Is this it? Not by a long shot
As The Strokes prepare for the release of their fourth album, Albert Hammond jnr talks tensions, rehab, sex stains and Oxegen with BRIAN BOYD
DON’T BELIEVE what you read. Particularly about The Strokes and their new album. The reports emanating from Camp Strokes were not exactly sanguine: they had sacked their producer midway through, there was “stress” and “tension” between singer Julian Casablancas and the other four band members, with both sides only communicating by e-mail. Worst of all guitarist Albert Hammond jnr had to be shipped off to rehab during recording, meaning a break in momentum and exasperation all around. Oh, and the band were breaking up – in the most acrimonious way possible.
There was a lot hanging on Angles. Following the totemic success of Is This It– one of those rare era-defining works – the band had been treading water artistically with the two subsequent releases, Room on Fireand Last Impressions of Earth.Neither had the commercial or critical traction of their debut.
As Albert Hammond jnr settles down for a chat you wave away the small-talk niceties and ask him bluntly about the sackings, the tension, the rehab and all of that.
“Well, when you say it in a certain way it sounds really bad but the truth is different,” he says. “We were working with a producer for a long time on Angles , and there was some confusion there, so we moved on and did most of it ourselves. It’s no big deal – it happens all the time and it’s nobody’s particular fault. I mean U2 worked with Rick Rubin on an album that never came out. The problem is every band is looking for a George Martin – and that rarely happens.”
“As to all the ‘tension and lack of communication in the studio’ charge – there’s always tension when The Strokes are in the studio together. It certainly wasn’t anything like Abbey Roador Let it Be. There was actually a lot of love and joy in the studio, and it does leave you feeling a bit confused when you read all these reports. We’re all very fond of each other. Recording this album was uplifting for us, because we learnt so much doing it, and we found we had a real belief in each other.”
As for the rehab, yes he was shipped for a bit of the old 12-step shuffle. “It happens a lot in this job, not that I’m looking for any pity from anyone for what I did to myself. And I do know it’s really cliche – the rock star in rehab – but I was that crazy rock star for a while. It’s something I’m okay talking about it, because it made me who I am now, and if anyone can get anything out of what I went through, then good. But I really just had to get back on my feet again.”
Hammond, son of the Albert Hammond of It Never Rains in Southern Californiafame – is well aware of the public perception of the band: that they never really built on Is This It and that they went off-road a bit with their last two releases. “We certainly don’t see it that way – in fact I think some of our best-ever music is on the last album. But we’re not the same people who made Is This It. You may start off gang-like, but time and – I suppose – success change all that. It was always our thing to grow and change, and the moment we stop doing that the band will be over.
“Also other stuff intrudes on you as you get older, and you do find that as you lose something you also gain something. The way I always compare it is by referring to sex: the first album was like f***ing, whereas this, our fourth album, is more like making love – we’re not running around trying to rub the stains out of the carpet any more.”
Thus far, Anglesis being heralded as The Strokes’ best work since Is This It, and while at times it harks back sonically to their debut, there is much more variety here than on their CBGB indie rock-inspired debut.
“What we keep getting from people with this one is that everyone has a different favourite song,” he says. “For some it’s the single Under Cover of Darkness, for others it’s Gratisfaction– which is mine – and others prefer Taken for a Foolor Life Is Simple in the Moonlight.And that’s the greatest compliment, because the biggest goal behind this album was to have extreme variety. There’s heavy and dark on this as well as quieter stuff, and there’s quite a serene ending to it.”
Over the past few years most of the band have been pursuing solo careers, with varying degrees of fortune. Hammond feels that, paradoxically, it helps the unity of the band.
“Going out on your own and watching others go out on their own really gives you a different perspective – not just on them but on yourself. For me going solo was like starting out all over again. I think it was different for Julian because he was the singer already anyway. But what happens is you come back from your solo album and solo tour and you see the band in a whole new light. I really loved what the others guys did, and we were all really supportive of each other, but getting back together you sense that real feeling of chemistry again, and this may sound strange but it’s the sort of chemistry that is bigger than yourself.”
And despite all they’ve been through, that chemistry will be very much in evidence as they hit the summer festival circuit shortly. Hammond is very keen on the band playing Oxegen in July, but is still mystified why, yet again, they’ve missed out on Glastonbury.
“It’s just one of those things – we’ve never played Glastonbury and really want to. There’s no real reason behind it. What happens is you get lined up for a certain set of shows, and there are now all these embargoes, as in you can’t play anywhere else for a period of time before your booked gig and all of that. But Oxegen will be good.”
Anglesis released this week. The Strokes play Oxegen on Sunday, July 10. oxegen.ie
Well suited Albert's threads
Apart from The Strokes and his own solo career, Hammond is also a clothes designer, having put his name to a number of classy men’s suits. Seen as the most fashion-conscious of The Strokes, he decided to design his own suits because of the ill-fitting nature of most suits he would buy.
Available at the hip Confederacy Store in Los Angeles and online at farfetch.com, they are beautifully tailored – but you won’t get much change out of €1,500 for one. As the sales pitch has it, the suits have “notched lapels, four front pockets and double back slits. The waistcoat features a shawl collar, double breast button closure, two front pockets, and black checkered back panel with an adjustable belt. Classic suit pants have two front pockets, a single back pocket, adjustable buckle waistband, and a zip fly fastening.” Golly.
“It was supposed to be a one-off thing – just designing the suits – but I have other ideas now, so we’ll see what happens,” says Hammond. “What I was going for was a classic suit look with a groovy twist, and as far as I know they’ve all been sold. I must really get back to it soon.”