Albert Hammond Jr. says it felt both strange and incredible when the Strokes headed back out on tour earlier this year to play live.
“Not to be obvious, but it feels like I’ve spent two years at home as the world is trying to get back on its feet,” the guitarist says. “So it has its hiccups, but to actually be doing it? Yeah, it’s amazing.”
The Strokes have toured in Europe and Australia, playing a lot of festivals, as well as opening some shows for Red Hot Chili Peppers’ stadium tour. They return to Southern California to headline the second night of This Ain’t No Picnic Festival on Sunday, Aug. 28 at Brookside at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena.
This Ain’t No Picnic also features LCD Soundsystem as its headliner on Saturday, Aug. 20. Other acts on the packed bill include such artists as Phoebe Bridgers, Le Tigre, Beach House, Kaytranada and Sparks.
So does it feel different, touring post-pandemic?
“Doesn’t everything feel different than what it was before?” Hammond replies. “The whole world’s a little (worse).
“We try to go up and make it exciting,” he says. “I’m always looking at every night as a new way to bring the crowd to you. See what they connect with. So I mean that element, that part is still there.
“So maybe that takes you out of thinking about it too much – you’re just in the moment. But apart from that, everything feels so different.”
On the road again
So far this year, the Strokes have played about 30 shows, their most since 2011 when they played about 40, and still far fewer than earlier years in the aughts when they racked up more than 100 nights on stage in a handful of years.
Hammond says that while he’d generally prefer to play more shows, the decision has to work for all five members of the group, which includes singer Julian Casablancas, guitarist Nick Valensi, bassist Nikolai Fraiture, and drummer Fabrizio Moretti.
“That’s a hard one to answer as one-fifth of the whole entity,” Hammond says. “What I would want to do or what we decided as a band are two different things, and there’s compromise between them.
“Early on, I don’t think you have a choice but to do it, especially if you are lucky enough to get a break where people are excited to come see you and believe in you,” he says. “You really believe in the record and shows keep popping up and you just kind of go with it.”
Hammond tours with his eponymous solo band. He also moved to Los Angeles from Manhattan with his wife and daughter and most recently has launched a wine seltzer line called Jetway.
Still, it’s not the same as touring with the Strokes, he says.
“From my point of view, yeah, it’s a bummer,” Hammond says. “I would have loved to be touring the whole time. But yeah, if you’re asking, ‘Why didn’t you do that?’ there’s no answer I could give that would be able to describe a dynamic that’s what makes us us.”
The old new album
This tour might have taken place a few years earlier. The Strokes’ most recent album arrived in April 2020, and its title – “The New Abnormal” – is an oddly apt name for the way life changed in the pandemic.
And, of course, most bands will tour behind a new album, even though “The New Abnormal” has been around long enough to earn the band its first-ever Grammy nomination and win for best rock album a year ago.
“It got old while everyone was just sitting there,” Hammond says, laughing. “No, it’s still new.”
For this sixth album from the Strokes, the band chose acclaimed producer Rick Rubin to lead the project in the studio, a decision Hammond says worked wonderfully.
“The coolest thing that I felt was that he kind of allowed us to be a band again,” he says. “And as more happened, whenever something was good we’d kind of go with it. I don’t know. It allowed room to just exist and stay in a certain kind of head space during the whole process.”
Rubin’s presence in the studio allowed the band members to relax and trust that they, their songs, and the album were in good hands.
“He has ideas to push you in directions when you’re maybe overwhelmed,” Hammond says. “And then he was an older figure, and someone who’d made so many big records and worked with so many big artists, it would just make you feel like five kids again, and there’s someone older and in charge.
“People make fun of that Peter Pan complex, but I feel like bands in some ways have to stay like that at some level because it’s part of it.”
Then and now
Next year marks the 25th anniversary of the Strokes’ formation in New York City, though their debut album, “Is This It,” didn’t arrive until 2001.
Sometimes the magic of those early days feels present still today, Hammond says. In other moments, it’s like ancient history.
“I mean, time is a weird thing,” he says. “It’s been 25 years and in some ways, it’s exactly the same; and in some ways, it looks completely different.
“Sometimes backstage chatting after a show or just randomly meeting somewhere, maybe meeting at our managers, we still talk and hang out,” Hammond says. “It just still feels like we’re 18, we’ve finished rehearsals, and we’d stay somewhere for a while talking to each other.
“And then other times, you feel so distant. Everyone’s got families. You’re older, you realize your time feels less.
“You know it feels like forever, and then you get older and you’re like, ‘God …’,” he says, laughing.
Making music, live or in the studio, is when the Strokes still feel best.
“I remember the one thing we always talked about is that we wanted to create music that we felt was good, and something that could compete with what was out there,” Hammond says. “Like be another mix into whatever the rock and pop world was out there, but not have to sacrifice what we wanted to get there. Like still make it sound like music we would want to hear.
“I think we’ve achieved that,” he says. “From wanting to be like an art band – I don’t want to say ‘art band,’ because that gives a whole lot of feelings I already hate. Just like, a weirder band. That fits.
“That tries to fit in some kind of mainstream is probably too far, but some kind of world where it’s successful and not just hidden. Where it’s almost like you found a hidden gem.”
This Ain’t No Picnic Festival
What: Headliners the Strokes and LCD Soundsystem are joined on a packed bill by acts such as Phoebe Bridgers, Le Tigre, Beach House, Courtney Barnett, Earl Sweatshirt and many more.
When: Saturday and Sunday, Aug. 27-28
Where: Brookside at the Rose Bowl, Pasadena
How much: Single day starts at $159, both days start at $299. Clubhouse VIP tickets are $649. All prices have additional fees.
For more: Thisaintnopicnic.com