Albert Hammond Jr. On His Wine Seltzer Brand, The Strokes & Recording With Rick Rubin
The Strokes guitarist’s latest side-project is an “aspirational” wine seltzer brand.
Albert Hammond Jr. can’t help but feel like the best is yet to come. That’s as true for his ever-expanding JETWAY premium wine seltzer as it is for his main gig: Playing guitar for legendary New York rockers The Strokes, with sights always set on the horizon.
Like so many timeless ‘aughts tunes featuring his lively guitar, JETWAY was dreamed up after a night out with friends–this time in Italy, not NYC–as part of a quest to harness the refreshing flavor of an Aperol Spritz.
That JETWAY is newly available to order online is a testament to a small idea turned into the big-time, not unlike a scrappy New York band out to conquer the world.
“It was a special night with friends, and when you have a magic night that combines with a beverage or a food, it leaves something in your mind where you’re always wanting it,” Hammond Jr. told Maxim over Zoom. “I guess that’s part of what I was trying to do, as well.”
Hammond Jr. & co. experimented with everything from Prosecco to California wine recipes over the course of more than four years before debuting both a Rosé seltzer and a white wine seltzer last year.
Winemaker and brand visionary Ben Parsons (JETWAY’s chief operating officer) helped found the company, providing crucial guidance along the way.
Lest one thinks the product is like any other big-name seltzer on the market, think again: Just as with his expertly tailored onstage suits, the guitarist sees JETWAY as “aspirational” and “aesthetically beautiful,” not words typically used to describe the seltzer category.
Ingredients like elderflower and yuzu set the white wine seltzer apart from the pack, while orange peel and white peach are infused in the Rosé offering (Hammond Jr. prefers the white wine version, for the record).
The name JETWAY even evokes the golden age of travel, or a gateway to another, aspirational locale, he said.
Hammond Jr. notably took JETWAY on the road to The Strokes’ 2021 headlining set at San Francisco’s Outside Lands, as well as on the band’s 2022 summer tour with famed California rockers Red Hot Chili Peppers.
Consider it an undoubtedly refreshing bonus for visiting family members, friends and tour crew.
“I see it fitting everywhere,” Hammond Jr. said. “It’s definitely designed for something like a festival, where you could be drinking all day. It fits well aesthetically with music.”
Like trying to land on the perfect riff, the journey to develop the final two versions of JETWAY took some unexpected twists and turns, from dozens of can designs to (hopeful) future plans for a non-alcoholic version or a red wine edition.
“I could make a whole line of drinks and still never end,” he said with a laugh.
Hammond Jr. has a dialed-in vision for the future of JETWAY, remarkably similar to his game-changing sense of fashion: Creativity is at the root of the entire approach.
“I’ve been dressing myself or trying to figure something out since I was a little kid, and I never knew why. It was something that I just did,” he said. “I feel like that’s in a part of everything I do, I don’t think that would ever go away in anything that I do.”
Hammond Jr. sees JETWAY evolving into a curator of experiences, a company that can perhaps open pop-up bars and serve the product alongside wines and gourmet bites.
The future, of course, remains unwritten. You could certainly say the same thing for the illustrious trappings of Hammond Jr.’s main hustle.
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Early on though it might be in the process of making a record, what can Hammond Jr. divulge? For one, a creative wellspring was apparent in the lush mountain setting.
“I don’t think if I told you what it looked like and what it was, you’d fully understand the ‘magical-ness’ of where we were and how it was to record like that,” he said. “It felt really touching that one of his favorite recording experiences was this one he just had right now.”
It’s anyone’s guess when the finished product will grace the airwaves, but the guitarist knows this much: He said it has the potential to be better than anything the band has done, including landmark 2001 debut album Is This It.
“I really think what excites me about wanting to play music and continue doing it is, I don’t think we’ve written our best songs yet,” he said. “I really feel that in my gut.”
Gratitude is also at the root of what Hammond Jr. does.
“I can’t believe I still get to play music… I take nothing for granted,” he said.
Hammond Jr.’s vision is focused forward, but opportunities abound to glance if briefly in the rearview mirror, including the recent 2000s-era NYC rock documentary Meet Me In The Bathroom (named, of course, for the 2003 Strokes classic).
The band, naturally, are a driving force in the documentary and IRL, paving the way for a creative explosion in the indie rock world two decades ago.
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“It felt pretty magical when I joined the band and met everyone,” he said. “It felt like magic. From that moment, before those songs were there, I felt all of this.”
Through two-plus decades on the road and in the studio, his creative flame burns as bright as ever.
“I can’t tell if sometimes, you just need to believe in something so much or else you’ll just quit. he said. “I don’t think I could ever stop. …Playing music isn’t something you quit. You play music, you don’t ever quit that.”
Along the way, the guitarist has survived the band’s peaks and valleys, launched his own solo career and started a new kind of seltzer brand.
Musically and creatively, he takes one thing to heart as he plots a future course.
“I’m better now than I was before, and that’s enough.”