Novak from Polish Club interviews Albert Hammond Jr on his new album, Francis Trouble
And tries really hard not to shit himself.
Words by David Novak. Polish Club photo by Pete Dovgan.
I once took a class at Uni about music composition. One of our first assignments was to take a specific song and write about what we thought it was about. I showed up the next week with my essay and was told that I was wrong. I believed a song had one meaning and was told that, in fact, it had another meaning, and it could have that meaning only. I never went back to that class.
"I feel like people bring meaning to the music themselves more than even maybe what it meant to me creating it."
There’s a press spiel about what inspired Albert Hammond Jr’s fourth album, Francis Trouble, detailing his mother’s miscarriage of Albert’s twin brother, Albert's subsequent birth and the complexities of identity that arose from their interrupted coexistence in utero. An undeniably serious and heady concept from a performer who in the past has described music as something to be ‘tarted up’ and parodied.
Rather than being at odds with these two divergent approaches to creating music, their combination is the reason why Albert’s new release feels like such a satisfying moment of discovery for not just the audience, but the performer.
Albert has been busy. In less than two decades, he’s had five solo releases and six releases with The Strokes. There is a natural assumption that after so much prolific creative output, an artist might change for the sake of it, running away from the act they’ve become famous for. Yet after a few minutes on the phone with Albert, calling from California where he is about to start a run of dates debuting his new album with a new band, it becomes clear that this is an artist who is finally in a place where he can just now truly begin to fully realise the act he has been working towards this whole time.
Understanding what your art is and how it is best conveyed is a process that all creators seek to resolve. Speaking about his outlook during the creation of Francis Trouble, Hammond Jr is remarkably Zen and pragmatic about how he has simultaneously reached a point where he is satisfyingly confident with this release, but also eager to continue to learn and continue what is ostensibly a ceaseless process of discovery of what his art can be.
That quote is from my interview with Albert Hammond Jr you're about to read below, and had Albert Hammond Jr been teaching my music class, I have no doubt I’d have stayed.
Francis Trouble by Albert Hammond Jr is out now via Red Bull Records, and you can read my insightful and inspiring chat with the man himself, below:
Congrats on the new album, you must be stoked!
Aw thanks so much man. Beyond excited. I really don't know how to put excitement like that into words. You know, it never comes across as excited as you actually are you know?
I guess when you're forced to talk about it over and over it kind of loses its meaning after a while. Especially after you've been sitting with it for a while before release.
It's so funny that you bring that up today because I was thinking about it. It doesn't lose it in its essence when I hear it, or am in a moment with it. It's still as strong, but it's like that idea that when you take your photo you lose a bit of your soul. When you talk about something enough, it kind of goes away. You know what I mean, like the intensity of it. But then that's part of the back and forth challenge that is doing this. There's so much I don't know but I couldn't be more excited to be touring this and trying to get to places, like I want to come to Australia with this album. It's even better live.
When you dropped Momentary Masters you referred to a "rolling of the dice" with your solo work and working towards fully embracing the role of a frontman and feeling comfortable doing so. With Francis Trouble, does it feel like the point where you've found a place to do so more so than before?
Yes, I feel like I found the record to tell that story, where the other records are like an arc of me trying to get there. Or not realising that that was even my question of my quest. I do feel it very much on this record. I think I went in with part of that in mind too, that it was going to be that. But I didn't realise how it was going to unfold. Having the alter ego and the songs definitely helped bring out quieted parts of me I guess.
So you do see it as a sort of alter ego or a caricature?
Well it's just you, it's all you, you know what I mean? To get closer to yourself you have to push back sometimes. And weirdly enough, when you become someone else, you actually figure yourself out more [laughs].
Up to Momentary Masters, you can hear a process of experimentation, a broad variety of songwriting and composition. Now with Francis Trouble, I feel like there's a tangible sense that this is being written by a songwriter who is completely sure of what the album is and what the act is, and it kind of feels like a eureka moment, but I’m sure this was a long process of trial and error.
Sure, you've summed it up perfectly. Yeah, everything is trial and error in the process of it. There's definitely fun to that but if definitely feels like that moment where I wish it could've been 10 years ago at the beginning. You know I fully understand. Now I understand; I'm like in this story of rock history through the media, I'm a guitar player and you get type cast. I never understood through the press being asked certain questions on my other records. It just frustrated me because I didn't really know, I didn't understand, because I saw myself in a certain way. Then when I realised that I had to project myself how I saw myself, it wasn't until this record that I felt like I achieved it on a record and then was also able to bring it to a live show.
And the learning process continues, obviously. It's more there. I feel like I can say I'm worthy of being in that position. You come into the show having great songs and a great time and having a reason to be followed. You know my first songs, it's like a living room record. I didn't really know, I just wanted to get better and I knew that I had to finish to get better. Whereas this one is like, "I want to play big shows and I like entertaining and I like singing. I want to go on the road and I want to, you know, give you guys a good time!"
You've got a whole new touring band compared to the last time you were out here. Does that make much of a difference to you? Does that help you in a way to own what it is, being your baby?
Like any person leading something, you always pick people that can bring things to life. I feel like I never do it alone. There's a lot of help in many different aspects of your life. Realising from when I started to where I am now, the different people I've used and the different bands. I just went in to this record knowing that it's going to make it or break it with me and nothing else. It's me who has to do it or have control over it. So that was definitely a good realisation. The way this band came together, all being from the Valley, where I grew up in Los Angeles, you know 818 areas codes. It's kind of like a full circle of that time when I fell in love with music as a teenager. Now the guys I'm playing with are all people that I wish I could've found when I was a teenager. It was a happy coincidence.
There's a noticeable change in your music from the moment that Gus Oberg took over production duties from the AHJ EP. Has that creative partnership helped you evolve to this point with Francis Trouble?
Yeah, we're best friends. He's like the older brother mentor to me. The reason we've been able to still work together for so long is that the closer we get as people, the more we push each other creatively, where it tends to be the opposite the closer you get; you tend to stop egging each other on. We've produced music together for other bands, he's done mine and he's a huge part in there. He's there early on, like when I first do the demos, he comes over and we begin that process. So, he's a huge part.
Do you find much value in elaborating on an album’s concepts in the lead up to a release? You have got to repeat the same old story for countless interviews. Do you think it's better to approach an album without any prejudice or preconceptions, or do you find value in elaboration?
Me explaining myself? It's hard, because I feel like people bring meaning to the music themselves more than even maybe what it meant to me creating it. For me, I remember hearing songs and falling in love with things or being moved by things tremendously and never knowing what that person meant, nor feeling like I had to because when you connect like that you feel close to them anyway because you've touched them and you don't even know them. So, I don't think it's important no, but I want people to know about it.
Perhaps annoyingly for yourself, you’re known as a stalwart of guitar-driven music, which is in less abundance compared to when you first began releasing music. Do you think it's a case of being able to stand out more now that it’s rarer, or is it hard to connect with people who now have more electronic familiarities?
To me it's a cycle. I feel like when I started, I did not feel like guitar music was present at all. In fact, I felt very alone in that. Which was awesome too because I felt badass, you know, you feel like a cowboy. And then it really started to come in to play in like 2006 for a bit for like 5-6 years, and then slowly electronic or DJ culture came about. But it's just cycles, and I don't see how, and my opinion on the matter is of little consequence, someone liking that stuff I feel like can still enjoy my music. Great songs are just great songs. There being a lack of those songs in general is only going to help me because people get tired of that, it's fun to have a mixture. I like to be silly and not take things seriously and just have it be fun and entertainment, I think that's important. I think my music is that, but at the same time, when you're alone at night sometimes, it's nice to know that there's something out there that can help you create meaning in such a meaningless space.
I'm sure it's all cyclical and we've seen it happen time and time again...
Oh it'll do full circles, you never know what happens.
Well I sure as shit hope so because I don't want to have to learn any other instruments. I'm struggling with guitar and vocals as it is. Thank you so much for taking time and good luck with all the interviews.
Hey man, that was a great interview. I do a lot of these, let me tell you...
Thank you, I'm pretty sure I just shat myself.
...it's one of the top 5 I've had.
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