After years of living on the edge, caught up in a world of rock 'n' roll hedonism, Strokes guitarist Albert Hammond Jr. eventually managed to break the cycle and get clean. Yet, it wasn't before the band's fabled aura of rock greatness was severely tarnish by a pair of lackluster albums, dispassionate concerts, and general bickering that Hammond Jr. had his awakening.
With the Strokes in a more or less unknown existence right now, Hammond Jr. — who has been clean for five years and practices meditation — moves forward with a new solo record and tour, one that he hopes will be sustaining should his main band falter.
"It feels good to play music again. It took, like, two years to get my brain back, to find my brain, and another three to get here. I feel very different than I did a few years ago. You don't realize how much you destroy and what it takes to regain that balance. Those first two years, that was an emotional rollercoaster," he explains from his tour bus traveling across central Iowa. "By the end, I felt like I made a great album, and it excites me to do all this. It's exciting to see if I can have a career that can stand on its own two feet. It's the goal of every musician to see if you can make more music."
Hammond Jr.'s new album, Momentary Masters, displays a diverse array of styles. It's all rock 'n' roll, of course, but the feeling's there that Hammond Jr. is rooting around for something to latch onto, something he can distinctly call his own. Even so, there's no denying the many Strokes-like guitar refrains and movements, or the frenetic New York City pace inhabiting several cuts. He is, after all, a Stroke first.
"When I got out of rehab and I started writing, it was going to be for me," he says. "Then we started doing Strokes things and I channeled [the writing] that way. There's nothing I feel is for one band. I'd kind of limit myself if that was the case."
Getting to rehab was Hammond Jr.'s first step in finding himself. It wasn't easy. The Strokes shot to stardom and almost drowned in mythical rock 'n' roll lifestyle trappings lavished upon them — drugs, drink, women. Mythical, of course, because it's rarely sustainable, something Hammond Jr. admits.
"Sure, with success, everyone goes through different things, but by the end it wasn't working. When you go the extreme I went to, it's not partying; it's destruction. Partying stopped years ago. I imagine it had an effect on everyone," he says, adding, "Of course, we see it, but [we didn't] care. That's the whole thing about being an addict: It's selfish. You don't care."
A move out of the city to upstate New York, as well as meditation has helped Hammond Jr. regain his focus. Nature walks have replaced the parties ("I feel we forget it's very soothing to be in nature," he says), while passages from Carl Sagan's Pale Blue Dot: A Vision of the Human Future in Space, offer Hammond Jr. a sense of calm.
"I just use that as a nice form of meditation," he says of Sagan's book, which promotes mentally escaping to the solitude of space and obtaining a clearer focus by gazing back at the Earth. "It's a cool thing. It's probably filtered itself into many things I do . . . [Music] is a gift, it's not a given. It just showed me that I shouldn't give up."