AHJ on his new album, drugs + 'finding a challenge' away from The Strokes
Andrew Trendell

17:04 14th July 2015

"The problem is that there's no cool word for where I'm at," laughs Albert Hammond Jr, pondering his position as a 35-year-old happily married artist - settled, clean and comfortable in life and at home, while seen as statesman-like in music circles, but about to drop the most vibrant and propulsive record of his career.

This is the man who led the charge of the batalions of Converse-sporting, ripped jeaned garage rock brigades who shifted the shape of music at the turn of the century. Is This It? was 14 years ago, but where is his mind at now? Older, wiser, but still young in spirit.

"People are like 'oh, so you're more mature?' I'm not more mature, if anything I'm more childlike - maybe less obnoxious but I don't think that's got anything to do with maturity, just a filter in your head. I realised that you go wild and hate yourself for having all of this wasted time, but I needed to find a good word for where I am now to sound 'appealing'. If I was younger I'd be all like 'well, that sounds lame'."

Indeed, the middle age of being a rock star is rarely glamourised in the pages of rock legend. This is supposed to be the spot where artists creatively burn out, wind up the treadmill of recycling old ideas, get a beer belly and wait until they qualify to cash in on the nostalgia circuit. However, a man is only as young as his ideas make him feel - and AHJ is only now truly coming of age as a solo artist. Momentary Masters is among Hammond's finest work.

"If anything, the stuff I'm creating is more fun and dynamic, so the fact that I can do that makes me feel 'younger'," he smiles, before laughing through a sigh, "but that also sounds lame."

Photo: Gigwise/Emma Viola Lilja

The 'live fast die young' and 'tortured artist' models really can't be applied to Hammond these days. His days of drug abuse and darkness are long behind him. They were exorcised, in song and in the press, extensively before the release of his exquisite 2013 EP AHJ

We're happy to just focus on the core of what drives Hammond in 2015 - some bloody brilliant music. But it seems not everyone is happy with the same hook - not all the time anyway. 

"Well there was a huge gap so people always ask 'oh, so what have you done for this huge amount of time?'," muses Hammond. "It's too much time to just say 'oh, I was on a beach'. I don't mind talking about those things and it doesn't feel like it belongs to me, it's just experience. Sometimes it will come across wrong and sometimes it won't and it will have a positive effect on people."

It's that translation of Hammond's confessions that adds to the air of enigma that surrounds him. He laughs it off, but the truth is that more often than that, people are prone to getting the wrong idea. 

"I don't know what I could do to stop that side continuing to be," he shrugs. "Most of the stuff that people think about me isn't quite right - even as a character within The Strokes. People talk like they know me, but I think putting your thoughts on to page is the hardest thing. The thoughts in your head can explain everything, but coming out as words is a little harder and then in text is the hardest. You put it down on paper and you're like 'I'm an idiot'."

Hammond goes on: "The idea that I'm explaining to you the feelings that I've had, I can sometimes have no words to explain because there's just emotions that take you to a million different places. To explain that in a sentence would be amazing and I wish I could. Then for you to interpret that and write it down and for someone else to hear it, the bigger picture is there for people to hear the songs. As long as the songs will be heard, that's where their lasting impact lies."

Photo: Gigwise/Charly Murgatroyd

"Discipline can be fun," were words you may never have expected to come from the mouth of a man in The Strokes, but Hammond stands firm. "I feel like it might take longer sometimes, especially as we live in a society where we like to do drugs and want an instant gratification."

And satisfaction doesn't come any more immediate than it does on Momentary Masters - a record that pulses with a life-affirming sense of fun, life and freedom. In creating the album, the thrill of the chase was not only the journey, but the destination. 

"I only ever write because it turns me on," he beams. "When you're writing, it doesn't really feel like work, because you're sitting in here trying to do stuff and it's more of an excitement exploration.

"There's always a spark that hits you, and for me it was a mixture of playing with this new band and being excited to see what they would do to my songs. I would say this record has different layers, which is what makes me so excited about it. That's what I've always wanted to do. You can push play and listen to it all the way through, over and over again, and keep on enjoying it. You can be alone, walking alone, getting drunk, getting stoned or whatever your pleasure and find different things in there.

"Those layers are what excite me - they're entertaining and thoughtful."

Photo: Gigwise/Justine Trickett

Those who picked up the brilliant AHJ EP way back when may have been encouraged to learn that it was being released on fellow Strokes bandmate Julian Casablancas' own Cult Records imprint. That's not the case with Momentary Masters, but it's not a sign of any fraying relationships - just the quest for growth and independence. 

"It's on Vagrant in the US and Infectious in the UK and different ones around Europe and stuff," says Hammond. "I was just supposed to release a song on Cult, then it turned into an EP. It wasn't like a home for me forever, it's a small label that's starting out. I loved to be a part of it and loved doing what I could to champion it, but this is something that I wanted to feel like I could stand on my own two feet. I needed a label that was bigger and could help me push forward. I want to give it my all on this one."

So while he was penning, writing, recording and starting to promote Momentary Masters, it must have been somewhat of a conflict to hit the road again with The Strokes - with no new material to push but a planet of fans sorely missing them. Is that the case, or did it drive him to compete with his own legacy? 

"I think the biggest competition with that is more trying to create something where Strokes fans can like it but you're trying to find new fans too. I guess it's always been a healthy competition. We don't always plan the shows to feel the back and forth. With The Strokes, as much as you need to convince people, they're already convinced. They're there to just enjoy it. I'm still trying to establish myself so everywhere I go, my energy is of a 'make it or break it' kind of feel.

"You've got to try and conquer. Maybe if we made a new record we'd try to conquer but right now, it's just not as much of a challenge. It's fun, but it's not a challenge."

And now for the question on all of our lips - The Hyde Park show was an electrifying experience of these legends on top form, but how would Hammond describe the 'spirit' of being in The Strokes in 2015? 

"I think you need to ask someone else," he admits. "I have no idea. My personality just doesn't allow for that so I keep The Strokes on the side until I have something going on. Otherwise it would just drain me of energy."

Did the hunger and desire for those shows give off the feeling that the world is 'missing' a band like The Strokes at the moment?

"Yeah. It would be rude of me to say 'yes, why not?' but of course - people love what we do and have an affinity for it, and if anything that's what's sad about it.

"It's the missed opportunity of not playing the shows that's sad. I know that, I feel that, but if I keep on thinking like that I'm going to shoot myself in the head - because it's fucking depressing."

It's encouraging to see Hammond at the peak of his songwriting powers now then - grabbing the opportunity, seizing the day and standing tall on his feet. Now is his time. Hammond may struggle to give it a name, but there's only one word for it: 'freedom'

Albert Hammond Jr releases Momentary Masters on 31 July. 

His full upcoming UK tour dates are below. Tickets go on sale at 9am on Friday 26 June. For tickets and information, visit here

16 - Oxford O2 Academy 2 
17 - Manchester Gorilla 
19 - Birmingham Hare and Hounds
20 - Leicester O2 Academy 2
21 - Glasgow CCA 
23 - Portsmouth Wedgewood Rooms 
24 - Bristol Fleece 
25 - London Islington Assembly Hall 
26 - Brighton Old Market 

Photo: Press