For a generation of indie rock fans Albert Hammond Jr will forever be linked with New York. Across his solo work and as the lead guitarist of The Strokes, he has helped to export a glamorized vision of a city full of dive bars, illicit romances, and incompetent cops. It’s odd, then, to think of Hammond Jr now living Los Angeles — even if he did grow up in L.A. before moving east as a teenager. He’s now been back L.A. since 2021, when he became a father for the first time. “LA was calling me slowly,” he explains contently.
Hammond Jr is Zooming in today, his profile picture a cute snap of him and his baby daughter Holiday, to discuss his new album, Melodies on Hiatus. It’s his first since 2018’s Francis Trouble, named after his twin brother who was lost due to a miscarrage. That album capped a post-rehab chapter of creativity for The Strokes’ guitarist; since getting sober in 2009 he has filled his bright, punky pop songs with a clear-eyed emotional maturity. So, if sobriety inspired Hammond Jr’s growth as a songwriter back then, how would fatherhood and a big geographical move affect him now?
Due out June 23 via Red Bull Records, news of Melodies on Hiatus arrives alongside “100-99.” The song features GoldLink, an unlikely collaborator but one whose agitated bars sit perfectly alongside Hammond Jr’s fuzzed-out and anxious guitar. Hammond Jr has always thought his riffs would sound good on rap tracks; he turns out to be right.
He’s coy when pressed for the meaning behind the song. “There's something in there pretty heavy for me, but I never know how to express that,” he says. “I feel like those things are always better to feel than to say.” GoldLink is one of a number of guest stars on the album, with singer-songwriter Rainsford appearing on a couple of songs and drummer Matt Helders popping up on “Thoughtful Distress,” gifting fans an unofficial Strokes/Arctic Monkeys collaboration.
Speaking from home while taking in the early morning sunshine, Hammond Jr. seems relaxed discussing Melodies On Hiatus, his ambivalence towards the “indie sleaze” revival, and the story of how he ended up in the Oscar-nominated Babylon as a partygoer whose drugs are stolen by a chicken.
The FADER: How does “100-99” make you feel?
Albert Hammond Jr: I guess it makes me feel understood for certain parts of my shadow, and it makes me feel okay to feel lost. I feel like I understand myself a little better in hearing it, but remember that it's not always just the words, it's the way words mix with melody I feel like can create a deeper meaning. Maybe it's like just having to let go of being a child, I think when you're in a band or you get to do this profession, you kind of delay growing up a little bit. So maybe it's a bit of that.
Did you have a previous relationship with GoldLink? Or was he someone you were just a fan of?
I'd love to say that I know a lot about music, I really don't, I'm kind of in the dark. I just really liked the tone of his voice and his phrasing, and then he was down to do it. I said, "You could do it over the solo part, that's where I heard it. Or if you want to do it at another part, I can extend something." What's fun about finding people that are creative is that they're going to bring something to the table. You can guide it, you could say you don't like it, but I feel like if you say too much of it first you might be killing a natural instinct that would be more special than what you thought it would be. I'm very sensitive to murdering early ideas. It's very easy to kill them, I've killed them myself.
Tell me a bit about life since 2018 and Francis Trouble. It feels like you have undergone some pretty big changes…
I guess the biggest things are I had a child, that's quite large. I moved back to LA after living in New York for 21 years, which is interesting because I never thought I'd come back here. I left LA at 18 being like, "I'm out of here, never coming back." I guess those two things started a ripple effect. I was coming out here a lot more for work. And so that started to create a different effect, and then having a child blew everything up.
Was Melodies On Hiatus written after [2020 Strokes album] The New Abnormal?
I was finishing touring Francis Trouble, and I started recording demos for this. We actually recorded The New Abnormal in 2017 I thought, that'll come out and then I'll finish this and I'll put it out at the tail end of that. That album got delayed a little bit, and then as soon as we were touring it I thought... I think it was end of 2019, was it? Well, I guess more the beginning of 2020, we started doing promo for it. And I thought by that fall or the next year I'd put it out, and then COVID happened, and so I just recorded it during that time.
And is it fair to call it a double album? It's 19 tracks, that's quite a hefty amount of music.
Long album, double album, it's this same difference to me. I don't know, I definitely didn't go in thinking I was going to do that, I would've not done it, and I won't do that again because it's very heavy to do. Everything is, from mixing to figuring out if all the parts are there, it doesn't feel like twice as many songs, it feels like 10 times the amount of songs.
I just kept having songs, and then I was just like, "Oh, it'd be so cool to just dump all of them together." They just felt like they were a group of songs together, that they had different fields. It's very hard to create an order for it, I wanted it to feel almost when I was creating the order like it was a career spanning thing, and not just an album. Different feels in the melodies, and rhythms, and sounds. So that was hard in that aspect. I don't know why, it just felt right to just have a lot of songs. It was almost like maybe when I reset afterwards I could do something different.
I was surprised when I noticed that it’s been five years since Francis Trouble and three since The New Abnormal because I see your pictures so often online and just watched the Meet Me In The Bathroom documentary. How does it feel to be part of this new wave of nostalgia for the early days in your career?
I'll be honest, I don't feel it. I didn't feel it when it was happening, I don't feel... Sure, sometimes I feel like I'm in a big band, or I see things and I'll remember certain moments. But I don't know if it's because I was in it or it's hard to see yourself like that, or if it's just something that keeps me healthy and grounded. That might be more exciting for other people than when you're in it. I mean, I'm grateful for it, I love all of it, I would do it all again, I had an amazing time and feel very, very fortunate. But it might just be in little glimpses you look, and you're like, "Oh." People have sent me photos in my first apartment and this friend's over, and it's just fun to see yourself young. And you're like, "Oh wow, I didn't even see myself like that then."
It's so strange, because I sometimes still feel like that. I made a joke in the dressing room this summer when we were opening for the Chili Peppers, when we were playing stadiums. And sometimes when we're in our dressing room, it honestly could be our fifth show, and sometimes it's just we're talking, and time becomes very strange, I don't fully understand everything that passed. I mean, it's cool, I'm grateful that that exists. It allows us to keep creating, and I think we have a lot more to give, so that's exciting. It's not in any of our control. I haven't even seen Meet Me in the Bathroom, and I don't know if I can sit down and watch it.
I think the reason I was curious about that passage of time thing, is that it feels kind of a theme of “100-99” a little bit. I kind of got the sense of the message being ‘seize the day, time doesn't last forever.’
To me, it doesn't matter what I was trying to say unless I'm trying to do a song for revolution or something like that. But I feel like songs have many levels to them when you're doing them and there's sentences that can mean certain things for you in your life, but it works in the story for something different. And so whatever it makes someone feel, if the music and that makes you feel that, then that to me is more of a meaning than whatever I was thinking.
One thing I wanted to ask before I go is a very fun thing that you did, which is the Babylon cameo role, where you fight off a chicken at a wild party. I really enjoyed your cameo. It really added to the overwhelming energy of it all.
Yeah. I mean, obviously the era that it's evoking is so distinct, but even watching it kind of feels like it was made true to the style of the movies back then as well. It feels very epic and grand, and there's thousands of people running around and all that kind of stuff. I just love the long scenes, you get lost in them so you forget. But the intro's 30 minutes, and then the movie starts.
And I have to ask… was your scene based on any real life experience?
No. Damien [Chazelle, director] wrote that scene. I guess he was just like, "Well, how crazy a party could be if the chicken steals the cocaine." It was the real chicken too. There was no cocaine in the filming, though.