“i prepare for TOURS like an athlete”Albert Hammond JR: After rock ’n’ roll stardom almost killed him, The Strokes guitarist got clean and rediscovered his creative mojo
When Albert Hammond Jr wasn’t performing to stadiums packed with adoring fans as guitarist with millennial post-punk phenomenon The Strokes, he was ingesting a colourful array of drugs. And then the predictable happened. But after pulling back from the brink and getting clean, Hammond Jr has tapped into a deep creative vein as a solo artist. Following the release of his third album, Momentary Masters, the 35-year-old talks recovery and rediscovery.
THE RED BULLETIN: Kicking an addiction is one thing, but how do you get the creative process working again?
Albert Hammond Jr: It took a while. There was a two-year window from when I stopped using [drugs] to when I began to feel normal. I doubted everything I did and I didn’t think I’d play music again. It was really hard. I would have to schedule seeing a movie in my calendar so that I wouldn’t just end up isolated in my room. It sounds a little silly, but my therapist told me to use my eyes as a camera – not to judge anything, but simply to take everything in, like an archaeologist arriving on an alien planet. I did it at parties. I did it when I went out. It became this thing I did, where I would just absorb information. And, ultimately, that was what helped me regain my curiosity.
Would you say that going through all the tough stuff helped you rediscover the talent inside?
When you’re reduced to being on autopilot and then have to find your way out of it, there can be learning. I had to take baby steps just to want to have fun again. But you have to, because fun is what keeps you from doing the things you shouldn’t be doing. I also had to create more discipline in my life. I wake up, I practise, I exercise. I try to remain focused on setting positive things in motion. These days, I’m constantly in search of new rituals, and that goes for my songwriting, too.
So, have you reconnected with the reasons you started making music in the first place?
Absolutely. I wanted this record to be multilayered, so you can put it on in the car, with friends, wherever. More than that, though, I wanted it to hit you somewhere, make you feel something, so that you connect to it. When I was 15, music changed my life. Nothing at school made sense. Everybody had everything so planned out. It was all about money. And then – boom! – I discovered The Beatles and The Velvet Underground, I connected to their music in such a deep way – it wouldn’t even be thinking, just connecting. And then, after I’d listened to some song or another enough times, I’d hear a line and it suddenly had something to do with a moment in my life. It was like they knew me. I want to have that effect on people.
One way to look at addiction is that you’re pushing your body (and your mind) to its limits. But there are healthy ways to do that as well…
When I’m getting ready to go on tour, I feel like I’m preparing for it as an athlete would in order to win the championship. I practise playing my guitar. I practise singing. I keep my body in shape. I ride my motorcycle and I go scuba diving. But it’s not just about keeping physically fit, because the mind can go sooner than the body when you’re travelling on the road. You really need to keep your morale high.
Do you miss partying like a rock star?
When I look back on those days, sure. There are times when I even miss the darkest moments. But when I think back to that time, I don’t imagine doing what I did then. I think about how great it would have been, back then, to be where I am now. If I could travel back in time, I’d take that over all the partying any day. I’m also happy no longer being thrown left and right emotionally. You can live in the middle. You can understand both sides of your emotions, but think about them and grow from them. I’m more centred right now.