There are still four hours left before showtime, and already handfuls of teenagers anxiously stare at their phones outside of the Troubadour. As excited as they are to see Albert Hammond Jr. stroll up the sidewalk to sign autographs and take photos in his gold jacket, he looks almost surprised to see them. Sure, it’s a rare headlining show at a legendary venue in his hometown — and even he’ll (almost) admit that the Strokes and/or his solo music could’ve influenced a handful of people — but Hammond has found a humble maturity in adulthood that he might not have had when he was first thrust into the spotlight as a young man.
The 37-year-old guitarist and vocalist isn’t worried about keeping up a rockstar lifestyle or putting off an air of invulnerable coolness anymore, which actually gives him a lot of extra time and effort to focus on putting out the best music possible. That growth is perfectly apparent on the upcoming Francis Trouble, as Hammond is able to redirect his energy into some all new takes over his timelessly raw guitar riffs..
“It’s 36 minutes and 10 songs that all go in different directions,” Hammond says. “It’s still songs in a structure with guitars, bass, and drums, but I feel like I’ve found different characters, so it’s expanded how I sound vocally and how the songs sound. The purpose of it was to put out a record that was visceral and guitar-driven, but also something that could fit in bigger rooms and arenas.”
With the new record dropping tomorrow (March 9) and his nationwide spring tour officially kicking off earlier this week, the veteran musician is firmly entrenched in delivering his latest solo work to the masses in the coming months. Considering that it’s both his first release in nearly three years (not counting the Future Present Past EP from the Strokes in 2016) and first American tour since 2015, there’s an understandable excitement building for his fans who haven’t been able to see a proper headlining set from him since the Momentary Masters days. Of course, if you get the chance to check him out at the Observatory in Santa Ana for the early show tonight (before Ghostface Killah performs into the wee hours of the morning), you’ll be able to witness the new tunes before they’re officially shared with the world — even if the band already feels like they’re in the middle of a tour cycle after spending months at festivals and on other continents since finishing the record.
“I finished this record a year ago, but I didn’t have a home for it, so it doesn’t even feel like I stopped [since Momentary Masters],” Hammond says. “As hard as it was to sit there and not know where it was going to go for that year, it ended up being really amazing. It’s amazing to create something and have a company back it with money in the same way that you back it with emotion. Red Bull [Records] listened to the music, they believed in it, and they wanted to see it go somewhere. That’s never happened to me solo, and I haven’t felt that way since signing in 2001 with RCA for the first time.”
Since the Strokes landed that initial record deal, Hammond’s impact across the music industry can be felt from both of his primary projects in a couple of different ways. Whether or not he’ll admit it (he won’t), the multi-talented artist can easily be viewed as one of the guitarists who helped shaped the sound of numerous modern rock bands, and that’s without even considering the full musical legacy of the Strokes. Even beyond his instrumental skills, the second-generation songwriter’s overall vibe gave those younger than him something outside of the norm to emulate. From his ability to look impossibly comfortable in a three-piece suit to his smooth energy and almost comedic charm on the microphone, the respected guitarist might be as close to a Keith Richards figure as the 21st century has — except Hammond grew out of his life of rock and roll excess for the betterment of both his music and his health.
“The less the rock story gets romanticized, everything gets more real and more tangible,” Hammond says. “Whenever that little spark of creation happens, I get really excited, and I go from not knowing to wanting to share this thing that I’ve made. In that way, I feel like I’m a much more positive influence now. I think maybe I was a more exciting influence when I was younger, but I still would like to be as visceral as that — but not with the abuse that comes with it. Thinking that you’re victorious for harming yourself is a very youthful courageousness, like ‘I got through the hangover!’”
Albert Hammond Jr. is at the Observatory in Santa Ana tonight (March 8) at 8:00 p.m. Tickets cost $20 and are available at the venue.