Albert Hammond Jr. on ‘Francis Trouble,’ Self-Exploration & Life Experience
When it comes to blessing an audience with dynamic showmanship, Albert Hammond Jr.’s solo stage presence is distinctly one for the record books. Whether he’s scaling equipment to tap the ceiling or swinging the mic in style in between crooning to the crowd, his energetic set has a contagious, you-caught-my-attention effect on the attendees.
While largely known as the guitarist of the Strokes, Hammond Jr. kicked off his solo career in 2006 with the release of Yours to Keep, trailed by ¿Cómo Te Llama? in 2008. He showcases an alluring melodic leaning on his fourth solo studio album, Francis Trouble, released March 9 via Red Bull Records. As a follow-up to 2015’s Momentary Masters, this newest treat is a lyrically candid earworm, emitting a radiant sound that glistens even brighter with each play.
Here, TIDAL chats with Hammond Jr. about the inner workings of Francis Trouble and how his life experiences have molded him into the rock star he is today.
How was your approach on this album different from your past projects, such as Momentary Masters?
Everything is the same and different at the same time. It’s not like you’re going into it differently, besides feeling like you’re missing something. You go on tour and come home and kind of know what you want, hopefully. That’s the goal.
Well, what challenges did the making of it Francis Trouble present this time around?
I knew I wanted to make a visual record and I knew I wanted to make a certain record for me for [being on] stage as an entertainer, a front man. Challenges are always the same. You’re trying to write better songs and trying to push yourself in directions that you might feel not as strong in. I don’t know if that ever changes. Whenever you feel like you’ve done your best, there’s always something that peeks around the corner and makes you wish you would have gone there first. So, it’s the same challenge, rather.
That makes sense. I read your interview with DIY Magazine – which I loved. You said these words: ‘I became more me by not being me.’ In what way?
As time goes on and you’re growing up, you build walls from your insecurities and fears. Sometimes they blind you to things or how you started, or you forget. Sometimes when you push away from yourself, you kind of see yourself as a character. It’s like I took a long trip to be the me who fell in love with music but wasn’t any good at it. When you fall in love with something, you’re not good at it. You just have blind love for it.
The passion is there for it though, no?
With that being said, what did you learn about yourself though the process?
That I’m an asshole and a great person at the same time.
No, no. It’s OK. I just learn more dynamically about whatever my positives are, I have them and negatives as well. As good as it can be, it’s also as bad. So, you just go back and forth between that and filter it through your beliefs at the time and what you’re trying to say. Melody tells a lot of stories, too. Melody gives the emotion, gives the melancholy [and] the joy to things. So, it’s like a mixture of both those things.
To be totally honest, to learn about myself…just like in life with therapy, I would question things – I would do that whether I was playing music or not. As time goes on, you realize you need to change certain behaviors. Don’t bring that totally into music, because it’s not necessary. There are a lot of parts to it that you can put in there because you’ve made your life better, it will naturally be expressed in your creativity. I don’t use music as therapy.
Or a catharsis?
Yeah. It can be cathartic just as you’re creating, so you’re starting anything that takes time to evolve and build – just like practice and things – will give you immense joy. That’s how your body and brain are built to release endorphins and dopamine. That’s how it reacts the same way you’d create a daily ritual for yourself. However little it is, even just making a cup of tea, but really loving everything you put together. It’ll give you that same feeling.
That being said though, there are definitely elements lyrically; it’s probably one of my most honest [albums]. I feel like it’s all right there. You can take the things I say literally. I go through some things on there.
I got the sense of that from listening to the album. There are a lot of peaks and valleys.
‘Tea for Two’ is my favorite. I love the artwork cover too.
‘Tea for Two’ and ‘Set to Attack’ are what I’m pretty sure got me signed to Red Bull. ‘Tea for Two’ is one of my favorites too because it has a little bit of everything. It feels like it jams out for a little bit. There’s a sax in there. The chorus is big, but it’s really mellow. Yeah, I really like that one a lot.
Is there a particular song you look forward to performing live or that you’ve been enjoying performing to so far? Would it be ‘Tea for Two’?
We’re trying to bring that in. We didn’t get a chance to practice it yet. Maybe by the end of the American tour it’ll be in. I mean all of them, really. I’ve been liking playing ‘Strangers’ recently. It’s hard because it all depends on the emotion of where I am in the set and what I remember. I’ve enjoyed all of them at different moments.
When we first played ‘Rocky’s [Late Night],’ that was fun. It’s still really fun. When you’re doing it live, it’s all about your performance. Some songs you have to be that perfect to have an impact and some you can be a little looser. I was in Santa Ana, we played ‘Dvsl’ and I just felt like it really connected with the audience. It went from an unknown song to at the end everyone was so into it. So, there it was awesome. I’ve played it sometimes where it didn’t have that effect. That changes how you feel. Sometimes, it still makes it great.
You also said the artwork. I love the artwork, too.
Who did the artwork?
Liz Hirsch. I’ve kind of worked with her for a while. I started the artwork super early, too. I wasn’t even signed when I had the artwork.
The artwork came first?
No, it didn’t. It came together as I was mixing and mastering.
That’s great! I love the pop art effect. I’m curious as to how you decided what tracks would make the album. What were the deciding factors?
Well, I did have 12 songs. Just the 10 songs when I listened to it, it just felt perfect – like you’d want to hear it again. It’s like there was no flaw. So, that’s really how it happened. Then, it took a little bit of living with it, but I just started to notice that the two songs were great, but just as a whole it just didn’t make it seem as great.
So, how have your past and current experiences shaped you as an artist? Has that been the case?
Well, definitely on the cycle of being at home, making a record, touring and coming back helps shape a lot. It started when I did my EP. I had a different focus, a renewed energy and when I toured I saw what was missing. All of those things helped me realize what I wanted and how I wanted to present myself on stage – this mixture of playing guitar and singing, not playing guitar and just singing and then also just playing guitar alone sometimes without a band, that dynamic and how I just liked to move. The songs had to start having that in them. I like jumping around. That’s made small shows, but now I need bigger stages, so I can move around more, which is exciting because I feel like the songs have become ready for that. We opened for the Killers and I felt like I finally found a room that I belonged to.
Reflecting on your career as a solo artist, what’s been a highlight for you?
I think just sticking with it. I think a lot of times when you’re trying to figure yourself out – especially in front of other people – I was a late bloomer and already in a successful band. I had to figure myself out. As much as [there are] good songs on all the records, you feel personally like you’re failing and not being who you want to be in front of people and being judged for it. That’s a hard process, but it’s highlighted in positivity by having this record now. I think without this [Francis Trouble], it would feel weird for me. It would be like I never really showed what I could do.
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