The first thing you should know about the Strokes’ long-awaited fourth album, Angles, is that it is not Is This It. Anyone expecting ten more copies of “Last Nite” should exit here. But know you’d be missing a weird, wonderful record of baroque new wave. After scrapping initial sessions (again), the New Yorkers retreated to guitarist Albert Hammond Jr.’s upstate home. There, the five re-recorded “95 percent” of the songs. The result is filled with funk, French electro, ’70s boogie and chilly synth-rock. We called up Hammond on the eve of the Strokes’ SNL performance. He sounded exhausted, enthused and almost relieved not to have to play any of the tricky bits in the new material: “I don’t play any of the solos. I like it.”
Last summer you came back to headline festivals. Was there a moment where you thought, “God, why did we take so long to get back”?
No. In your happiest moments you can think those thoughts, but to be honest [our comeback] wouldn’t have happened any faster. There’s no point in poking at it. You can look back. You can’t think, Man, to be 18 again, I would have done it this way.
And yet some people want so badly for you to dial the clock back to 2001, to save rock & roll again.
I know. So funny. How can you ever… You get that once. If you get that once… IF. That’s a big if. If you’re lucky to spark something like that, that’s crazy enough. The fact they want it to happen again, it’s just…already gone. Nobody was expecting it. It was all about the timing, the state of music. And Is This It will always be there. It will never go away. I can’t be 18 or 20 anymore. I’ve gone through too much. It’d be silly as humans to step that far back. I know too much.
The five of you seem to have grown more comfortable in the spotlight. And you’ve been open about the dark parts of your personal life.
You end up at a spot and you have two ways you can go: start accepting things and getting past it or ignoring it and not. I’m lucky to have four other guys roughly the same age going through similar things.
This is the third record in a row where you’ve changed producers midway through the recording. How does that keep happening?
Ever since we started, everyone has this bright idea that if we work with someone, they’re going to [Adopts record-exec voice] “find the sound of success.” It’s not always doing [it] ourselves. We’re all just trying to figure out how to create something better than we could alone. Some bands are lucky and find that guy.
Is there a fear of being too slick?
It’s not afraid of being too slick. All these definitions…what is slick? This is our most produced record ever. But it’ll never have a slick modern sound because we don’t like that. Slick and clean like Queen? I’d love to get like that. I don’t want to sound like certain modern songs. That’s always the fight we have with producers.
Were you thinking, Oh no, it’s happening a third time?
It even happened with our first record. We went with Gil Norton.
Ha. So, a fourth time.
Our third record was the only one where it stayed… [Laughs] Oh, wait, no. We started with Gordon [Raphael] and then switched to David [Kahne]. That’s always been the case. So, hopefully, fifth time’s a charm!
Angles is released Tuesday 22 on RCA Records.