Veteran artist, songwriter and producer Albert Hammond has crafted hits on three continents during the past five decades for scores of artists. He’s most recently been working with Duffy on her new album, Endlessly. Here he gives us an insight into creating the hugely anticipated follow-up to her debut Rockferry
Q: How was it you came to work with Duffy?
A: My wife was watching TV in New York one night and she called me up when I was in LA and said, “I’ve just seen a white girl that sings like a black girl and her name is Duffy and I just saw her on some late show.” This was like two years ago. That was the first time I heard of Duffy and I immediately YouTubed her and started to look into Duffy a little deeper and I thought, ‘Gosh I would love to write with this girl.’ So I sent her a letter telling a bit about who I was and that I wanted to write with her. The word came back that Duffy would like to meet me at the Grammys. That’s the way it worked out. I went down to meet her at the hotel and I actually had a bit of a tune and a title which was Don’t Forsake Me. I just mentioned to her that I had this title in my head that was called Don’t Forsake Me and she didn’t say much. About a half and hour later when I said I have to go and you have to go to the Grammys and da-da-da and she said, “I love the title Don’t Forsake Me.” When can we write it? That was the beginning. I said, “Whenever you want.” And she said, “When I finish with the Grammys can I come over?” I said, “Yeah.” So that night she didn’t go to any parties but came over to my place and we wrote the song. That was the first song.
Q: What were those writing sessions like?
A: First writing session she came for five days and she was staying in the hotel opposite my place. She would come over and say, “I had this dream about this and da-da-daaah.” Or I would say, “I was messing around with these chords and this thing came up.” Really it is the most 50-50 thing that I’ve ever written with anybody. We really looked forward to every day. It was really fantastic.
Q: What is unique about Duffy?
A: She has a colour of voice that is different from anyone else. You think of Al Jolson having an immediate colour to his vocals. If you heard Al Jolson you would immediately know that’s him. Nobody else would sing “Maaaammyyy how-I-love-ya how-I-love-ya…” like he did. The colour of the voice. I mean, Willie Nelson… If you listen to Willie he just has that unique sound. Same with Roy Orbison or Johnny Cash, Neil Diamond, Julio Iglesias – these people all have a colour of their voice. You recognise them immediately. And Duffy has that. She is totally recognisable. And she also has this beautiful voice that you can’t help but fall in love with. It is just an amazing thing. I think that is what makes her so unique. She is also… I don’t like to use the term ‘old-fashioned’ but something about her sound comes from the past. You hear a little Phil Spector and old girl groups, but you also hear Etta James. You hear blues and old ’50s and ’60s pop. And she is not that old. She is 26 years old. So it isn’t as if she grew up with that. She just has it. She’s an old soul. That’s what she is. She’s an old soul.
Q: How would you put Duffy in the context of the international scene?
A: Well she’s as international as they come! Duffy works no matter where you put her. There is a simplicity about her. The way she stands. She just has that something special. It is hard to come by and it is something that I personally treasure.
Q: It seems that the flavour of this record is so much lighter and happier than her first album. Do you agree?
A: I think the reason is that the first record took four or five years to be made and it was done by a bunch of different people. So when the record was put together, if you hear pain it was probably because it took a lot of pain for it to be put together. This was done by two people who sat down to write great songs. And two people who fell in love with something and just carried that love on through the songwriting and the singing and the production and the making-of and everything. I think there is the difference. Two writers only instead of 10 writers.
Q: What were the sessions like?
A: The sessions were good, exciting, stressful – it all depended on what day and what was going on. Not everything is roses. Some days were hard because we couldn’t get the demo feel and that was better than what we were doing. We’d ask ourselves, “Where are we missing out?” We’d go back to the demo every time because it was so important to keep that magic.
Q: Was there a stage in the recording where you realised you had something extraordinary?
A: I think we knew that from the moment we wrote the songs. I don’t think that at any point in the recording process did we ever think any less than when we had put the songs down. The excitement was there from the very beginning.
We knew we had special children here and we wanted to make sure that they were kept in the right environment and not be abused and treated right and all that kind of stuff. Which is what you would do with your own children.