Last year, Albert Hammond Jr. learned some revelatory news about his childhood. It related to his twin brother, Francis, who died in 1979 after his mother prematurely gave birth to him six month before Albert was born. Hammond had known about that tragedy his entire life, but he didn't know, as a family member told him, that Francis' fingernail had been found amongst Albert's placenta. "It just felt like at some point we had collided or touched," says Hammond.
Feeling closer to his late twin than ever before, Hammond decided to embrace him as a kind of alter-ego on his new album, Francis Trouble. Like Hammond's work as a solo act and with the Strokes, there are sharp melodies and skillful, retro-leaning guitar riffs. But he sounds far more vulnerable than in his previous work. On the melancholy "Set to Attack," he alludes to an unrequited love; on "Far Away Truths," he longs for transparency with a partner ("Don't tell me that I've seen enough/'Cause if I saw nothing why would I look twice"). "I liked the idea that you could have fun and tell a story," says Hammond. "Wear a mask to tell it, but have it have depth."
This sort of self-examination is something Hammond, 37, wouldn't have been capable of a decade ago. After the Strokes broke through with 2001's Is This It, the guitarist quickly fell into drug addiction. The last time Rolling Stone spoke with him, in 2013, he recalled regularly spending up to $2,000 a weekend on cocaine, heroine and ketamine. Still, he managed to put out 2006's Yours to Keep, an endearing side project full of hyper-catchy songs like "In Transit." (At South by Southwest earlier in March, a crowd sang along to that song like it was a greatest hit.) In 2010, he started pursuing sobriety; today, he doesn't drink or use drugs. The Strokes never regained the momentum of their early days, but they remain a festival draw, headlining events like Governors Ball. Though Hammond has said they are beyond the "point of anger and breakups," solo projects have taken precedence for most of the band.
Part of Hammond's new, sober chapter included therapy. He worked with Andrew Park, a psychotherapist Hammond describes as a "father figure." Together, they explored a form of therapy called "shadow work." Inspired by the Swiss psychologist Carl Jung, the practice calls for getting in touch with "dark energy," Hammond says. Park told Hammond his shadow was a child "that had not been nurtured and was throwing tantrums." Hammond saw a connection to the news he'd learned about his brother Francis. In 2016, Park died; Hammond decided to dedicate Francis Trouble to him. "A lot of what we studied almost became more understood, sadly, in his passing," says Hammond. "Mythology kind of makes sense here: Mentor goes and then you're off to go slay the dragon, and you have to take the reins."
Hammond branches out in another way on Francis Trouble; the sessions were the first time in his solo career that he enlisted other songwriters, working with Tyler Parkford of the band Mini Mansions and Jennifer Decilveo (who has written and produced for Machine Gun Kelly, Boyz II Men and others) on three songs. The thought of being creatively vulnerable in front of strangers terrified him; he likens the experience to a "very intimate first date," using a graphic analogy: "Instead of turning the lights out and having sex, and being drunk and not remembering it," says Hammond, "you're masturbating in front of each other with the lights on, talking about how it feels and why you're doing it that way."
These days, Hammond lives in upstate New York with his wife, Justyna. "I've worked to create a home environment that feeds me with energy," he says. He attributes that to indulging in whatever obsession he feels like: riding motorcycles on a track ("I'm getting good"), and even pursuing acting roles; he landed a minor one in the 2017 romantic drama Newness. "You need to figure out something to do that feels new and scary and that you suck at as you get older," he says.
Hammond is careful to stress that never gets too comfortable. "I've never felt better in how I'm performing, and everything all around," he says. "But at the same time you can't ever forget how quickly doubts can be created." He's reminded of a John Denver lyric: "'Some days are diamond, some days are stones.' I just love the idea, that even when you're sad, there are still days that are good."