They’ve only been together for a year and a half, but the Strokes have got an enormous buzz going: talk of their energetic live shows, Rolling Stone touting them as “the next big thing” and a national tour with Doves. The most amazing thing about it all is that the only CD you’ll be able to find of theirs is a three-track EP called The Modern Age, released on the UK’s Rough Trade Records. The songs – the mellow to manic title track, the concisely swinging “Last Night” and the reflective “Barely Legal” – recall late ’70s NYC garage rock in all its glory, with subtle nods to The Stooges and the Velvet Underground. But with all the attention the band has been receiving, they still remain down-to earth, unfazed by the attention, and concentrating on what they love – making music. TN caught up with the Strokes’ guitarist, Albert Hammond Jr., by phone last week.
Temple News: So how do you feel about all this attention you guys have been receiving?
Albert Hammond: Our goal has always been just to make sure that everything we do, the next thing we do is the same energy, but a notch higher. We don’t really pay any attention to [the press], you know? It’s cool when you’re getting it, and you hope that that helps you get more people to listen to you…which you need, unfortunately … but right now we’re just focused on making our record.
TN: Talk about your EP, The Modern Age. How did it come about, how did it make it to Rough Trade?
AH: In August we played the Mercury Lounge, and that’s when our now-manager, Ryan Gentles, first met us. He just said “Hi,” it wasn’t really a big thing. But for some reason, that whole month of September, I saw him 20 or 30 times on the street. And so we just started talking, and he just slowly became our manager. By November, we made this demo just to sell at shows really … and he just sent the CD to Geoff Travis, at Rough Trade and he heard the first 30 seconds of the song and told Ryan “I wanna bring them over here.” And we were like “Holy shit … it’s a DEMO! Should we re-record it?” And [Geoff] was like “No, I like it like this.” So they just put it out in England, and pretty much everything has been word-of-mouth.
TN: So how does writing work with you guys? Is it a collective process or is one of you “the songwriter?”
AH: When Julian writes the songs, he’ll like bring something into the studio without knowing how many times its gonna come into the song, just like the melody or certain parts, and we just embellish on it. But they’re still his songs … he writes them, but we all try to add into our little influences and little comments.
TN: How is your new album going to sound compared to the EP? Is it going to keep the same rough vibe?
AH: [With the EP,] we went to the studio in September, and we wanted to do three songs … that’s all we could afford to do … to sell at shows, cause we thought we could create a little more of a fan base if we had CDs at shows. We wanted to have a good product, and we met this guy and just had a good vibe with him, but we were still growing much as a band. I feel like now we’re much better players. We recorded those songs [for the EP] to put on the record, now they sound 100 times better. We’re stronger players, and we’re just … it just sounds better, you know? It was a demo, it was one night, all three songs in one night, two takes. We’re working with the same guy, so the new album gonna have a good feel, it’s gonna be a rock ‘n’ roll album, it’s gonna sound like … uh … its not gonna sound crappy. Its gonna be rock ‘n’ roll, totally.
TN: How did you hook up with him?
AH: Rafael saw us at one of our shows by accident, cause a friend of his had seen us, told him “You gotta see this band,” and then when he saw us, he was like “Man, I’m the only guy who can record you.” We’re like “Why?” and he explained, and we heard some of the stuff he did, and loved the way he made everything mix so well. He makes everything sound so slick.
TN: How long is the album gonna be?
AH: Eleven tracks. It’s basically our set list, plus a song or two that wasn’t on our set list. But it’s done in a – I didn’t even think it was gonna come out this way, but it goes from left to right. Every song you feel like it’s still sounding like The Strokes, but off a different Strokes record. Like we made three records, and we’re combining our favorite songs.
TN: What do you guys have in the works?
AH: The album comes out in August. We’re doing the residencies in Philly and Boston in May, June and July we’re going to tour Europe – England, UK, Scotland, Scandanavia – and our second single will come out over there. In the UK, it’ll be on Rough Trade, for the world its on RCA. Also, on May 22 The Modern Age is coming out on Beggar’s Banquet.
TN: Where do you see yourselves going?
AH: It’s scary every step you go. Hopefully we’ll be able to keep on playing music. Hopefully we’ll be able to tour. Touring is a big part of our lives. As long as we keep on making music, I hope people would want to listen to it really.
TN: Do you prefer touring to being in the studio?
AH: I enjoy recording, don’t get me wrong, but playing live is much more of a thrill right now. It’s different. It’s like taking two different drugs. Recording is like a creeper drug, it like might go up and down, and like two weeks later we’ll be like “Oh my god. It’s amazing. We did it. We got it on TAPE!” And live it’s just like seconds before … you’re going up and down and all of a sudden there’s like all these people, and you’re playing your music, and you just get entranced. Much more intense.
The Strokes Philadelphia Residency:
May 9 @ The Five Spot w/ Asteroid #4, The Situation, Radio Mercury Theater, 9 p.m.
May 16 @ The Khyber w/ Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, Ty Cobb, 9 p.m.
May 23 @ The Khyber w/ 1929, 9 p.m.
May 30 @ The Five Spot w/ Rosemary Pure, 9 p.m.