something about an EP that makes it an easier companion to take to.
I noticed with your EP in particular that each song is very distinct from one another yet the whole thing still feels very cohesive, which is a mean feat to accomplish with five songs, let alone an entire album.
Yeah. Time frame wise we probably could have done an album but I really wanted to get things going as soon as possible, in terms of releasing music and playing shows. And when we finished recording the five songs everything just felt so good, like this is what we should be releasing. To me I don’t know what the differences between an EP and an album apart from the amount of songs on each one haha. It’s nuts to me how many times people go ‘why isn’t there an hour worth of songs on this album?’ and for me I just think ‘if I were to get 20 minutes of good songs then I’d be happy’ haha you know?
Like there’s something about instant gratification that makes people want things quicker then they have before and when it came to releasing the EP I just wanted to have it out for people to listen to it sooner then later.
That definitely comes across when you listen to it. I remember when you were on Zane Lowe and you premiered Rude Customer you sounded so proud of that track. That’s grown to be my favorite track on the EP, how did Rude Customer come together in the studio?
That one was one of the songs that had the same route of me laying down a part that didn’t have a melody yet and various parts of the song came to me in at different times; like a guitar part here and an idea there. I started singing random stuff and it just start to click eventually. The biggest thing for me with that song was the drumbeat. I saw a band perform live and I saw the drummer playing drums in a similar way to how we did it on Rude Customer, just boop boop; I knew that I had to try something like that.
The chorus came together organically and when you listen to it there’s something that feels very obvious about the chorus. When we were putting it together Julian got to hear the vocals for song and he said ‘why don’t we make the chorus a little weirder’ and when me and Gus were working on it we tweaked the drumbeat, so when Julian eventually heard the chords and drumbeat he went ‘oh wow the chords and drumbeat completely changed the song, this sounds great!’ haha. So that was an example of why you work with certain people because it’s easier to push things to different places. If Julian and Gus weren’t there to have me try different things then the song wouldn’t come out the way it did, that’s the beauty of collaborating to me.
It’s great to see that the collaborative aspect of this song was such a key component to it.
Yeah, and the best part about collaborating with people like Julian and Gus is that there’s never a moment where they’re not trying to make the song better. Like there’s no personal gain or anything like that. It felt really good having them to work with, especially Gus. With Gus you can try a million different things and never feel as though an idea is too much or too little. And with Gus we’ve worked together for so long that we trust each other’s opinions, even if the other doesn’t get it at the start.
That’s quite great then because with such a relationship it’s almost as though your instincts are sharper and more distinct when working with someone like Gus.
Yeah totally and that’s the thing as well, so many bands choose to work with a certain producer because they hope that they’ll sound ‘this way’ or ‘that way’ when really it should be about finding someone who surprises and shocks you with your own music when you feel creatively dead inside. That’s when you can create cool and awesome stuff.
And with that I’d imagine that it’d feel as though you can constantly surprise yourself as well.
Oh yeah, are you kidding me? That’s the best part! I’d go as far to say that when you’re making music you should try to surprise yourself before attempting to surprise anyone else. Then you get excited to show someone and there’s anticipation on whether or not they’ll be surprised as well. The best part about that is whether or not they’re surprised or not by what you did you’ll still feel a push in a certain direction and experiencing that can be very exciting.
It’s a really funny thing because sometimes someone will be good at something and if they don’t challenge their skills at whatever it is they’re doing then they’ll find it difficult to grow and evolve. It’s almost as if your own mind can stop you, hahaha shit that’s like a completely different topic in on itself hahaha.
Well it’s funny you bring that up because something I’ve noticed in interviews, well one interview in particular. When Zane interviewed Kanye recently there was something that stuck out to me and it was when Kanye said ‘the only limitations people have in life are the ones they impose onto themselves, mainly their perception of themselves’ and I think that can be related to music because sometimes your perception of what you can/cannot do could limit what you create and it seems as though that’s something you have in mind, in terms of avoiding that. So to work with someone like Gus who can help you surprise yourself is something that I think is very important.
Yeah absolutely, and being able to look into your own self is really the only way you can make things. If you’re afraid that you’re going to fuck something up then you’ll never get anything done.
What was it that made you want St. Justice to be the first single from the EP and also how did the music video come together? Something I love to see in music videos is when an artist has a video that serves the song, which happened very well with the video for St. Justice. I think the video for that is very fitting for the song and that doesn’t seem to be an easy feat to accomplish.
Yeah it’s definitely a great thing. Well single wise, when I handed the EP in I let Cult decide what the single should be, I was fine with whatever honestly. I’ve always been like that, even with Strokes stuff. From the beginning, if I like the album then I don’t care what will be showcased first, and with a label choosing a single it just makes more sense because the whole point of a single is to have people hear and gravitate towards the song so why not let a label have that choice when all they care about doing is promoting your music?
With the video I…haha, it’s going to sound a bit silly and it wasn’t the only driving force behind the video but before we made it I used to tell my friends that ‘you know what? The next music video I make will have me making out with a girl’ haha. And then you know…even though Julian had never heard that he said out of nowhere ‘you know dude you should make a music video where you take your shirt off and make out with a girl.’ Hahaha. And then I started telling the director that and then he transformed it into a foreign film. What I liked about that is that the song feels quite poppy so having it set within the world of a foreign film seemed like the type of thing that would surprise a lot of people. A pop artist or band making out with someone being a video; ok seems exciting haha. We really wanted people to say ‘uh?’ when they were watching it and that mainly excited us while we were making it.
The great thing was that the video was made just by me, Nina, and Laurent. Also the second video coming out for Carnal Justice was filmed upstate and was also made by just me, Laurent, and my girlfriend as well. There’s a great excitement in doing videos like that because since we had no crew it’s almost like the excitement shows in the camera work.
Wow, well I’d feel like with that kind of approach it’d allow the director to work more organically and spontaneously as well.
That’s true but there’s also a drawback with that. The whole point of directing is having everything completely planned out and making it seemed spontaneous. To shoot things in a spontaneous nature is sometimes great at the moment but can sometimes make you feel that you could’ve filmed a frame a bit better or small things like that. For example the circle motion in the video (St. Justice) is something we came up with by accident. We looked back at it after we did it and thought ‘oh wow that’s cool, maybe this could be a theme.’ And that was awesome but because of the spontaneity of that we had to go back and do it because nobody was holding Laurent and because of that there’d be times where things weren’t in focus or slightly off so as cool as it was to come up with that idea it ended up extending some of our days in shooting haha.
Which must had made the shoot longer then it needed to be…
Yeah it did, but the great thing was that everyone who was there was there because they wanted to be a part of it. But it’s still…like for all the good that came from it there’s moments where you’ll watch it and go ‘damn if we could only have had one more day’ haha but I think that just comes from actually being in the video and knowing how it was made. But that is part of what we wanted in the video as well. With the films we were trying to emulate, they always have a sense that somebody got up one day and decided to film their day with a camera so that also was a big factor in how the video for St. Justice came about.
I think that definitely comes across. Something else that’s interesting about it as well is how even though it’s very romantic the story itself is very relatable, which is an aspect to the video that definitely caught me by surprise when I saw it for the first time.
It’s so funny because I had no idea what reaction people would have or if it’d even connect with people, but what you just said is something that a lot of people have told me about the video and it’s very interesting to me that I was able to push a boundary but have something feel relatable. Like people found it funny and then hard to watch later on and it’s just crazy thing to think that it’s become such a broad thing for some people. Like it’s been amazing getting this reaction and re-watching the video and noticing/seeing things in a different way.
Do you ever find that with music as well?
All the time! Haha. It’s why I think reviews are a weird thing because you never know what the circumstances are in which a person is experiencing a song or an album. For example, two of my favorite bands are bands I didn’t really enjoy at first and looking back on it now I don’t know why I didn’t. It could have been because of the type of day I was having or what my ears were tuned to at the time, or something else. Sometimes things are growers and they end up becoming part of your life, and that happens all the time.
Even songs I liked when I was younger are now songs that I view in a completely different way and view in a completely different way. It’s why I think with music you revisit it constantly and it changes with each revisit. Sure you can do that with movies as well but I think you’re more likely to get a different/immediate reaction with music as opposed to movies.
That’s so true, and the worst part about music reviews is how this, what we just discussed about how songs change over time, is never considered with reviewers. And it’s funny you bring up songs being growers because I feel now more then ever a lot of bands are intentionally making songs with the aspect of them being growers in their minds/output.
Yeah. I mean part of it is how the turnaround on a review has to be and at times it doesn’t allow for somebody to live with a song or album for as long as they should. You see it all the time though for past things, like classic records. Like usually at the time of the records release most people are lukewarm to it but then someone has an opinion about it, of course depending on the type of mood they are in that day, and then it becomes a highly regarded classic. It’s so weird how that works out. That also plays a lot into how musicians change their sound because a lot of the time a band will be regarded as a certain type and then when they change the response towards that change can be hinged on a reviewers mood at the time. Like they can regard it as great or flawed, all depending on how they’re feeling but really it’d make more sense to allow the songs to grow with you and judge them in that way.
It’s funny you bring that up because I’m the kind of music fan that mostly enjoys when a band goes left field and changes their sound but I’ve noticed over the years that a lot of people will throw vitriol at a band for doing that.
Yep, but that’s all part of it I guess, you know?
Since you’ve sat in a producer’s chair before would you say that producing music has made you view music in a different way? And has it even made you view your own music in a different way?
Well the thing is it’s hard to say because it’s not so much…mmm, I don’t know because it is understanding something more but I also feel like time would make me understand music more inherently Fuck this question makes me feel like as though I’m on ‘who Wants To Be A Millionaire’ hahaha I’d have to say no on that. I just enjoy the process of putting songs together. For example, if there’s a young band recording something and they can’t quite figure out a sound they want to use and I can hear their music and go ‘hey try this?’ or ‘how about trying it like that?’ I just get excited from that. It’s probably because I’m doing it more that’s making it hard for me to answer this question but I do think it’s the type of thing that I get better with the more times I do it (producing music).
That’s understandable for sure.
It’s just fun. For me producing music is just fun.
Well that’s the best reason to do anything.
Something that I respect about you and this has been echoed by mutual friends of ours is that whenever the idea of touring comes up it’s something you’re always excited about. Like even though The Strokes don’t tour often it’s always been noted that you’d be up for it. Now with this new EP you’re back on the road and will be on the road for some time. How does it make you feel to be back on the road and what have you missed about touring?
Well like with anything there’s both things that I love and hate about touring, just like being in the studio actually because in there there’s loads that I like and dislike. But in the bigger picture you need both as a balance for what you end up creating, strangely enough. It changes how you do things and with touring it’s almost as if the songs can’t grow and change to their full potential if that aspect (touring) to it wasn’t there. I’d say that touring is pretty much essential. There’s something fun about the energy, seeing how songs get perceived by a crowd, and its just amazing taking all of that and bringing it back to the study.
It’s definitely a necessary component to the whole thing. And in that it’s just a lot of fun. Going out on stage and playing a show to people, to win over a crowd, it’s just…your body releases drugs basically! Hahaha it releases it’s own highs, lows, and weirdnesses hahaha. After you get past that it can get kind of boring, for lack of a better word, so another fun aspect to being on stage is finding new ways to do things and changing things up whenever you get the chance to.
I dunno, it’s so hard to put all this into words for some reason without it sounding ridiculous but it really is like a left hand thing and a right hand thing, when it comes to releasing music and touring an album.
My last question is that The Strokes mark on the music world is something that’s more contemporary then most impacts that other musicians have left on the music world. For example, Arctic Monkeys are one of the biggest bands in the world and when they were starting out they’d constantly echo that they wouldn’t be a band without The Strokes ‘This Is It’ and that’s something that loads of bands have been noted for saying over the years, that what you and your friends did practically changed their lives. I was curious to know, how does it feel to make you know that? Especially since it’s something that’s so immediate.
Honestly it feels great. When I started playing music I was 15 and I always thought that if I were to meet the people who inspired me, at the time it was Guided By Voices, that I’d be overwhelmed and that I’d have to tell them which guitar chord wowed me and why and just everything really. That’s something that happens to me a lot, where someone will tell me they were inspired to pick up the guitar because of my guitar playing and that to me is just…well…wow haha. When people come up to me it’s very humbling and makes me feel very lucky to be doing what I’m currently doing.
It makes me feel as though I actually have achieved something and it honestly just gets me excited to do more things. It’s cool to know that someone was inspired by something you did. It’ll sound cheesy but it almost makes me feel as though you left the world a bit of a better place then when you came into it. That said though, I don’t live in how people view me or how they say things to me. I live in a totally different headspace so whenever someone comes up to me and says nice things it always feels surreal, well almost haha. I always think that there’s so many things that I’m working on, with writing and playing and everything so when somebody compliments my playing and my music it’s always a thing that comes and goes. I don’t really let it live within me; I don’t let it stay with me every day. It’s a natural thing though, I just don’t want to be a dick and walk around like ‘oh I am Albert Hammond Jr.’ hahaha I feel like if I did that it would take up the room in my head where exciting things could be happening and if that were ever to happen it might become difficult to surprise myself in the studio, so yeah.
AHJ Site: http://www.alberthammondjr.com/