- 09 Apr 19
On The Strokes guitarist's 39th birthday, we're revisiting his interview with Paul Nolan, originally published in Hot Press in 2008.
When Hot Press contacts Albert Hammond Jr at his home in New York, he is in decidedly chipper mood. Indeed, after informing the guitarist that my favourite track on his new solo album, Como Te Llama (Spanish for “What’s your name?”), is the off-kilter rocker ‘Lisa’, he even plays me a snippet of the song on his piano.
“I love that part,” he says of the jaunty riff. “I would play it for hours. It was all I had when I went to LA to film the ‘In Transit’ video with Joaquin Phoenix. My girlfriend at the time was named Lisa, and that part sounded like the way she walked. Instead of writing about her lyrically, the title came from the first melody. It just sounded like Lisa, so I thought I should name it after her. I don’t really mention anything about her except a bit in the chorus, but that’s the way songwriting works sometimes.”
Although Hammond produced Como Te Llama himself, he describes it as more of an all-round band effort than his debut. One of the musicians who plays on the record is his friend Sean Lennon, who contributes piano to the seven-minute instrumental ‘Spooky Couch’.
“I met him at a bar one night and we hit it off,” explains Albert. “He couldn’t believe how much I love Japanese food. We’ve been friends for about five years now. Someone was saying to me recently that it sounded quite easy for me to get him, and I said, ‘It sounds easy ‘cos it is. I didn’t have to go through management or anything to get his number.’ I called him like I would call a friend about going to see a movie, and said, ‘Come and play on my song.’”
Albert has also been keeping busy outside of music, and recently finished co-writing a screenplay for Pulp, the 1994 novel by cult author Charles Bukowski.
“I read that book twice in a row, and I thought, ‘This could make a great movie. Then I had my friend read it, and he loved it immediately. I talked to Linda Bukowski and she said, ‘Yeah, it sounds cool.’ She liked the idea of a young person doing something with Bukowski, as opposed to, you know, who had the rights to that script. David Lynch once had the rights, and David Cronenberg too. They both had the option for the book, but they never did anything with it.
“So I told Linda my idea. Whenever anyone makes a Bukowski movie, it’s always so dark. What I wanted to do was take his story and make it into a great comedy, which is what it is. It’s basically about this loser private eye who you fall in love with, and he’s stuck in this world that doesn’t exist anymore. He’s old school but he’s in ‘90s LA, and that makes for a good comedic contrast.”
The literary turn to our conversation leads me to mention the fact Strokes drummer Fab Moretti had dinner with the late Kurt Vonnegut. Albert says he’s never had an in-depth talk with his bandmate about the meeting, although he observes that his enthusiasm about the encounter was obvious. (“I think he was just in awe that he got to have dinner with one of his idols”). In other Fab-related matters, I remember seeing photos of him and Albert with Courtney Love, on the occasion she attempted to host MTV2 for a 24-hour period. What are Hammond’s recollections of the experience?
“It was late and I was drunk,” he remembers. “I just thought it was very funny to see Ryan Adams and Courtney sitting on this bed, and watching him play a song to her, and them being so serious. I couldn’t help but laugh; it’s 4.30 in the morning and everyone is just so full of shit. All of those people are incredibly nice, but I couldn’t understand why no one else saw the humour of being in this huge TV station, and the debacle of people coming in and out.”
Albert’s father, of course, is a renowned songwriter, having penned hits for The Hollies, Starship and Tina Turner. He also wrote the showband classic ‘Make Me An Island’.
“Yeah, that was a hit for Joe Dolan,” says Albert. “When I was a kid, my Dad did this tape for his publishing company and he went through a biography of his stuff. I know some of those things, for sure. I’m actually really proud of him. To be finally accepted by his peers and be inducted into the songwriting hall of fame must mean a lot, after putting in all that hard work.”
Finally, does Albert have an idea of when work might commence on a fourth Strokes album?
“I don’t know, I’ll imagine we’ll probably get together some time next year. I’m figuring out how to do both; I have three or four new songs I just did that I feel are my best songs so far. I’m excited about those, and I’m also excited about The Strokes, so we’ll have to see. It’s so far ahead that there’s nothing concrete, but I’ll imagine we’ll meet some time next year.”
Apparently, having recently collaborated with Julian Casablancas on a track for Converse, Pharrell Williams has expressed an interest in producing the album.
“There you go, he knows more than I do,” chuckles Albert.
Would you be open to the idea of Williams producing the next Strokes album?
“I’d be open to Pharrell Williams taking my spot if he wants to – he can play guitar!”