Strokes guitarist Albert Hammond Jr. goes solo at Belly Up
If You Go…
Who: Albert Hammond, Jr.
Where: Belly Up Aspen
When: Friday, Oct. 30, 9 p.m.
How much: $15
Tickets: Belly Up box office; www.bellyupaspen.com
Hammond, who plays Belly Up Aspen today, recorded his new solo album, “Momentary Masters,” at his home studio in upstate New York with a full band — Hammarsing Kharhmar and Mikey Hart on guitar, Jordan Brooks on bass and Jeremy Gustin on drums. Hammond’s previous solo efforts had been truly solo — with him playing nearly all the instruments. But collaborating with a band, he said, made for a gratifying creative process.
“The idea was to come in with the songs more raw — maybe we’d get something better and more exciting,” Hammond said from New York recently, between two shows at the Bowery Ballroom. “It took awhile to learn how to do that and not just be stumbling all over each other. Then every time we finished a song, we just built up our confidence more and more. It seemed by the end like we were on a roll to make another record.”
At his shows since the record’s midsummer release, Hammond has been playing most of the “Momentary Masters” songs mixed in with material from his two previous albums and his outstanding 2013 EP “AHJ.” (No, he never busts out Strokes material when he’s playing solo.)
The album’s title comes from Carl Sagan’s book “Pale Blue Dot,” excerpted in a YouTube clip that’s earned nearly 3 million views, inspired by the iconic NASA photo of a tiny, insignificant-looking Earth from 3 billion-plus miles away. “Momentary Masters” is not a concept album about Sagan and man’s place in the universe, but it does aim ambitiously at pondering big questions — about greed, fear, death, human connection — in its tight, charming rock songs.
“I didn’t read his stuff and try and sit and write words,” Hammond explained. “But it did make my mind curious and wonder about things. There’s got to be something in there that filters down. I don’t know how much of it is conscious, though.”
The album’s muscular 10 tracks showcase Hammond’s guitar pop gifts and is a high point among the many side projects by Strokes members. The lead single, “Born Slippy,” is an infectious, jangly rock song. “Losing Touch” veers into pop-punk with a tight, danceable rhythm. “Power Hungry” is a disco-tinged dance song, while “Razor’s Edge” shows Hammond crafting a propulsive new take on New Wave.
The record also includes a sunny cover of Bob Dylan’s “Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right.” The tribute was inspired, Hammond said, by his performance at Dylan Fest in Dublin two years ago, where the guitarist rearranged it and added an upbeat rhythm.
“I said, ‘Oh, it doesn’t even sound like that song until the words come in,’” he explained. “I came back from the show, started listening to it over and over again. Then, (producer) Gus (Oberg) and I just recorded it in my apartment.”
Amid the hard-driving sounds of the rest of “Momentary Masters,” the cheery and bare-bones, drum machine-backed take on Dylan’s subversive ballad was just right.
“It fit on the album as this palate cleanser to me,” Hammond explained.
The record also has a carefree air about it, and a sense of humor (the frenetic surf-rock-meets-punk closing track is titled “Side Boob”).
“Momentary Masters” is Hammond’s first full-length album since he got sober five years back, kicking his much-publicized death-defying drug addictions. Listeners might chalk up some of the big questions and self-exploration in the new album as a result of his recovery, but Hammond said getting clean mostly allowed him to love making music again.
“It’s allowed me to be creative,” he said. “When you first fall in love with it, when you first want to do music, it just has to do with making music. It has nothing to do with drugs. So when that’s hindering it, you lose the ability to do what you love. So now I can go back to it like when I first fell in love with it. All the rest is bulls—.”
Hammond is clearly itching to make another solo album already. Constantly referring to “the next one” and “number four,” he sounds like an artist in thrall to his work for the first time in a long time. He’s always writing these days, he said, jotting down notes and mulling ideas as he tours the world in support of “Momentary Masters.” If he’s stuck creatively, Hammond said, he most often picks up poets such as Anne Sexton.
“It’s constantly in motion,” he said. “When I think of something, I write it on a notepad. Meaning it’s best when it comes from the gut.”
The Strokes are still a band and Hammond is still a member, though they don’t have new music in the works and their performance at Austin City Limits earlier this month appears to be the only one we’ll see for awhile. Hammond, meanwhile, has solo dates booked through February and appears poised for more than momentary success with the band he’s bringing to Belly Up.
“We’re building up from the grassroots,” he said. “I want to make an even better record and build a following and get into bigger venues and play smaller places that I’ve never been to, like Aspen.”
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