Albert Hammond Jr. Comes Clean About His Drug Addiction
Albert Hammond Jr.
Albert Hammond Jr. is back–it just took him a little while to get here. Earlier this year the rhythm guitarist for the Strokes opened up about his years-long addiction to cocaine, heroin, and ketamine that finally overwhelmed him during the recording sessions for 2011's Angles at his One Way Studios in upstate New York. There, while spending thousands of dollars a weekend on drugs, he realized he needed to go to rehab. "For some people it works fine," Hammond Jr. tells me over the phone after a European tour with British singer-songwriter Jake Bugg, whom he'll perform with this Friday at Terminal 5. The musician is thoughtful and diplomatic when it comes to his drug abuse, carefully wording his answers so as not to condemn anyone's choices but his own. "The path I went down was not doing anything and getting fucked up, or doing something and not."
After he got out of rehab and worked on the Strokes' underplayed Comedown Machine, released earlier this year, Hammond Jr. started on his first solo material since 2008's ¿Como Te Llama? Splitting time between his studios in Manhattan and upstate, Hammond Jr. collaborated with longtime producer-engineer Gus Oberg, who also produced Angles, and played all the instruments except for drums on AHJ, which he released this September on Julian Casablancas' label, Cult Records. (He also found the time to marry his girlfriend, Justyna Hammond Jr. [nee Sroka], operations manager at Juice Press.)
At five songs and 15 minutes, the EP eases fans back into Hammond Jr.'s familiar chord progressions and skill at lilting melody, unencumbered by the competing interests of a full band. This time, however, he pushes his voice to its straining point, bringing a newfound urgency to songs like "Carnal Cruise," parts of which recall Is This It or First Impressions of Earth. While he hopes to keep releasing albums in this format, which he enjoys more than the album cycle, Hammond Jr. acknowledges that the music industry, while accepting him back with open, track-marked arms, is less receptive to non-album formats. "Maybe I'll be proven wrong," he says. "It's a fun thing to try to do anyways, to wonder what's going to happen. No one knows."
What was it like working with Julian Casablancas? It always seemed like you guys had a pretty exceptional relationship. There's even a Facebook page dedicated to your bromance.
(Laughs) It was like working with a friend who just happened to be on the label. It's a little different from working with the band because it's not so direct with the music. When you're in the band writing songs, you're working from the ground up. Julian's at the label, so when I'm playing songs for him, I'm pretty close to feeling like I'm done. Definitely when we were playing when we were younger, we obviously wanted to be successful, but we were friends. I was roommates with him. It was very casual. Maybe that's why it's so hard to talk about it, because when he was over it wasn't like, "I'll mention this later." We reached a point where we were lucky enough where he could come over casually and hang out and play music.
I heard he thought one of the lyrics on "St. Justice" was about him, even though the song was inspired by your wife.
In so many ways, yes, but I had parts of it before. My friend Jason would always call her Justice. It was a cool little nickname, so when I was thinking up titles for the song, I was like, "Oh, cool, 'St. Justice.'" That had a better ring than something else, kind of like a famous Beatles song. I feel like stories are always told. It's so much easier to explain things with a "Yep, that's what it was," when it's always a million things. It's never one thing, you know? I guess I need to learn how to tell stories better and say, "Yep."
Your struggle with substance abuse and rehab has become a part of the story of this EP, and earlier you mentioned the press gets fixated on narratives. Do you ever think the focus on that story has taken away from interest that would otherwise solely go to the music of AHJ?
Well, that's all it is, though, that's why. It's not a bad thing. They have to tell the same story over and over again. Even eight years into being in the Strokes, talking about Angles stuff, I was still talking about how we got together. In time, everything that's been said kind of goes away, and all you're left with is the music. That's just how we'll tell a story or talk about what's exciting right now, like, "I'll go in and pitch a story and I'll talk about things in a certain way." I've even said things enough times that it comes back to me as this idea that exists in the stratosphere, when it's really just something I said to enough press to make it a thought. Like, "What do you think about this?" "Well, what do you mean? I was the one who said that."
I read that you stayed sober for your solo tours during your addiction. Was it harder touring this time around without drugs to take away the anxiety of touring?
Well, not sober. I wasn't shooting up. I was still doing everything else (laughs). It was easier to tour sober, not harder. Drugs alleviate drug anxiety, like nicotine alleviates want for more nicotine. It's not so much that it numbs you. Once you get to that level, it's a big difference. It's not like early on where I'd have a beer and chill out because I was nervous. When it came to that, I was just a mess, so it didn't really matter. I would do other stuff just so I wouldn't lose my mind because I felt like shit.