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- Posted on Feb 11th 2011 3:00PM by Eric R. Danton
The musicians haven't been idle since 'First Impressions of Earth' came out in January 2006, but they did take an extended break from the Strokes to work on outside projects and to "figure out who you are again," guitarist Albert Hammond Jr. tells Spinner.
Finishing -- and, for that matter, starting -- the new album took a while, but Hammond says the band was more interested in getting it right than doing it fast. "We're kind of trying to build a career and not just do it all in one album and be done with it," he says.
What took so long?
Which part? What took so long to start, or what took so long once we started?
Before was just the time that was needed to come back in the right frame of mind, and after was a mixture of stuff. We worked on music, and then we had to take some time off and then we recorded it twice, so the recording process, that was the biggest thing.
What is the right frame of mind for the band?
It's complicated, but we got to a point where we would need all of us on the same page, and the band is only as strong as the weakest member. Sometimes it just takes time. People go and do stuff, no one really knows how to deal with success, at least me personally. We never parted ways, we always spoke, we just let it naturally take its course until eventually we all wanted to get together and make music and it was exciting. We were all ready to share.
Listen to 'Under Cover of Darkness'
Have you gotten better at dealing with success?
I've gotten better at understanding it. I mean, it's not like we had so much success that we couldn't deal with it, but having any, it gives you a certain freedom, and you're young and you tend to be excessive about it, at least for me, with drugs and going out and stuff like that. And then you kind of lose yourself in that and find your way back.
Did you know it was excessive as it was happening?
At first, no, you don't. Or you do, and you kind of like that you do. But it starts to take away from everything. You start to realize, instead of crazy stories, I'd rather end up with crazy amazing albums. That's what I've learned from my fellow musicians of the '50s and '60s and '70s, all my idols. Eventually, it catches up, and you always would rather end up with music than anything else. As cool as rock 'n' roll stories are, it ain't that cool.
Why did you record the new album twice?
It didn't sound good the first time.
That's a question for the ages. The communication between us and the producer [Joe Chicarelli] was not a healthy one and ended up in a bad space. Trying to find someone you can collaborate with is a hard thing in and of itself. I think we tried, because we were coming back and our confidence was low, and so we stuck with it for eight weeks to see what was happening and in the end, nothing was lost. That helped us to discover certain things that we could do ourselves and with our engineer and producer, Gus Oberg. It all kind of lent itself to the next step, which is great, but it was a long and expensive learning process. [Laughs] But sometimes you have to do that.
Did you know how you wanted the album to sound when you recorded it the second time?
We went up to my studio upstate just with the idea of recording the two songs we hadn't gotten to finish at the other studio in New York, and maybe, just maybe, doing some overdubs as we listened to stuff we had recorded. And then the first song we recorded at my place was a song called 'Machu Picchu,' and it was by far the best-sounding thing we had done. And it was like, "Wow, we did this ourselves, up here. That's a good sign." Then we slowly redid almost the whole thing, 95 percent of it. If we had gone up saying "we're going to redo the album" it would have been a little daunting. We had just spent eight weeks and looking back, we were probably a little fried. The excitement of the new stuff upstate kind of rejuvenated us, but we were past spent when we started.
What effect have the band's various side projects had on 'Angles'?
We all learned different stuff when we were on our own and just had super experiences that when we came back we were able to share, in songwriting and touring and ideas and recording and collaborating. You go your own way, you've got to start in some ways from scratch, and then you're able to look back and see how big a thing like the Strokes is. It's bigger than us individually. It has its own life.
How much did you think about that while making this album?
That was definitely on my mind, in my fear and excitement of playing again when we played live. It really felt like Voltron, like five different pieces making a whole. You can hear it -- at least I can hear it -- in the record, our single being an example. It had three or four writers on it, but we were kind of getting the best of everyone.
How much pressure did you feel?
The pressure is what we like and what we don't like, it's our filter of how we pick things. It's not like an everyday thing. The pressure I myself feel is just the idea of releasing something, I want to hear something different and cool and exciting. Pressure comes more from deadlines. When it wasn't right and we had to do it again, the label was like, "I thought we were going to release it over the summer," and we said, "Well, we can't." That feels like pressure to me.
The Strokes were hailed for reviving garage rock in the early 2000s. What do you think now?
We never understood what they meant when they said that in the first place. I always thought of our songs as beautiful melodic songs with counterpoint. When I hear garage music, it doesn't sound like us at all -- it sounds like crap. It's not melodic. I understand, you have to put some label on it or something. I imagine they're used to hearing modern records that have a certain sound that maybe wasn't on our record. But we just thought that other stuff sounded stale. For some reason, that got characterized as garage rock, and I don't even know what that means, because I don't have a garage.