As the hard-partying guitarist for New York rockers The Strokes, Albert Hammond Jr. used to fend off inquisitive groupies. These days, he deals with groupers.
Sober for four years after spending his late 20s in a haze of cocaine, ketamine, Oxycontin and heroin abuse — when his habit was costing him roughly $2,000 a weekend — he now gets his kicks from safer pursuits like scuba diving.
“It was more exciting than scary, the first time I saw a shark or a barracuda. I even enjoyed a little underwater conversation with a big-eyed pufferfish before it puffed up — now that was pretty cool,” says Hammond, who appears in The City Thursday, backing an edgy new solo EP, “AHJ,” on his bandmate Julian Casablancas’ Cult Records.
Hammond — who now home- produces other artists — played every instrument but drums on “AHJ.” Its jagged janglers such as “St. Justice” and the Beatle-ish “Rude Customer” recapture the kinetic spark of The Strokes’ definitive 2001 debut, “Is This It.”
“That’s why I always laugh whenever someone says ‘Are you less creative now that you’re sober?’” he says. “It took some time, maybe two years. But for sure, I got my edge back!”
Hammond — whose folk-singing father was renowned for the 1972 classic “It Never Rains in Southern California” — got his initial scuba license in his home state of New York after taking classes and flippers-on tests like night diving and buoyancy, first in a pool, then in the ocean. He went on to acquire more advanced certificates in Belize, then Turks and Caicos. “Which was really cool because all you do are three dives a day, and now I’ve got my official advanced license,” he says.
The musician always secretly wondered about the deep. A few years ago while on an island vacation, his girlfriend at the time insisted they take a course called discover scuba, which included an introductory dive.
“I just fell in love with it,” he says. Soon, he wants to explore shipwrecks and swim with the Galapagos hammerheads. He has some landlubber hobbies, too. He bought two motorcycles, a Ducati and a customized creation, which he rides through rural New York, shopping for his favorite farm-fresh fruits and vegetables.
Hammond loves the complete focus his dives and long drives require. “When you stop putting yourself in new uncomfortable places, you can easily go back into the broken record that is your addiction,” he believes. “But when you do new things, you create new paths in your brain, and you get excited by new ideas.”
IF YOU GO
Albert Hammond Jr.
Where: Slim’s, 333 11th St., S.F.
When: 9 p.m. Thursday