As Albert Hammond Jr. began to kick around ideas for his next solo album, he was given some fascinating information from a family member about his twin brother Francis, who was born stillborn five months into his mother’s pregnancy. Albert had always known about his twin, but what he didn’t know was that when Albert was born, a fingernail belonging to Francis was found in Albert’s placenta. In a way, the news helped forge a connection between Albert and the brother he never knew. Finding inspiration in this revelation, Albert took what could have been a very dark moment in time, and instead turned it into a positive creative force. The end result is Francis Trouble, Albert’s fourth solo album, and perhaps his most personal to date.
Albert explained to me in a recent chat that, “As I was creating or thinking of new ideas, I found out about an inner womb collision I had with my stillborn twin, and it helped cement the idea of this alter ego, and kind of had me relive parts of my youth. I guess, to be honest, it’s kind of like I was creating a jacket, and there was just this stitching that helped shape it. It was a part of the process, I guess — not a part that you can choose, really.”
Inspired by the persona shifts of David Bowie, Albert began to flesh out the ideas and concepts that would serve as the foundation for Francis Trouble. “I had just got off the road,” Albert says, “and I knew the songs I felt like I was missing from my set could be cool — to be the entertainer I wanted to be, to be the frontman I wanted to be, and to tell the story I wanted to tell. I was always doing other things where I had to get out of my routine and see myself from different spots. The baggage of my name isn’t enjoyable for me, so the idea that this person exists or not in space or time was more fun to play with, and I felt like that was important to create the feelings in the songs. It was to feel a little more playful.”
Albert — who rose to fame as the guitarist for indie-rockers, The Strokes — has taken this playful approach to a level not seen in his previous solo work. Francis Trouble has a fun, carefree vibe — not at all marred by any bleakness or pretention, especially considering its genesis. “I feel like I have come full circle with this record,” says Albert, “whereas I’m now who I saw myself being when I daydreamed of playing music, except with the knowledge of experience. So, it’s like all my records could have just been the discipline of getting here — the good and the bad of trying to figure out what to do.”
In translating the material live, Albert has challenged himself even further by stepping away from the guitar (though he did play guitar on the album). As he explained, “I had neck surgery in June because there must have been something pinched. My right-hand fingers were kind of numb, and I had atrophy in my muscles on the right side. So, it was a thing where my body didn’t really feel like playing that much guitar live. It kind of lent itself to a sort of different place. And, sometimes, I feel like to change perspective with people you have to go a little more extreme — I don’t think people would have saw this music the same if I was playing guitar. The way people see me kind of made me hate the instrument, so I just wanted to get rid of it! But, I love the guitar when I’m sitting with it as the thing I fell in love with, and it is still the tool I use to create — I love it very much.”
In 2010, Albert began to seek sobriety, after a long struggle with drugs and alcohol. Part of this journey included entering therapy with a gentleman named Andrew Park. “He was a therapist, but one who had come to it through intense journey,” Albert tells me. “He was an addict himself. I’d never really gotten along with therapists. It always felt like someone was looking down on you, and this was the first person to share stories with me, and he became more like a mentor and a father figure. I feel like those are important roles as men in modern society.
“So, he took that space and it was really important because it was at a time that I was relearning — you know, when you stop taking drugs, you’re really relearning everything, in a way. So, what we did — our mutual respect for each other, non-judgement through doing things where most people would immediately throw up judgement — was tremendously life changing. I don’t think I’d be in this place where I could even accept the ideas that have come to me on this record. Just accepting myself, realizing and accepting what I want to do, really telling yourself and understanding it — seeing how you work — it helps you understand how to be creative. I think the need for creative people to use drugs and alcohol sometimes is like a fake way of battling your shadow. I think a lot of creative work comes from that. But, to learn how to get there in other ways, to learn how to bring up stuff and learn how to change is important.” Park sadly passed away in 2016, and Francis Trouble is dedicated to him in his memory.
Once a New York City regular, Albert now finds refuge in his upstate New York home — invigorated by its serenity, but clearly of the understanding that it is just one part of a much bigger world. “It’s weird how (conservationism) is not a given,” he says. “I thought about it a lot, because I used to live in the city, and you kind of lose the idea that we’re on a planet together. So, I don’t know why it doesn’t connect more. I always try to do what I can, but it would be nice to see a push towards renewable energy.”
However, one type of energy, it seems, will not be renewed anytime soon: The Strokes. When asked for a status on the group, Albert says, “I always answer that question with the same tagline, which is ‘I’m not a part of that culture.’” Albert stresses that his caginess about the group actually comes from a good place. “The thing is, I don’t like to answer about it when I do my own stuff, because the media always tries to separate us, and they will continue to whether I say anything, or I don’t. But, I just feel like when you’re together as five people and you’re seen like that, it seems better to talk about it when you’re together as five people, and when you’re not, just not really say anything. (When asked in the past), I’ve tried to answer, and it feels like I shoot myself in the foot constantly. So, it’s better to just use the “I’m not a part of that culture” tagline.”
With Francis Trouble now complete, and tour dates in Europe, Japan, and Australia scheduled through September, Albert will be keeping busy throughout the year. But, as far as what his next move will be, nothing appears to be definite — including recording more albums. “I don’t think it’s a given, to be honest. Maybe it’s a given because of the past history in rock music, but I feel like every record has been a hustle and a fight to get people to back you. So, I definitely don’t feel like I can just continue to do this so carefree. I’m always trying to figure out how to make it bigger and better, so the option is there. But I see myself very as very multifaceted. I’d like to be in movies . . . writing and directing. I love many, many things from a creative aspect. I feel like the older I get it all has to lead to something more positive . . . the success can’t just be money. It’s great because all these arts need funding, and it’s part of how we live, but you wanna leave everything in a better place then how you came in.”
Albert Hammond Jr.’s latest record, Francis Trouble, is available now.