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Miscellaneous - Interview

  by John Clarkson

published: 16 / 5 / 2005

Miscellaneous - Interview


Multi-million selling songwriter Albert Hammond has written some of the best known songs of the last 50 years and is also the father of the Strokes Albert Hammond Jr. He talks to John Clarkson about 'Revolution of the Heart', his first album in 23 years

It has been said of Albert Hammond, that, even if you have never heard of him, you will have heard his songs. Born In London, raised in Gibraltar and now based in New York, Hammond is one of a small but prolific core of "super songwriters", which also includes Burt Bacharach, Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller, Hal David, Brian and Eddie Holland, Gerry Goffin and Carole King, who have been responsible for writing some of the best known songs of the last half century. His songs now have sold worldwide over 360 million copies. Hammond, who is 61, spent much of his early career performing in bands and working as a singer-songwriter. In 1980, shortly after the birth of his son Albert Jr, who has since gone on to find success of his own as the guitarist in The Strokes, he, however, decided to abandon this to concentrate exclusively on a career working as a songwriter and a producer. Some of many songs that Hammond has written that have been recorded by other artists have included Elton John's 'Good Morning Freedom' ; Whitney Houston's 'One Moment in Time' ; Diana Ross' 'When You Tell Me That You Love Me' ; Johnny Cash's 'Smokey Factory Blues' ; Roy Orbison's 'Careless Heart' : Leo Sayer and Rod Stewart's "When I Need You' ; Starship's "Nothing's Going to Stop Us Now' and Tina Turner's 'Way of the World.' Hammond recently released 'Revolution of The Heart', his first album of original and self-penned material since 1982's 'Somewhere in America'. 'Revolution of the Heart' is a charming, old school collection of 14 songs, and a concept record that loosely tells the story of Hammond's own life. Pennyblackmusic spoke to Albert Hammond a few days before he played his first shows in 25 years at Ronnie Scott's Jazz Club In London , and spoke to him about 'Revolution of the Heart', The Strokes and the craft of songwriting. PB : You have written songs in a whole variety of genres, including country, rhythm and blues and rock. Much of your childhood was spent in Gibraltar which is on the edge of several different continents. Do you think living there had a strong effect and influence on your songwriting ? AH : I think that it did. Gibraltar was very influential. I heard everything from Arabic music to flamenco to pop, rock, country, and R and B. PB : Yet you were born in London. How did you end up there ? AH : My parents were from Gibraltar originally, but during the war the women were evacuated to different parts of the world. Some of them went to Ireland, some of them went to Jamaica and some of them went to England. My mother just happened to be sent to London and my father used to come over to visit. On one of his trips he made me (Laughs). I was born on May 18th 1944. A few months later the war was over. Everybody went back to Gibraltar and that was where I grew up. PB : You ended up going to America though eventually. AH : I started off in Gibraltar. I formed an act with a friend of mine, a duo called the Diamond Boys. It was an Everly Brothers type of thing and we went to Morocco and then to Spain and then from Spain to England. When I had done almost everything one can do in each of those countries I needed a bigger challenge and so I went off to America to try my luck there and again I hit lucky. It was wonderful really. PB : How old were you when you went to America ? AH : It was 1970. I was 26. PB : You performed in other bands and as a solo artist for many years, but then quit for over two decades and concentrated instead on writing songs for other people. AH : I didn’t quit because I didn’t want to sing anymore. I had two other children from my first marriage and never really spent a lot of time with them because I was on tour all the time. When I married my wife of now in 1979 , and Albert Jr was born in 1980, I decided I wanted to spend time with at least one of my children. I hadn’t done it with the others, so I decided I would stay at home and write songs and produce and that’s what I did. I started this other career as a songwriter/producer, which also went very well for me. PB : Albert Jr has achieved a lot of success of his own. AH : Yeah, he has. I tell you, man. I think I have to be one of the luckiest people in the world to have had my success (Laughs). My three children are healthy and well and I have a grandchild, and now Albert has done incredibly well with The Strokes. PB : Have you been surprised at his success? AH : Was I surprised ? No, I have been there from the beginning and I felt that it would happen, in the same way that I felt my success too would happen before it came. I knew that The Strokes were really good. They just persevered. When you want something bad enough, not just because you want to be successful, but because you love what you are doing, I think that generally if you stay in there long enough it will happen. PB : Many parents who are musicians try to dissuade their parents from becoming musicians because they are aware of the hardships involved. You didn’t do that though, did you ? AH : Of course not. Albert Jr took three weeks to tell me that he was going to quit his studies and leave university. He was a year and a half into university at the time. Some of the other members of the Strokes were almost finished. They had six months to go. I said to him “Look man, you can always go back to university. This is now and you’ve got to give it a shot because this is what you love doing in life.” I think that everything you do in life is hard. You won't just find hardship in the rock ‘n’ roll business. People go to college. They spend four years there. Some of them spend eight years there and then they can’t get a job. Not only can’t they get a job, but they have have had to get a loan to pay for college. They also owe a lot of money. I, therefore, disagree with those parents who try to stop their children from becoming musicians. The world is getting worse and worse in a lot of respects. It’s not just in the music business though. It’s in any business. I wrote a song called ‘Rock ‘n’ Roll Hero’. It isn’t just about a rock ‘n’ roll hero. It’s about any kind of hero. The hero to me is the guy who goes to work 9 to 5 or 16 hours a day if necessary, and comes home with the money to pay the rent and for everyone to be fed and dressed and clothed. That to me is as much of a hero as a rock ‘n’ roll hero or any other kind of hero. PB : 'Rock ‘n’ Roll Hero' is one of the songs off ‘Revolution of the Heart’. AH : That’s one of the tracks off the new record. I decided to use some of my experience of being 60 years in the world, and to say on 'Revolution of the Heart' that this is how I feel about love, this is how I feel about war, and this is how I feel in general about life. PB : What’s made you put out an album again after all these years ? AH : Albert Jr. He has bugged me for years. He's kept saying to me “Dad, you’ve got to make a record. You’re so talented. You still sing well. You write for all these people, yet you don't do anything for yourself.” Finally at my 60th birthday last year we were out at a restaurant in New York and I stood up at the table and I said to him “I’m going to give you and me a gift and I’m going to do a record this year.” That’s when I started writing the songs. We started writing the songs and by December everything was written and the album was done. PB : You recorded the album in a remote studio in Denmark. Why did you go out there to record it ? AH : Leo Sayer, who is a close friend and who co-wrote some of the songs on the album, was recording there, and he said to me “You should check this studio out” so I did. Essentially you lived there and you slept there. I came there for what I thought would be five days, cut seven songs, thought “This is great” and then ended up not leaving for three weeks until the album was completed. PB : ‘Revolution of the Heart', therefore, came together fairly quickly. AH : Oh yeah ! I’m a passionate guy. I can only do things for so long and then I move on. I can’t do these things like take nine months or a year to do a record because I lose my train of thought. I end up not knowing where I am going. I think also it is the best way because, if you do it quickly, it really gives the audience the reality of what you are. There are no gimmicks. It is there live, done, hopefully in just one take and that’s it. PB : You produced the album as well as recorded it. Apparently you refused to have remixed it in a hip way. Is that true ? AH : Somebody tried to do that. They said “ You’ve got to be today” and I said “Hang on a sec. I’m not here to compete with what’s going on today. I’m here just to give the world fourteen new songs that I have written in the last nine months, and my passion and singing and the way I do them.” On this record I wanted to go back to my roots, to Buddy Holly, Eddie Cochran, Roy Orbison and Elvis and to all the people I have played all my life and are the reason why I am doing what I am doing. I said to him “I want to make a record like them and I don't want any reverb on my voice and I don’t want any gimmicks. I just want a straight record with an effect here and there just like they did in the old days, but that’s just about it.” I refused synthesisers because every six months or so they change, so what was the point of having them ? I am more of an organic kind of person and I just wanted to make an organic record which would last for ever. I think the songs become better songs too if you do it that way. What do I know though? I do the best I can and so far I have been lucky. PB : Why do you think your songs have attracted such universal appeal ? AH : I don’t know. It’s a mystery to me as much as it is to everybody else (Laughs). If I knew I would be telling all my friends this is what you do. I really don’t know. It’s just a magical thing. It’s like a mystery and I don't want to enter into the mystery. When we didn’t know anything about the moon it was beautiful because we could sing love songs about under the moonlight. Now we know what the moon is like we still do it, but it is a little different. Don’t take away the mystery. Let the mystery be a mystery and the magic be magic and just do your thing. PB : You have been quoted in the past as saying that it means more to you that couples play your songs when they first meet each other or fall in love rather than that they have sold millions of copies of your records.Is that true ? AH : I have never written a song just to make money. I have always written songs because I love doing it . If I could please millions of people around the world , and then if people can fall in love with each other because of one of my songs or one of my songs was around when they fell in love, then that means more to me than anything else. Awards are, like almost everything else, very political. The sentiments of people, and the passions in their hearts, are not . I feel like that’s a bigger reward. I was staying in a hotel in Germany a few weeks ago. The guy who was bringing up the bag was an old man and he said to me “I danced to "The Free Electric Band' (One of Hammond's early own recordings-Ed) and I met my wife through that.” I have met a lot of people like that over the years. It just brings a tear to my eye. The human touch is the greatest thing in the world. It’s not rocket science. You write a song and then you touch people. It’s a wonderful thing. PB : You have said that you write songs because you love them and because you hope that other people catch onto them. That implies that you write primarily for your own satisfaction. Have you written songs specifically with other artists in mind ? AH : No, because when any other artist has called me up and said "Can you write a song for me ?" and then their management gets in touch and says “We’ll send you three CDs of what they have done before”, I don’t want to hear what they have done before, because I am not going to do anything like what they have done before. Otherwise what’s the point in that ? Call the guys who did it before and have them write it if you feel like that. I just say “I’ll write you a song and I’ll send it over to you or come over and play it for you. If you like it that’s fine, and if you don’t that’s okay.” That’s the way it goes. I’d hate to think that I had to write a song for someone like the one they had a hit with before or anything like that. I couldn’t do that. I am not a mechanical writer. I don’t go into the studio 9 or 5. I write at home on my acoustic guitar or piano. I don’t have any machines or any studio or anything like that. When I finish a song and I feel this is the artist I’d like to send it to, I go into the studio and do a little demo based around that artist. The song has already been written though. It hasn’t been written for them. It’s just a good song. A good song can be rock, pop, country, R and B, any style. It can be Pavarotti singing it or Carerras, or somebody completely different . It can go to any kind of artist just as long as it is a good song. They just have to do it in their own style. PB : You’re going to be doing some dates to promote 'Revolution of the Heart', aren't you ? AH : I am doing some dates on the 4th and 5th May at Ronnie Scott’s. It’s isn’t in the evening. It’s at the special time of 5.30 p.m.. It’s like almost an audition again. After all you have done, you end up auditioning again (Laughs). It’s going to be a lot of fun. PB : What are you going to be playing at these shows ? AH : I am going to do some oldies like it ‘It Never Rains’, ‘Breathe’, ‘The Free Electric Band’ and stuff like that and then pretty much all of the new album. Hopefully TV people and video people and press people will come down. PB : This will be the first time you’ve played your own shows in a very long time. AH : This is the first time in close to thirty years I am going to play live. PB : Are you scared ? AH : Honestly, yes ! Of course. I’d be lying if was to say I wasn’t, but once I have been up there for 10 minutes I am sure that it will be fine. I still play regularly for friends in my living room. That’s the way I hope I am going to feel when I get up there. It will be fun. I am definitely going to enjoy it. Let me tell you that ! PB : What else have you got planned after this ? AH : Just to promote the record and then hopefully to do a lot of touring around the world. If there’s enough fans still out there and if they’re all round and if there are new ones and I can hopefully fill up the place, then I’ll play. If a promoter thinks I am good enough, then I’ll do it. The whole point of making a record is to go out and sing it live, so that people can see you and you can have that contact with the audience which is the most wonderful thing. I am looking forward to it. PB : Thank you.

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Miscellaneous - Interview

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