An Interview with Samuel Fogarino
by Alexander Laurence
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
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)
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
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
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
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
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
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.