Relax Strokes fans, Albert Hammond Jr. has made it clear that he isn't leaving the band—although the guitarist's debut solo album Yours to Keep has been garnering critical praise at home and on the other side of the Atlantic. The album showcases his adept songwriting skills, inherited (though not directly influenced by) his famous songwriting father—Albert Hammond Sr. Ticketmaster recently spoke with Albert Hammond Jr. while the musician was busily touring the country, playing both headlining shows as well as an opening slot for the southern rockers Kings of Leon. TICKETMASTER: Your father, Albert Hammond Sr. is a famed & talented songwriter and he's obviously passed that gene on to you—at what age did you know that you too wanted to be a musician/songwriter? ALBERT HAMMOND JR.: Probably, I fell in love with it at around 12 or 13, but I knew that it was what I wanted to do when I was around 16 or 17.
TM: Was your father's career influential to your decision? AHJ: No. When I was younger, I didn't really like music. It was always a chore going to the studio. It was never fun. But that's how it goes, right? (laughs) TM: Yeah, I'm sure. So at what point did it become fun? AHJ: I think, like everyone, when you're finding your career, you don't really think about it when you're a kid you just want to ride your bike and hang out with your friends and then it slowly comes to you. When I discovered it, I just fell in love with it. I found my own reasons why I wanted to do music. It just felt like I discovered something I never knew existed. So when I felt that, I went "I'm gonna do this!" TM: Was it ever your intent, before or after joining the Strokes, to be a solo performer? AHJ: Umm, no. I would have a band name, I just couldn't think of one and everyone who I told it to just said it would be better if I called it my name. But I never really thought of it like that, I just like writing songs and I like going to the studio and recording them and figuring things out with other people—parts and sounds, you know? I like that. TM: So what was the impetus for you recording Yours to Keep? AHJ: Well, I've been demo-ing stuff with my 4-track, 8-track and now my computer since I was 16. And two years ago I wrote a song, "In Transit." I made a demo of it and it was a song that I thought was better than all my other songs and all my friends really liked it. And on the road, I was writing this kind of lullaby, which was "Cartoon Music for Superheroes," and when I went home after that while we were making First Impressions (of Earth), I said, "Aww man, I'd love to see if I can capture ‘Cartoon Music,'" which was just a simple lullaby. I know what I want—I just want all these little toys and to create this whole world—if I could just find someone. And I found a friend, Greg, and he totally understood me. I said what I wanted it to sound like and the kind of vibe I was going for. So it was pretty much just me and another person—we sort of just clicked and it worked. It just sounded good and I said, "well let's do another one." And the album is pretty much in the order of how it was recorded. And then once we did "Everyone Gets A Star," I was like, "I'd like to do more." So I started writing and putting together more pieces of stuff that I had. And writing new songs, and then it just kind of fell into place. And by the end of it I was like, "I have a record." And I thought, I'd just put it out in the UK and if Rough Trade likes it and don't do any shows or any press. I did that and I was like, "Ok, I'll do some shows and some press," and it just kept on going.
TM: So I understand that Julian Casablancas (the Strokes' lead singer) contributes some vocals on the album, and Sean Lennon also guests. How did Sean contribute and on what tracks? AHJ: He plays bass. Sean played bass on "In Transit" and sings backup on "101" and "Scared." And plays piano in "Scared."
TM: The songs on the record range from Beach Boys' type balladry ("Cartoon Music for Superheroes"), to power pop ("Everyone Gets a Star," "Back to the 101") to acoustic folk ("Blue Skies") to Lennon-esque Brit pop ("Call an Ambulance")—connoting a wide range of musical influences. Who were your influences when writing these songs? AHJ: There's no one thing that influences me, it's a series of things that have happened in my life. It's more of a constant thing. It's not like you sit down, you hear a song, then you write a song. It's more like everyday things are influencing you and changing you and I'm thinking about things and eventually when I sit down to write something all these things come out in one song. So I mean everything from Woody Allen to Lenny Bruce to Beatles to Guided by Voices, Jonathan Richman, Velvet Underground to, you know...going on a date. Good food or good shows, or seeing someone else play music. I remember when I was young and I first watched the Beatles Anthology I got so excited to just go play music, you know.
TM: Your headlining dates have you playing at smaller clubs around the country -- is it a welcome change, playing these more intimate shows as opposed to the larger crowds you play to at The Strokes' shows? AHJ: I just think that it's where I am right now. I mean, I couldn't play bigger places, so there's point to play them. It's not like I decided to do small ones, it's just what I could sell I guess.
TM: Do you have a preference? AHJ: It's always best to be able to do a little bit of everything. I think it suits where I am mentally. When I play my headlining shows at that (smaller) size it fits where I feel comfortable, so I think the show is better for the people coming to see it. So that's exciting. But I really don't see it like, "Oh I'm going back to playing small shows," you know. TM: And how has playing your own music under your name changed the live performance experience for you? AHJ: Yeah, it has. For sure it has. I'd never done it, and as I started to do it...I've definitely seen two sides. It's changed the way I look at going onstage and being onstage.
TM: Was it nerve wracking at first? AHJ: Yeah. The beginning was crazy nerve wracking. It still can be, but it's just so fun to be playing with such a great band that it's like...it's just fun to be up there. And I thought that feeling those kind of feelings—those fears and also the joy, seeing people excited about your songs—would help guide me into a direction for a next record or something like that. That it would change my world, which it has. It's changed my world. Which is good, by the way! (laughs)
TM: So are you saying that a second solo album is in the works? AHJ: Yeah, I mean...I've got a whole bunch of new songs and I knew that once I heard them on guitar I'd want to hear them in a recording. It just gets me too excited to not do it. TM: Do you have any favorite songs to perform live? AHJ: I like "Holiday" and "Everyone Get is a Star." It changes. Sometimes I like to do "Blue Skies." It depends on the crowd. A lot of it, unfortunately, has to do with monitors, which is what we hear on stage. Sometimes the monitors don't sound good and it makes it hard to like any of them! (laughs) TM: That is unfortunate! Alright one last question for you. What's the most memorable concert you've ever attended and why? AHJ: Hmmm. Good one. Well, the one off the top of my head—Built to Spill was playing three nights at Irving Plaza in New York, and I went to go see every night. First night, I said hello to them backstage. Second night, we hung out again for a little bit. Third night Julian and I went—I think he came out with me all three nights as well—and they wouldn't show us the setlist because they were covering "Someday." So it was really cool seeing a band we both loved and cherished playing our song like that live. It was very exciting.