Albert Hammond Jr Talks 'Francis Trouble'

Albert Hammond Jr Talks 'Francis Trouble'

The Strokes guitarist divulges on his spiritual musical journey.



The Strokes guitarist divulges on his spiritual musical journey.

Text: Vanessa Bermudez

Albert Hammond Jr longs to reinvent his own name. You might know him as the rhythm guitarist from the Strokes, or as the son of Albert Hammond, singer-songwriter of “It Never Rains in Southern California” fame. However you might’ve come across his name, it carries with it the perpetual connotation of one of the world’s biggest rock bands. His upcoming solo effort, Francis Trouble, out via Red Bull Records on March 9, is titled after the lost persona within himself that is just now finding its way out. “He’s everything you’d want to be,” he told V, over a shaky call from the UK where he’s currently on tour with Franz Ferdinand. “The idea was to not have the baggage that my name could bring to the music. I wanted to be heard without that in mind. I feel like pulling away from yourself can allow you to become more yourself.”

Francis Trouble explores the deeply personal matters revolving around his stillborn twin brother. In November of 1979, Hammond’s mother, Claudia, suffered a miscarriage, yet Hammond continued to grow undetected up to her sixth month of pregnancy. While he’s been long aware of his twin’s existence, it was only this year that he learned a small part of Francis was born alongside him: a fingernail. “The fact that that all existed and that I came together while discovering all of this just created a huge beam in my life. I thought I had this arc in my album that I had finally reached a point where I wanted to be.”

The record clocks in just under 36 minutes, opening with the sounds of birds chirping before launching into a towering guitar hook. Within the sonic context of his previous works, it feels strangely familiar - the tenderness of 2008’s ¿Cómo Te Llama? (the title of which, even then, suggested the power within a name) crosses over here in the form of recent single “Far Away Truths”, one of the focal points of Francis Trouble. Entangled riffs that flirt with one another back and forth, lamenting over an emptiness you cannot describe, solos with boundless intrigue - it all comes full circle in a record both strangely aware of itself and of the message it carries.

While Hammond has remained relatively out of the limelight since his 2015 release Momentary Masters, he’s been hard at work shifting towards a new musical direction. “It always begins with a song. It can be the tiniest snippet and it can feel like the spark of a whole new world. I called Gus [Oberg] who produced/mixed/mentored the record. We were just going to do early stage demos and it turned into something I had to make.” I note that him and Oberg have undoubtedly cultivated a real and fascinating connection: the Grammy-award winning producer has worked on the Strokes records ever since 2011’s Angles, which received much critical acclaim for its first baby steps away from the legacy of Is This It. “We definitely have a strong bond. The best thing is the closer we get, the more honest we get with each other. That really helps me grow as we keep pushing each other into different areas.”

Hammond’s creative direction has never strayed far from the Strokes. There is a romantic nostalgia that’s always remained there, nestled deep between intricate guitar hooks and cutting lines about yesterday. I ask Hammond if there is more of a difference between writing an AHJ song and a Strokes song than one would think. “I don’t have enough of a creative outlet in the Strokes, so whatever 10% of a song gets used, I have this whole record that doesn’t. Sometimes to me that’s better,” he said earnestly, before catching himself. “I don’t mean that in a way that’s against it, I’m just saying… I would hate to not use any of this. To feel the way I feel now, I have to do this. Even just realizing that is new. Being able to say it loud to you like that without it feeling like it’s against anyone - it’s just a factual thing about how you feel. Maybe it’ll lead to bringing even better 10% stuff.”

The way Hammond approaches music has always invoked the spiritual. Momentary Masters is based off the transcendental passage from Carl Sagan’s Pale Blue Dot (“Think of the rivers of blood spilled by all those generals and emperors so that in glory and in triumph they could become the momentary masters of a fraction of a dot.”) I inquire if this deep love of the unknowable workings of the universe also found a way into this record, one that so implicitly questions its own identity. “What I loved about that Carl Sagan passage was coming to realize that life has no meaning but we can create meaning which is kind of perfect for us. When we create our own meaning we’re allowed to constantly change.

“That helped me realize there was a lot of creativity in my shadow,” he notes. “I visualised it as this child that would throw tantrums because no one paid attention to it. There was always things that I liked that maybe I put in a corner, and so paying attention to that child and watching him grow up basically created Francis Trouble. He is basically the work from Momentary Masters finally being given a voice.”

Years later, Hammond has grown into his own groove. The disorientating daze that can often cloud your sight when you step away from the guitarist’s role into the frontman’s has never seemed to faze him much— if it does, he’s become pretty good at hiding it. Catch him perform live and you will see it in the way he holds a guitar like a second language. I ask what he’s hoping someone who wanders into his set or picks up this record takes away from it. “A whole new world,” he sings, before mulling over his thoughts. “I have control over making it and how I feel about it, but there’s very little control past that. Sometimes that’s nice. The idea of someone being as excited as I am about all of it.”

Listen to Albert Hammond Jr’s new single “Far Away Truths” below.

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