Hammond's first full-length since 2008, Momentary Masters, will be released July 31. It's an assured collection of sleek tunes that demonstrate Hammond's deft hand with instrumental arrangements, as well as a renewed focus on pleasing, catchy vocal melodies. Also, there's a song on it called "Side Boob."
PEOPLE spoke with Hammond about the unusual circumstances around the album's dedication, the 2014 Strokes reunion, and perhaps most important, that song title.
The album title is a reference to a line from Pale Blue Dot.
Yes. That's where I first heard those two words together. And then, based on [Carl Sagan's] meaning of it, it started to have its own meaning that I liked. The idea of mastering of something, or at least feeling like you have, and it being such a momentary, fleeting event.
The record opens with what sounds like a threatening voicemail message: Someone says, "Yeah, you got a free consultation from f---in Miss Cleo, bitch." Is there a story behind that?
Well, my wife [Justyna Sroka, whom he married in 2013] was getting these calls from someone – we don't know who – and she was just yelling at her. And Gus [Oberg], who produced the record, just recorded these conversations. She was just saying, "I know that my boyfriend's been cheating with you," things like that, and they captured all this stuff, and that's the one that the mixer put in the front. I couldn't imagine listening to the record without it.
I hear Television, I hear The Cars on this record. What else were you influenced by when recording it?
I was listening to The Cars for sure, the first Police record, Outlandos D'Amour. Talking Heads, Bowie. It's hard to say exact things because like, a few years ago, I listened to a lot of Kinks and Wipers and Wire, and I feel like that still has an effect on me. But influence is never so direct, like, "I hear this and then I go write that"; it's a subtle thing.
You recorded this album in a barn at your house in upstate New York. Was that a new atmosphere or process for you?
Well, this band kind of came together on the road. I had a few songs that were almost done, like "Born Slippy" and "Touché," and I brought them to the guys, and they did such a good job with it. And then as we spent more time together, sort of isolated up here, that jovial, hang-out vibe kind of took shape. I don't know if this happened as I got older, but work-wise, I feel like it was just better to work for a few hours, take a break – this whole "work 15 hours until you break …" it just doesn't work for me.
The record is dedicated to "Sarah." What was the relationship you had with her?
I met her through, I guess, a Richard Pryor joke she put on Instagram, and I wrote her about it, and we just bonded. And she was showing me all this poetry, different writers, artists. And then unfortunately, she passed away. And everything she showed me, I gathered quickly before I forgot; I just remembered all these things. I went through texts, looked up people she told me to see and read. And then a year or two later, when I was in the midst of creating [this album], it began to have a bigger purpose.
Were you guys close?
We had friends in common, but I didn't really know her. We hung around the same circles, we probably passed many times, but it was like a strange, two-week spark. It was really, beautifully intense. A whole range of emotions.
The Strokes reunited last year. You've been sober for a while – was it strange revisiting those tunes, in those settings, following that big change in your life?
No, not actually. The whole band is … no one really does anything, besides one member, or something like that. So, it's like, nothing that would bring something back in a show. I feel like, the kind of stuff that would bring that back is not so much playing. Maybe being on the road but … those dates were more of a positive thing, just remembering how much we moved fans, and seeing the people we've reached, and how time has made us a better band.
You said at one point you'd've been a better guitar player if it hadn't been for your drinking and drug use. Have you noticed a difference since getting clean?
Oh, for sure. It's more of like, whatever freedom it was giving me mentally from things, it was also taking away the energy to see other things. I can just see it in my playing, in the time I can put into things like lyrics. I'm really proud of the lyrics and the melodies on this album, more than anything.
I also have to ask you about "Side Boob."
I'll just label songs based on whatever's going through my head. And I guess for that one … I just like boobs. And I was just finishing the song and I was like, "I don't wanna change that." I almost feel like I can make it into anything: 'It became symbolic of what we can get away with showing in society.' But I just thought of that right now. I just like that everyone's fascinated by the title. Sometimes if you're constantly thinking of things and working on stuff, these happy accidents happen and things come into play. You can't always think it out so much.
Momentary Masters is out July 31 on Vagrant Records.