He’s a clever guy, Albert Hammond Jr. I interviewed him in New York for this week’s NME, spending the afternoon dossing around WizKid management (aka Strokes HQ) and the Lower East Side of Manhattan with him and our photographer Guy Eppel.
What I really liked about him was how he made no bones whatsoever when the subject of his other band came up in conversation, despite the premise of the interview being about his new EP ‘AHJ’ (which we also spoke about at length). He totally knows the score when it comes to the big stuff, which is somewhat refreshing in this game.
I’m gonna say that even more than the Gallagher’s, even more than Jack’n’Meg, music fans want to know what the hell is going on with The Strokes right now. They’re still operating as a band – ‘Comedown Machine’ came out at the beginning of the year, remember – but it’s in the strangest of circumstances. No press for years. No gigs. No TV. Barely any tweets. Rumours that they all hate each other. Reams and reams of blog comments about, ooh, how far Nick stands away from the other four onstage, whether that lyric in the third verse of ‘One Way Trigger’ relates to Julian’s, uh, difficult relationship with Fab, or what the highly-strung guitar-gasm at the start of the last record could possibly signify. Whatever. The point is this: they’re the biggest band going who have Important Questions To Answer. Personally, I love it – the lack of info only makes them more enticing, and when they finally do talk, it’s going be shithot.
So what did I learn about the situation from spending the afternoon at WizKid? Well, the whole silent thing might be part of a grand plan. I’m a sap for a good conspiracy theory, so when Albert shot me a knowing look and basically said, ‘Just wait and see, have patience’ after I asked why they’ve gone so quiet, I couldn’t help but think that something was still cooking for the band.
The fact that Julian has helped out so much on Albert’s new EP is a positive sign too (it’s coming out on his Cult Records label, and he dropped into the studio loads to work on ideas for the songs). Ditto the recent gig where Albert and Nick played a Dylan cover together in Dublin. Ditto Albert’s reaction in New York when we saw Fab walking down the street halfway through NME’s photoshoot (cue mad waving through the traffic). It didn’t seem to me like there was much tension there.
And then there’s The Strokes’ contract (in the States) with RCA, which has now come to an end. After a fairly low-key start last year, Julian seems to be really pushing Cult Records now (check out latest signings Color and Reputante). I’d wager that The Strokes’ next record will surely be in contention to come out through that, bringing the whole process a lot closer to home for the band and giving them more control than they’ve had before. Which has gotta be some kind of incentive, right?
But as I said, Albert’s clever. He does that thing where he talks to you but gives away very little, a trick American musicians seem to be great at whereas us Brits suck at it (and I’m very thankful for that).
Albert knows that every Strokes fan in the land is dying for an update on the band, and he admitted as much when I asked him about them:
Of course. But also there has to be an understanding I’m one fifth of something, and I don’t want it to come across to our fans as if I called this interview to speak about stuff as if I’m taking advantage of the opportunity
Can’t really make it clearer than that.
There’s more on The Strokes in the magazine, but away from them his chat about his now well-publicised drug problems were as eye-opening as I could have hoped for. I don’t mean this in a narcissistic way either: All the press last time round (aside from this French article, I think) alluded to how bad things had got for him, but then skipped onto another subject without getting to the bottom of it. As a fan it frustrated me, and as a journo it baffled me.
Albert brought up my recent interview with Pete Doherty for NME, which he’d read (he couldn’t agree with what Pete said about getting to the lowest of the low before getting clean), and then spoke at length about his own troubles. In many ways the two experiences – the interviews, I mean – were quite similar. Both Albert and Pete are telling what are ultimately very sad tales, but with an air of ironic disbelief at the seriousness of the situation, and lashings of to-the-point frankness.
The major difference between the two of them is that doing heroin and crack still seem to be Pete’s favourite topic of conversation, whereas Albert is keener to shout about getting off the bad stuff and moving on to better things. Seeing how well he looked gave me hope for Pete, anyway.
And then there’s the new EP, of course. I’ve been listening to it a lot over the past month. Albert’s obsessed with it, and rightly so – he’s most keen to get back on the road again, even speaking about what other bands he’d like to tour with (he’s as into the new Arctic Monkeys stuff as the rest of us, and is also big on Josh Hubbard from The Paddingtons’ new band, Skaters).
Musically, ‘AHJ’ is almost the perfect companion piece to ‘Comedown Machine’, in a way. A bitchy, bruised brother of a record that takes its cues from the intricacies of stuff like ‘Dirk Wears White Sox’ by Adam & The Ants, Tom Petty and Wipers best material. But whereas ‘Comedown’ was tightly strung practically the whole way through, the EP lets its hair down a whole lot more. If you liked Albert’s great song ‘In Transit’ – written pre-Strokes, and included in demo form on this brilliant on-the-road doc of their early days – then you should love it…