Albert Hammond Jr. Goes In Utero

The Strokes guitarist and solo artist finds inspiration in a most unusual place.

It’s quite possible that Albert Hammond Jr. holds the distinction of being the first musician ever to be inspired by a fingernail.

In November 1979, his mother was rushed to the hospital, suffering a miscarriage. While that baby, Francis, was born too premature to live, Albert arrived five months later. The one-time Strokes guitarist and solo artist had always known this part of the story, but it was only last year that his aunt informed him that when he was born, so was a fingernail — the one piece of his twin to greet the world alongside him.

Francis Trouble, Hammond’s fourth solo record, is due out on March 9 from Red Bull Records. It is named in honor of the twin he never knew, and reflects his reaction to receiving a truly surreal revelation.

“It became like the thread in a jacket,” Hammond says of how this somewhat shocking information helped to shape his latest release. “You don’t see it, but it holds it all together.”

It seems only fair that Hammond might find something macabre about the whole affair, but he insists that’s not the case.

“The funny thing is that it wasn’t dark to me,” he says.

In truth, darkness seems at odd with the music Hammond makes. As the Strokes continue to exist in an indefinite hibernation — neither active nor officially disbanded — it is Hammond who’s continued to produce inspired rock that builds on his work from that time without ever moving backward.

Progress is important for him, both in his music and outside of it. His words can sometimes carry a touch of mysticism, but he isn’t interested in taking himself too seriously — like when he lists the benefits of being sober.

“Sobriety’s brought me more creativity,” he says. “That’s the only cool thing about it. Well, and I guess the fact that I’m still alive.”

Speaking with Hammond, one may encounter phrases like “shadow work” and discussions about the significance of numbers. In fact, Francis Trouble runs exactly 36 minutes long — the same age Hammond was when he learned about the fingernail. For him, that’s no coincidence.

Since becoming sober and getting married, Hammond has replaced his affinity for late nights and drugs with therapy and motorcycle racing. He reads Joseph Campbell and Carl Sagan. He seems far removed from the version of himself that appeared last May in the pages of Meet Me in the BathroomLizzy Goodman’s oral history of New York’s rock scene in the 2000s — but even though the heroin has stopped and The Strokes’ future remains unclear, Hammond still feels connected that young guitarist.

“It was me talking,” he laughs. “I just feel like it covers three random days over 10 years. I definitely feel a world away from that person, but also closer to who I was when I first fell in love with the idea of writing and singing and playing guitar.”

Identity is an important theme on Francis Trouble. On lead single “Muted Beatings,” Hammond balances a tingling guitar line with lovelorn lyrics that could at second glance also reflect the impact of first hearing startling news. Meanwhile, “Far Away Truths” opens with a very Strokes-esque hook and deals with the inherently evasive nature of being honest.

Tapping into these feelings wasn’t easy, but Hammond credits his therapist — to whom the album is dedicated, along with Francis — for helping him tap into another side of his psyche.

“He was my second father,” Hammond explains. “He was my therapist but he was more than that. He always talked about how your dark energy, your shadow, has a lot of creative force, but it’s always used for negative things. You tend to shut it down, and so this time it was working the other way. That’s what I meant when I found out about the fingernail and the other stuff left on the placenta. Like all of a sudden, everything I’d been doing had this arc — it all had a purpose.”

That purpose is now reflected in what Hammond considers to be his most complete album to date.

“I want to throw away everything before this and start from scratch,” he says, “but you can’t do that. That might’ve been the hardest learning curve: That sometimes you aren’t as great as you want to be and that you have to fail in front of people. You have to take that and keep going. You have to face it and know it. In the end, I’ve that’s what I’ve achieved — and I’ve never been more sure about songs on a record.”

Albert Hammond Jr., Tuesday, Mar. 6, 8 p.m., at Great American Music Hall, 859 O’Farrell St., $21.50;

Tags: , , ,

Related Stories