With their UK live return at Hyde Park just weeks away, hard facts about The Strokes’ sixth album are frustratingly thin on the ground. That doesn’t mean the individual members haven’t been busy, though: firstly, guitarist Albert Hammond Jr is set to return with ‘Momentary Masters’, his third solo LP, released on July 31.
With a title taken from a line in ‘Pale Blue Dot’, astronomer Carl Sagan’s 1994 treatise about mankind’s place in the universe, the album promises to show a different, more philosophical side to Hammond. “I couldn’t stop going back to it as a title,” he explains. “Just the idea that life is this momentary thing that’s gone after a certain amount of time. I don’t find that depressing: if anything, it’s an exciting idea, and it seems to me that a lot of the stuff that can bum you out comes from forgetting that.”
Recorded at his home in upstate New York with regular Strokes collaborator Gus Oberg, ‘Momentary Masters’ was also inspired by the recent death of a close friend who turned him onto the poet Anne Sexton. “From reading her, I got into this idea of having a shadow – an alter ego who you might pretend doesn’t exist, but who you have conversations in your head with anyway, and how you can’t throw away part of your personality just to be accepted as a whole. What I’m describing sounds very serious, but it’s more subtle than that – the record is actually very danceable and fun!”
Lead single ‘Born Slippy’ certainly suggests as much, though beneath its ebullient exterior lurks what Hammond calls “a song about figuring out what to do when what has defined you for a long time isn’t there any more”. Was he aware of the 1996 Underworld hit of the same name? “Oh, of course! I just thought it was an awesome phrase, and I felt like enough time had passed to be able to use it again.”
With confusion reigning over The Strokes’ future, one aspect of the album’s release seems slightly portentous: Hammond’s last EP, 2013’s ‘AHJ’, came out on Julian Casablancas’ Cult Records, but ‘Momentary Masters’ will be issued by Vagrant (and Infectious in the UK). Should we read anything into that? “No, I guess I just felt it needed a different home,” he says. “Nothing weird or anything…”
Meanwhile, bassist Nikolai Fraiture is close to completing an album with his new band, Summer Moon, featuring Erika Spring of Au Revoir Simone on keyboards and Tennessee Thomas of The Like on drums. “It started out as songs that I was writing, but now we’re heading in a more collaborative direction,” says Fraiture. “It’s not a hippy-dippy group. We have two badass girls in the band, so there are a lot of tensions and pushes and pulls.”
The band recently posted ‘Happenin’’, a song culled from sessions recorded at Fraiture’s own space on the West Side of Manhattan, although they plan to enter a bigger studio at some point this summer to finish off the album. “I’m enjoying figuring out how to be a frontman, but it feels good at the moment,” says Fraiture. And how do the small New York club shows he’s playing with Summer Moon compare to headlining festivals with The Strokes? “I just feel blessed and lucky that I can do both at this point.”