Aside Camden lock in a small bar adjoined to one of London’s smaller stages Albert Hammond Jr. takes the time to meticulously fold his neckerchief before tucking it neatly into his jacket.
Escaping the chill that keeps sweeping through the door as people enter, the stylish musician sports a bright yellow jacket, black hoodie – that’s replaced a conventional zip with a paper clip – and a pair of white jeans. This almost appears to be casual attire for Hammond Jr. who later that evening performs stints of his solo record Francis Trouble to new ears during his Dingwalls sell out.
This, his fourth solo offering deals with the loss of his twin brother in utero, a realisation that Hammond Jr. only recently came to fully comprehend himself at the age of 36.
The lingering effects of this loss have attached themselves to both his music and life but whilst Francis Trouble remains deeply personal it still carries with it a visceral streak. Listening to the likes of David Bowie and The Clash has moved him, but also inspired an urge to combine lyrical depth with an unashamedly fun live experience; “I wanted to do both, I felt like that was something that I was lacking.” In doing this Hammond Jr. has instructed listeners not to question each step, over analyse or take the medium too seriously but rather let the music effect you in the way it sees fit.
What’s noticeable is that Hammond Jr. seems acutely aware of the effects of people’s perception of himself. From as early as four he recalls choosing his own clothing, sometimes to the hesitant reaction of his mother, and during his teens he was increasingly conscious of how his image effected the way in which he was viewed “the world seems so big, so I thought how am I going to meet the right people. I need to look a certain way so they’ll come to me. They’ll see me and then be like ‘oh, cool I need to connect with that guy.'”
This need to project a certain image is not just limited to Hammond Jr’s. sense of style but also his desire to break free of one set placement within music.
“I’ve realised now, only now, with this record that through the immediate success of being in a band and a guitar player that my story in the history of rock, is like I have a place. I’m kind of trying to get out of that place and so I feel like that’s my challenge, and this is the first time that I’ve actually said that to myself.”
The arc of records that lead to Francis Trouble have seen Hammond Jr. develop as a solo artist and on a personal level come to realise the challenges he’s presented with when hailing from one of indie rocks most prevalent bands.
“The hard part isn’t so much what you’re doing, it’s just how to change perception of who people think you are. Which I guess is part of the fun too. You do that naturally when you start out anyways. You’re trying to create something that people can see you as, to break through all the clutter.”
With prior records Hammond Jr. felt as though he was edging closer to recognising this but had yet to make the ‘leap’.
“I didn’t realise that when I was going to go out there that people viewed me in a different way. I was a two dimensional person and so to become three dimensional I needed to figure that out. It wasn’t until now that I figured out that, that I like entertaining that I like singing and playing guitar and that it wouldn’t be seen right until I had the right record.”
With Francis Trouble though he seems more at ease:
“Basically I was just like a little lost on the other records where I felt like there was good songs but to go and play them live, it just didn’t connect until here. Even old songs now, the way they’re connecting are the way they were supposed to, the way I needed to be for them to connect right.”
Hammond Jr. even describes himself as a ‘late bloomer’ imagining what it would have been like if at 17 he had started this journey, as opposed to the 27-year-old that toured the release of debut solo record Yours To Keep.
Having recently hit the road with Franz Ferdinand leading to the release of Francis Trouble Hammond Jr. talks fondly of people’s reactions to his latest material. He believes that there’s no fool proof plan for every live performance and whilst the wave of ups and downs are what have encouraged him to try even harder they’ve also helped him re-discover the moment he first fell in love with music. When asked how he feels performing in increasingly intimate settings he doesn’t so much feel phased by their intimacy but restricted. “I feel like I’m trapped in my space…like a person’s going to do a running jump start and has to do it within a small area. You just get awkward movements.”
With Franz and a recent spell with The Killers though the stages and audiences have grown.
“With The Killers it was in an arena and It could have been weird but I felt like on some shows, there even the most, like oh shit, I belong in an arena for sure. I was playing and I just felt like I could feel the whole crowd. The big space was so, it was perfect for the music, I can’t explain it, but it was very surreal.’”
Albert Hammond Jr. hesitates when projecting into the future. He describes Francis Trouble as “the best thing I’ve done” and there’s clearly a drive for this album to be taken as far as it can possibly reach, particularly in a live sense. Concentrating on himself as an entertainer he’s focussed and has ambitious aims to push forward with his solo career.
“So far the only thing I’ve learnt is that what comes next is far superior than what came before.”
Francis Trouble is out now.
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Words by Jacob Flannery