by Aida Rashid
Last Thursday we got the chance to meet Albert Hammond Jr. up close for an exclusive interview at Stripes KL Hotel. Since the release of Francis Trouble — his 4th solo full-length album, he has been touring around Europe, America and also Asia. This is his first time in Kuala Lumpur for U Mobile’s pre-festival party for Good Vibes Festival at The Bee, Publika and we were excited to know what he felt about being here. Thanks to U Mobile, we finally got a chance to witness one of the greatest rhythm guitarists of the modern rock n roll age bless our home soil with his best tunes.
Ze: We’re from The Level, and we write mostly Malaysian music. But just so you know, a big part of the Malaysian indie scene was built upon your sound before.
Ze: Yeah, it’s everywhere. If you listen to Malaysian indie it even has that tone that you always use. So this is your first time in Malaysia, how do you feel?
A: Yeah it’s wonderful, I’ve only — well I wouldn’t say only because it was really impressive but how I got to experience Malaysia was through the crowd last night so it was amazing. I have yet to see the town, the city, but yeah – I was super excited getting here and I’m still super excited and sad to be leaving.
Ze: How was the show last night?
A: I’m still digesting it because it was so filled with emotions, and it was intense. I loved every minute of it, I’d do it again.
Ze: Last time on your Instagram Live, you said something about wanting to come to Malaysia because everyone was asking you to. Did you expect that you would have such a big crowd in this part of the world?
A: No, I’ve never been here, I feel like I’m far away, I had no idea what it would be like to be honest. But you know, you’re always trying to reach new places and I’m actually excited that it was this record that brought me here because I feel like it’s the best version of me and of my show. So it makes me excited that I got to be here for that.
Ze: How did you feel when the crowd went balls when Muted Beatings was playing?
A: Yeah I mean, I don’t know why this is such a planted memory but everyone singing along to Set to Attack and other songs of the new record — it was unreal. You can’t really explain emotions like that with words because it cheapens them. It’s just something you feel in your gut and that lives with you forever. So yeah, it was priceless. I don’t know how else to say it.
Aida: So in regards to Francis Trouble, can you just tell us a little bit about how the writing process went and who were your biggest influences when it comes to the sound of the album as a whole?
A: Ahh, the sound of it — I don’t know, I’ve become like an encyclopaedia of sound by now so I think after coming home from Momentary Masters I knew I wanted to make a visceral record, I just understood who I wanted to be on stage and when I say who, I don’t mean like a character – I just finally felt comfortable with myself and in the creating process I became more and more comfortable with myself because of the songs and what they were becoming.
And then the writing process, I’ve started number 5 with Volume 2 if you will, and it’s similar you know, you have ideas and Gus Oberg who produced, engineered and mixed – it will come and start working on the demos. And the demos were there just to see where the song goes, and how it takes shape and how it exists. You know songs tend to travel down on certain roads – you can pull them away and change them and you kind of like fill that out because they’re delicate and you’re easygoing with it and not giving it a lot of pressure and then you build up from that — always taking the parts that stand out the most and building on them and throwing away the rest. That’s the basic process and then the lyrical process was just me banging my head against the wall for a bit, it’s crazy the emotional roller coaster you go on riding when you write lyrics. I don’t know why that is, but you know, you go from like you don’t know even how you do this because you suck to like I figured it out this is like, I’m a craftsmith you know, like I know what I’m doing.
So yeah. It’s its own world that has everything a world has you know? Yeah, this one John Denver song – it’s so great it says ‘some days are diamonds, some days are stones’ but in this song it’s basically saying that even on a happy day you can have stones and not diamonds, and even on a low day you can have a great time even for a second. So they both exist on both spectrums, and that’s kind of what writing process is like besides the work. There’s a lot of, you just have to go and do it. I was thinking about this on the plane and it’s not all in a movie – like creating and these ideas just come. Sometimes it’s just like it’s edging away. Slowly edging away. No one likes to show the boring part of it.
Ze: In the CD I noticed the comic panel, can you explain a bit about what this is? (A small comic panel sketched in the album)
A: Yeah of course. I have to go further back to explain it. So I started auditioning for movies and TV, and I got a small role on a show and a movie. And when I came back to music I felt like it impacted me in a positive way — it allowed me to be free-er. I came back cracked, but in a good way because cracks let the light in. So I came back like that and so I started using as a tool to expand my writing vocabulary and when I found out about the twin that I had lost, well I didn’t lose it, my mum lost it. I mean technically we were together but I didn’t know it. At 5 months it was a stillborn so I was still there, she didn’t know it and it’s just like, when I found out about that story I was like— what a supernatural, superhero way, comic book way of alter ego to be born.
Some come from, you know like Bowie’s came from space and mine came from this. And it just seemed like, what a way to describe a way to work. So then it grew into its own thing, so that happened and it started growing and growing and then I took all the shadow work that I’ve done, and kind of like brought this child to the stage in the sense that the older you get at loss of innocence, you know you don’t wanna bring that to the stage. You wanna bring that to other parts of life because there’s a lot of knowledge in that. But to stage it just seems fun to bring, that was the time that like, your inner child could have fun. As soon as I did that, as surreal as that might sound, I just opened the door to like a whole different version of me. I would say even more me than I ever was, so that part was exciting. That’s just the story of that in comic, because I felt like in comic it allows more of the fantastical to exist.
Ze: Okay final question. Would you say that with this story, and this current album that most people love, would you say that this is the best form of Albert Hammond Jr?
A: Yes. By far. I think what’s cool is I always saw it like, I was always bummed out a little bit but now I see it as cool, but as a fan you could see me grow in public and you can see my changes and see me figuring myself out in public and my imperfections and I feel like while it’s happening it was not much fun but over time, I think in my career later, because I have more to put out, it will be really cool because it will give someone a spectrum of ‘Oh I can do it too.’ I wasn’t thinking of this but I just put out a Fender signature guitar and I left it clean with the idea that, let someone take it and become better than me, let someone take it and have their own journey. So it doesn’t have the scratches I had because you’re gonna create your own scratches. So like, yeah. I don’t know what we were talking about but that led me there, yeah.