Few young bands had ever been hyped as relentlessly as the Strokes. Back in 2001, when there was a yearning to wash rock radio's hair of Limp Bizkit and Korn, the dirty garage rock of the Strokes seemed so refreshing, they were dubbed as heroes, not necessarily stopping crime but at the very least saving rock 'n' roll.
But if the Strokes were superheroes, someone forgot to tell Albert Hammond Jr. "I don't even know what that means — saving rock 'n' roll," the Strokes guitarist tells New Times. "That was sensationalism in the form of selling something. We had a combination of good things going for us at the right time, but we definitely thought we were a cool band that deserved to be heard."
And heard they were. The band's debut album, Is This It, not only lived up to the hype but it also captured a Zeitgeist. Its release, delayed by the attacks on 9/11, was immediately grasped on to as a symbol of everything great about New York City. The ghosts of the Ramones and Velvet Underground can be heard throughout it. You could say what you wanted to about the stylish members of the quintet and their skinny jeans, but even the biggest contrarian had to admit it was perfect music to fight, fuck, or dance to.
It would be surprising to some that 14 years and five albums later, the Strokes — with all five original members — could still be together. But it's not surprising to Hammond. "There will never be a change in the lineup. Early on, we said if a member goes, we can't be the Strokes. We're lucky to be tight. We've stayed together through so much. But it's like any relationship; you can't break up if you don't go away."
That doesn't mean there haven't been side projects along the way, though. Hammond just finished his third album, which will be released this summer. He's planning a solo tour for the fall. But he says he doesn't save music for his solo career at the expense of the Strokes. "I don't write for a certain moment. Maybe an idea I have for a solo song becomes a bass line or a chorus for the Strokes," he says. "On the last album, 'One Way Trigger' was going to be a solo song but became a Strokes song."
It's a good thing Hammond's not holding anything back, because as Strokes' singer Julian Casablancas said in a recent interview with Noisey, the Strokes are planning on recording new music this summer. Hammond seemed taken aback that Casablancas said that. "I guess Julian's fortunate to be allowed to say those kind of things. That's the goal. We're in the midst of the beginning of it. We don't have any songs yet. We're going to play some shows and get things going."
The Strokes have only four shows planned for 2015, one of which is Saturday at Big Guava Festival at the Florida State Fairgrounds and MidFlorida Credit Union Amphitheatre in Tampa. It will be the first time the Strokes have played in Florida in years. As he spoke on the phone, Hammond was packing — with his Mom's help — in his upstate New York home, about to head into the city to rehearse.
Family and music have always been intertwined for Hammond — not just in the brotherhood he feels with the Strokes but also in that his father and namesake, Albert Hammond, is a famed songwriter best-known for "It Never Rains in Southern California."
"At first, I didn't show my music to my dad," the younger Hammond says. "He always wanted to make sure I liked music instead of it being a search for fame. He gave me my work ethic." But he didn't feel comfortable asking his father for songwriting advice until later in his career. "I was doing my first solo album. I brought him a song, 'In Transit,' and he gave me his thoughts."
Even growing up around the music industry, Hammond has found himself starstruck plenty of times. He still vividly remembers when the Strokes got to jam on stage with Lou Reed for a rendition of "Walk on the Wild Side." He also recalls opening for the Rolling Stones and Tom Petty.
But Hammond isn't jaded by all the fame and attention. For him, each gig is exciting. "It doesn't ever get old. I'm superexcited about these shows. Hopefully they will lead to a record."The Strokes with Run the Jewels, Pixies, James Blake, and others. Gates open on Friday at 3 p.m. and Saturday at 11 a.m. The Strokes will perform 9:20 p.m. Saturday, May 9, at the MidFlorida Credit Union Amphitheatre and Florida State Fairgrounds, 4800 U.S. 301, Tampa. Call 800-745-3000, or visit bigguavafest.com. Ticket prices cost $55 to $350.