Inside the Strokes guitarist's sharply personal new solo album...

Everyone loves an album with an unusual back-story, and Albert Hammond Jr’s fourth independent release has delivered just that.

‘Francis Trouble’ introduces the world to a new side to the guitarist, a side which has been shaped by family revelations and a fresh outlook. In this record, Hammond Jr seems to let go of all inhibitions and find new musical strength in the form of a persona inspired by his long lost twin, who entered this word as only a fingernail…

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It’s clear that Francis Trouble is your most energetic album to date - was the contrast between this and the album’s emotional background planned or was it something that happened naturally?

Urm... not really. it was one of those projects that begin and you continue to collect the pieces on the way. I definitely did not just sit and outline a whole project, no.

I'd just got back from the Momentary Masses tour and I knew what I was missing in my set, I knew that I wanted to make a visceral record that would allow me more freedom on stage and to connect with people in a new way at the live shows, which I feel like I have been doing over the nine weeks we've been touring. But no, it all grew organically, if you will.

Which came first, the idea for the album or the creation of the persona?

There have been times in my life where I've had to come at myself from different angles. When I pushed away from myself, I began to feel more like myself, and so that was an interesting beginning that seemed to linger. I was tired of the baggage of my name, and what that brought to other people and to me, so the persona was a way of rediscovering new ideas without my name - and I was already experiencing all that when the twin element fell into place.

When that kind of unplanned information enters your life you can either use or not use it. It's about the gut reactions you have... you either listen or ignore. I never jumped into a persona because it aligned naturally. It made me realise that I am one way and the side that likes to create is a different person. In my everyday life I'm neat and particular, which is completely different to this kind of 'kid in a sandbox' side of me that loves to create.

Can you explain a bit more about the relevance of the word “trouble” in this new found persona of yours?

Ha, well it actually started as a joke to my dog... when we went on walks I'd sing her songs about her being trouble as she was so small yet she'd walk around like she owned 9th Avenue.

It kinda stuck and then I created Trouble Productions, so whenever I produced records with Gus [Oberg, frequent Strokes collaborator] it was always "Trouble Productions presents..." so it's been a long time coming in terms of being an album title. I didn't wanna use my name and aesthetically, it looked better. And I always wanted to change my name! I dunno, trouble is just a good word.

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Is 'Francis Trouble' strictly a way to explore new musical grounds, or have you adapted this persona into everyday life as well?

Well it happened vice versa. I realised through it that there are forms of entertainment that I can bring to the stage that I've previously missed out on. I didn't know until now that what is happening right now with the live shows is actually how I wanted to be previously, and how I’ve always wanted to perform. It's more about having fun. Francis Trouble isn't heavy, it's mischievous and that energy is coming through for me in a whole new way [on stage] because of it.

You recently received some odd news surrounding your lost twin - a fingernail of his being born with you. How did you react to this?

I was kinda like... what?! Why didn't you tell me this sooner?! This could've changed my whole life! But then it became more of an introspective thing when I thought about it and suddenly it became a way for me to delve back into my memories. Not so much nostalgia, but rather I could relive certain moments with that understanding.

It was like a new part of my brain had opened up. It's definitely a weird feeling to know I'd shared such a close space with another being and also to think it could've been the other way around and the idea of that became this triumphant feeling. So I feel a lot of luck and from that.

Had you already started the album when you received that news?

Yeah, I was about midway through. When you decide to write with an alter-ego you can't just jump right into it - it takes time to build it up whether you’re creating it from scratch or you’re creating it from another being. Then perhaps new information [like the fingernail] comes along and re-enforces the idea of being someone else. Going back to the idea of 'Francis Trouble' being mischievous and fun, the goal was for me to be able to break free from just being a guitarist in a famous band. It's now this whole other side that no ones seen before - disconnected from my previous self - but it still fits in me.

This album’s focus seems to be very live-friendly. Do you have a favourite track to perform on tour?

We perform nine out of the ten songs. And I feel bad for that one song but it just so happens it was the last one to be learned and it's more of a head-fuck track anyways... but this is my problem with having favourites of anything because it limits your emotional range. For instance, I love playing 'Rocky's Late Night' because of the wave that it creates.

In the earlier shows that one would get the loudest applause even for a song which wasn't out and the crowd had never heard, so there was this cool unknown air to it. One of my favourite songs is 'Harder, Harder, Harder' so I love playing that. I can't really pick one above the rest though, as different crowds react differently to each song, like there's always this one guy to look out for who throughout the whole set won't move at all and then we'd play 'Muted Beating' for the encore and that guy would by then be charging his way to the front screaming the "I don't care" with me and you can see the release in their eyes!

So yeah you get different experiences with different songs.

And before you go, I’m dying to know the reason why you got fired from the record store you used to work at…

(laughs) Well my manager didn't like me. Everyone in that store at the time were all in bands so you could take the day off if you had a show to play or whatever, and we were playing a show somewhere and I'd told him and written it down, so when I called up to get my next shift he was like "Oh well I don't wanna do this man but you didn't tell me so you're fired..." but hey that was just before we (The Strokes) came to the UK for the first time so I was definitely at my cockiest. Ah well.

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'Francis Trouble' is available now.

Catch Albert Hammond Jr at the following shows:

September
10 Leeds Brudenell Social Club
11 Manchester Club Academy
12 Glasgow SWG3
14 London Electric Ballroom
15 Bristol Thekla
16 Brighton Concorde 2

Words: Laura Copley

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