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As the founding rhythm guitarist of New York garage legends the Strokes, Albert Hammond, Jr. has honed his mechanical brand of six-string virtuosity for the last decade and a half. Later this month he’ll return with his third studio album, Momentary Masters, which marks a personal comeback for the guitarist: It’s his first solo record since 2008’s ¿Cómo Te Llama?, a hiatus that coincided with a drug that landed Hammond in rehab in 2010.

Partly thanks to two reunion LPs with the Strokes—2011’s Angles and 2013’s Comeback Machine—Hammond has now achieved a relative place of zen, telling EW about his newfound affinity for listening to Carl Sagan speeches and classical music. But that mellowness doesn’t overwhelm Momentary Masters, a record that includes the scuzzed-out proto-punk and slippery disco-rock that earned the Strokes their reputation, and even a serene cover of the early Bob Dylan song “Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right.”

Hammond caught up with EW about the new music—or lack thereof—coming from the Strokes, why he enjoys Carl Sagan, and the current slack-rocker he’s loving.

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Momentary Masters is your first full-length solo album in seven years. Why go back to the studio now? Has anything changed?

ALBERT HAMMOND, JR.: I made two Strokes records and an EP. While touring with this last EP, this new band formed and the way we were interpreting the old songs and the new EP got me excited to play music with them. We went in to try out a few songs that I had done and it went so well that we kept going.

You’ve cited Carl Sagan as an influence for Momentary Masters. Can you tell me about that connection? What else shaped the record’s sound?

Little moments of excitement shape the sound of a record. You don’t have anything and then you start to have little parts that give you the energy to move forward because you start to see something. Carl Sagan’s “Pale Blue Dot” is where I got the title Momentary Masters. I’ve been listening to that for the past couple years—whenever I feel overwhelmed it calms me down. It’s the only thing I can listen to and feel truly at peace. I loved those words and the different meanings I could take from them for the record.

Lyrically [Momentary Masters] started to become something of a discussion with my shadow, with the idea of the duality that’s in your head and realizing that it all exists at the same time. You’re not good or bad, you’re both, always. But that’s very different from the music part.

You and Julian [Casablancas] both have pretty robust solo projects now. Do you ever trade ideas when you’re doing your own things? How do you decide what’s an Albert Hammond, Jr. song and what’s a Strokes song?

When you write songs you’re writing little bits here, little bits there. If I were to bring something to [the Strokes], it becomes one-fifth of something. When I bring something to the band I’m working with now, they help expand it. Already right there, it just changes it because you’re working with different people. It’s not so much that what I do is different, it’s where I’m doing it. I feel like people want an exciting answer.

I’m just curious, because the Strokes are so well-known for songwriting and you’re a songwriter, how you parcel that out.

The only time it’s overlapped is I wrote “One Way Trigger” on Comedown Machine. It was the first song I had written in two years—I got out of rehab in 2010, [then in] 2012 I wrote that. Before I played it for everyone I thought, “Oh, this should be the first song that starts my next solo record.” But I was too excited about it and we were about to make a record. So, I played it and it got used for that. That would’ve sounded really different had I put it on my record.

The Strokes are slated for some festivals this summer. What’s it like toggling back and forth, maybe not in the studio, but generally, between your solo stuff and the Strokes stuff?

It’s fun to play both roles and be that busy—I almost feel like an athlete. But they’re very different. My shows, I’m convincing people of what I’ve done. The Strokes are more in celebration of the years we’ve been around. It’s also just a different level. I do everything with the guys on [my solo tour]. With the Strokes we have all these people doing things. Sometimes it’s a little weird going back and forth because you’re like, “Don’t touch that, I’ll do it myself!”

It’s been two years since Comedown Machine, do you know if the Strokes have anything in the works? Are you allowed to say?

Yeah, I am allowed to say—but we don’t. That’s about it.

What music have you been listening to lately? Is there anything new that you’ve been super into?

I’ve been kind of busy to do that, but I just moved upstate and was playing a lot of the Police’s first record [Outlandos D’Amour]. I have vinyl upstate and when I’m home I play records. But yeah, the Police, classical music. When I was in England touring last May, my band was playing Mac DeMarco’s [Salad Days], and that was fun because nobody was really speaking about it then. They kind of know more than I do. I feel like my strength is surrounding myself with people who have an ear for things and then they play it for me. I’m always looking, my ear is always open.