An Interview with Samuel Fogarino
by Alexander Laurence
Interpol has recently replaced The Strokes and The Yeah, Yeah, Yeahs as the next IT band. Believe the hype, this band rocks. Interpol was formed in 1998 when they met at NYU. Between 1998 and 2000, they perfected their unique sound in the city's decrepit rehearsal rooms. In 2000, their original drummer, Greg, left the band. Interpol decided to try out Samuel Fogarino, whom guitarist Daniel Kessler knew from the store where Sam worked.
With a revitalized lineup, Interpol resumed live shows at venues including Brownies, Mercury Lounge, and The Bowery Ballroom. Throughout 2000 and 2001 they opened for indie favorites like Trail of Dead, Arab Strap, and The Delgados.
Interpol's first release, at the end of 2000, was the third installment of the "FukdID EP" series on Chemikal Underground label. Around the same time, the band also contributed "Song Seven," to the Fierce Panda Records compilation, Clooney Tunes. In April 2001 Interpol played in Glasgow, Manchester, and London, capping off their visit with a session for the famed John Peel on Radio One.
In November of 2001, the band tucked themselves away in Connecticut at Tarquin Studios to record their debut full-length, Interpol (Matador). The album was recorded and mixed by Peter Katis (Mercury Rev, Clem Snide) and Gareth Jones (Wire, Clinic.)
I spoke to the drummer and met the other members of the band during a date on their sold out tour of America that started at the end of August.
Interpol is: Sam Fogarino (drums), Daniel Kessler (guitar), Carlos Dengler (bass), Paul Banks (guitar and vocals)
AL: It's funny how people compare Black Rebel Motorcycle Club to Jesus and Mary Chain and Interpol to Joy Division. They think that Paul sounds like Ian Curtis. Interpol has way more guitars that Joy Division and Joy Division has a bass guitar as a lead instrument which Interpol doesn't really.
Sam: I can hear it a little bit. Nobody denies it. But Paul is a 24-year old man. He had never heard of Joy Division until two years ago, and he's not the biggest fan either. Personally, Paul is way more melodic and intoned. Ian Curtis was like this monotone. God bless him. I am not dissing him.
AL: Did you always play in bands? I knew you because I used to see you in Williamsburg all the time.
Sam: I was musically active for ten years. I played in a few bands. The original drummer Greg left amicably. I had always known Daniel. I met him through a mutual friend in Chicago over the phone. I wanted to go see a Firewater show at Brownies. I got put on the guest list because Daniel worked at Jetset Records.
AL: How did some of the early EPs come about?
Sam: Emma and Paul from Chemikal Underground did this "FukdID" series a la Subpop. It was like a limited edition EPs that they do every year. I was aware of this series and Interpol had done one in 1998. I was in this other band The Tonups which was my first New York band.
AL: The Tonups were another well-known Williamsburg band.
Sam: Yeah. We had a really good 7-inch called "Kill Me Slow." I was friends with Doug Henderson who recorded all the Chemikal Underground stuff. He knew I was unhappy in the Tonups. He thought that Greg was the weakest link in Interpol. The Tonups was like a garage rock band. If they would have come out now, with The Hives and all that, they would have done better. It would have been cool.
AL: It's all about timing.
Sam: Bad timing. Daniel and I had always talked about music. Then at the end of 2000, Interpol put out this self-released EP. Daniel called me around then. We had been out of touch for six months. He said "I really think that we should meet up." We had always talked about doing something. By then it seemed like a good idea. It was very serious. He gave me what has been dubbed either the "Precipitate" or "Grey EP." I took one listen and thought "that's it, I'm in." I had one rehearsal with them and next thing you know I am playing a show. Next thing you know we are doing a Peel Session.
AL: You played out in the local clubs for a while?
Sam: Yeah. For the first year that I played in the band and we played all the New York clubs like Brownies, Mercury Lounge, and Knitting Factory. The whole New York thing was bubbling under. It was a phenomenon. John Peel was already playing the previous EPs at that point and that caused an international interest. We were invited to do a John Peel session. From there we were invited to do a festival in Brittany, La Route du Rock. From there we started talking with Matador Records and things have been crazy ever since. I joined at the perfect time. All these EPs came out then. We started writing a lot of new songs.
AL: People always ask me what's going on musically in NYC? It's so diverse and big that there's never been one thing going on. So till now, where there's been this focus on rock bands, you couldn't really describe any one thing that was prevalent.
Sam: Yeah. I always thought interesting stuff was going on in New York. The media decided to shift its lenses over to New York at some point. I was enamored by New York from the early 1990s with bands like Cop Shoot Cop, Foetus, and The Swans.
AL: There's always been this mythos that drew people to New York. That you could be Andy Warhol, and start your own Factory, and all your friends are like Edie and Nico and Lou Reed.
Sam: Exactly. Hence that place Luxx in Williamsburg.
AL: If you are a guy you want to be Warhol or Lou Reed. If you are a girl you want to be Edie. Or maybe you saw Breakfast at Tiffany's and have modeled yourself after Holly Golightly. Those are the icons that in the mind of anyone who has moved to NYC in the past thirty years.
Sam: That's so true. Definitely.
AL: The Strokes sort of fit the mold of an Uber-NYC band. Have you been on tour all year?
Sam: Not really. It seems like it. In the past year we have been back and forth to Europe. Mainly in England in France. This is our first proper American tour. This is the first time we will leave the northeast region. After we did the Peel Session in early 2001, we did a small tour of England. We did one show last year at La Route du Rock in France. We got invited back which is a rare occurrence. We have been to England a few times. We played at the Reading Festival. I had never been to Europe in my life. It was great. I have always been curious about seeing London.
AL: So how is the American tour going so far?
Sam: I expected to have maybe this nice, humble crowd of fifty to hundred people. It would be a handful of the alternative set who like to check out new music and who are curious and excited about new music. But what happened is every show except one has sold out in advance. We are playing two nights at the Troubadour in Los Angeles our first time and it's sold out. What the fuck is going?
AL: What is all this focus now on New York bands about?
Sam: I am friends with Nick from the Yeah Yeah Yeahs. He's on tour with Jon Spencer and The Liars. We have never done a show together, but maybe we will. I have been in New York and living there for almost six years now. It was funny. After we got back from our first stint in England, the NME put out this article "We (heart) NYC." What is going on? If you are in the eye of the storm everything is normal where you are at but there is all this shit swirling around. You can't feel it yourself. But all the eyes of the world think that there's this big scene going on. Everybody wants to know what it's like. I don't know. I live in a loft and I play with my cats. I go to the Verb Cafe or the Broadway Diner. We have been busy doing these tours and we haven't settled down and thought about the scene. I just live there.
AL: Since they had already done some recordings, how do you write songs now that you are in the band?
Sam: I was excited by the sound. I could sympathize with it, because I was actually working on my own music at the time. I wanted to go in that direction anyway. I saw that Paul and Daniel had a better grip on it. I thought that I can just play drums on this and I don't have to add anything musically. I did bring keyboards into the band. I got the repertoire down and then I assimilated their very open process of writing songs. If someone brings in an idea and it sticks and everyone latches on, then it becomes a song. If people ignore it, then you let it go. Usually Daniel is the instigator. He comes up with ideas for songs. Paul writes all the lyrics.
AL: What about "The Specialist?" That is a favorite song in the set. How come that was not included on the album?
Sam: Yeah. It was a battle. We didn't want the album to be too long and a burden to listen to. It was hard to decide which songs make it on the album because you have recorded a lot of songs and you like all of them. What is going to be a B-side is a difficult choice. The resolve was that some songs are going to have an existence: they won't be on the album, but they will be on an EP. It will see the light of day. "The Specialist" will have its own special place! It ended up on the first single that Matador released.
AL: You probably hate to hear this question: many people compare your band to.... Kiss! (laughter) Around the time of Dressed To Kill....
Sam: I think we are more Rock and Roll Over to tell you the truth....
AL: Somewhere between Kiss and Joy Division?
Sam: That's great: "Transmission" meets "Dynasty."
AL: I was in the Kiss Army when I was ten.
Sam: Me too. Kiss lead me to The Cars which lead me on to The Clash and Elvis Costello. It snowballed. I liked all the Classic Rock bands too like Zeppelin, The Who, and The Stones.
AL: Some members of Interpol were born in England?
Sam: Paul was born in Essex. Daniel was born in London. Paul left Essex quite young but he has lived all over the world. His father worked for a big corporation so the family moved around a lot.
AL: What other hobbies do you have?
Sam: None. Now it's just playing and touring and traveling. When I worked at Beacon's Closet I spent most of my time buying the music and records. I wasn't too involved with clothes. I take a lot of photos. I am the tour documentarian.
AL: What expectations should people have when they come see Interpol live?
Sam: They should have no expectations and come and be surprised. They can smoke pot or take speed: it doesn't matter to me. That's the thing that bugs me about Joy Division: we are not always this depressing and hyper-serious band. There's a lot upbeat stuff and different moods. There's a cinematic quality about the music of Interpol. That's our common ground. Musically there is no common influence. We do have an affinity with film, atmosphere, and different literatures, and that has more influence on what we do than a fucking Cure song.
AL: Have you seen any movies or read any books recently?
Sam: The only film that I have seen recently is Trouble Every Day, a film by Claire Denis. It's beautiful and sadistic as hell. We all read a lot. I am reading Before Night Falls and Perv; a love story by Jerry Stahl. Next I am going to read Helter Skelter. My mother read that in the 1970s. I had the 45 by The Beatles. I put two and two together and say I am going to play music now. It's just too much.
AL: Are you going to release more EPs?
Sam: We are going to release some singles, b-sides, and live tracks. After this month-long tour we go to Europe for five weeks. We are going to tour the USA again in the winter and early 2003.