ALBERT HAMMOND JR.
Musician, Writer, Actor
Tell us who you are and what you do.
My name is Albert Hammond Jr and I play guitar in a band called The Strokes as well as front my own solo thing. I also ride motorbikes, scuba dive and now I dabble in movies.
There’s already been a lot written about you on your music career. Tell us about the movie stuff you’re dabbling in.
Well I’ve always liked it. I went to film school for a year and when I was 16 I tried to write scripts and stuff like that. If I’m honest I think I was always super afraid of it because the idea of auditioning was just terrifying, so I never really pursued it then. But after a bit of time things started to fall into place. In my 30s I got more comfortable with myself I guess and I looked at it and thought that to have it just as an option was fun.
Out of your comfort zone?
Oh for sure. There’s something about the challenge of confronting something that’s hard and that I’ve never done before that’s really opened me up creatively in my music too. So they feed each other. It’s a strange thing, I didn’t expect that. It’s hard to explain it but I feel like I can judge my music harder but at the same time the judgement is easier to accept.
It’s also a fear thing and new things are always scary. I love scuba diving and I love motorcyles but before I do either of those two things there’s always a little bit of fear. It’s all linked though. You wouldn’t get on stage if you didn’t feel a little bit of fear. That’s what creates the excitement.
But to engage with something where the fear is so strong it almost shuts you down - if you can pass that fear it’s an extreme rush. And that rush reignites everything else. That’s the connection I’ve found with music and acting.
‘In Transit’, Albert Hammond Jr. Directed by Joaquin Phoenix.
Is there something about the process that you enjoy?
For sure. When you start something and you don’t understand the rules yet overcoming that lack of understanding is an amazing feeling. The thing I’m learning to overcome at the moment is that when someone calls ‘Action!’ to have my mental or emotional state remain the same. It sounds dumb, but little developments like that are what you’re working towards.
It’s also about timing. Music felt like something I could do when I was young but film felt like something I could do as I got older.
Albert Hammond Jr. right, with The Strokes.
Is there a reason for that?
I’m not sure, I’ve always seen them as connected. When I was 16 my life changed because I fell in love with music and film. It was a time when all these new things were coming into my awareness. It was also reading new writers, listening to philosophers and scientists. It all changed how I viewed things, so in that way it’s all the same as music and movies.
It’s still the same today. It’s ideas I get excited about.
What in particular?
Well there’s this podcast that I love with Sam Harris where he had the guy who wrote ‘Sapiens’ on. Listening to a conversation like that is just incredible. You’re listening to such smart people who are able to say words that have been put together in such a way that they trigger thoughts to bounce around your head all day. I find that hugely inspirational and it can impact the work I do.
‘Waking Up’ with Sam Harris #68 Reality and the Imagination with Yuval Noah Harari.
Back when I was 16 though it was like an avalanche. I saw ‘Blue Velvet’ and it had a similar effect. It set off a chain reaction in my mind that I couldn’t stop. I got it with ‘Trainspotting’ too. ‘Goodfellas’. Bill Hicks. Christopher Hitchens. David Foster Wallace. You know, the list goes on.
Bill Hicks talks about Jay Leno.
There’s a sense of humor in most of that stuff.
For sure. The thing about humor is that it’s about perspective shifts. When I got sober the therapy that helped me was all about that. It was all about new perspectives being more exciting than being numb. There was a lot of humor in the darkness.
It’s hard to accurately say because it’s been so long now but when you first approach all that - drink, drugs, whatever - it’s there in it’s innocent form and it can give you a kind of perspective shift. At first that’s intoxicating but when things get super dark you’re just stuck in it more than anything else. The route out of that dark place for me was finding more excitement in these people and these ideas and these new ways of seeing things than the escape I’d gotten used to.
David Foster Wallace: The Future of Fiction in the Information Age.
You’ve been very publicly open about your struggles with substances. Is there a reason for that?
It’s funny you ask because it’s only recently that I figured out why.
When you’re young you don’t realise the influence you have on people but as you get older you start to see it for what it is. In the rock world and through journalism there’s a really negative story that’s constantly being told that’s not really how it works. If I read things now about what I said I realise I might have been a bad influence. If you’re young and haven’t got any experience then you might think that if you’re drunk or act like a crazy man you’ll write like Jim Morrison.
But it isn’t like that. There was something in Jim Morrison that he tooled that was expressive that made him a great writer. It was a sidenote that he was a terrible drug taker, it wasn’t the cause. But the myth is that the drugs led to the writing.
So I talk about that stuff openly because when I was recovering it was other people’s stories that made me feel less alone. I don’t feel the need to be closed off.
You feel like there’s a connection between you and the rest of the world?
Well yeah. Isn’t that what being a human being is?
At the end of the day we all need each other. You build relationships with people so that they’re there so that when you make mistakes they’re there to pick you up. And you do the same for them. It’s what being alive is about.
On the drugs thing though I get asked whether now that I’m not using do I feel less creative, and I think the honest answer to that is that if you can open the door and never fully go in and return back to life as it was before then they have the potential to be a useful tool. But I can’t do that. I remember hearing that George Carlin would write for days, and then he’d get stoned and read it and mark stuff that was only clear through door that he’d opened up, then close it and go back to writing. That’s super disciplined. Most people would get stoned then end up keep on getting stoned.
George Carlin talks different perspectives.
So I laugh when people say that because I’ve never felt more creative. I feel child-like in my creativity. I just wish it had always been more exciting to me than pussy and drugs.
Is there anything else you’re looking to get done in life?
That’s a big question. I try not to get too far ahead. I’ll try to limit it to like ‘the latest record I’ve just put out is the most important thing I’m doing’. If I limit it to that, and focus on putting it out and playing live shows I’ll naturally see what I couldn’t see before that needs to be created for the next thing. The next project. Being in the studio then going to play live does that.
I guess I just like getting better at things. Feeling that feeling.
Albert Hammond Jr. for Basic Rights.
Albert Hammond Jr. is a solo artist and guitarist for band The Strokes. He made his acting debut in 2017 film ‘Newness’ premiering at Sundance January 2017.