Empty Mansions: Sam Fogarino of Interpol [Interview]

Sam Fogarino, Empty Mansions, Interpol, Drummer

Looks like Paul Banks isn’t the only Interpol member with new tricks up his sleeve.

Ladies and gents, please welcome Sam Fogarino, as he steps out from behind the drums with his new band. Empty Mansions features Fogarino on lead vocals, guitar, keys, and, well, *cough* drums… The sonic stew is spiced up by Duane Denison (one of my all time fave, guitarist extraordinaire of The Jesus LizardTomahawk) and Brandon Curtis (Secret Machines) on bass and keyboards.

Empty Mansions was conceived on the road during an Interpol tour. Brandon was playing live keys for the band, while Sam was writing his own songs on the sly. After a show one night, the two ended up getting to talking, one thing led to another, yada yada, and nine months or so later, a record popped out!

Polished by Denison’s wiry licks and coddled by Curtis’ production chops, Empty Mansions is certainly a wild child. The man behind the mic is usually the one held accountable for such things, and Sam was gracious enough to answer some questions. Listen to ‘Lyra’ off snakes/vultures/sulfate while you read his musings:

Maybe an obvious question but: How does it feel to go from behind the drums to being a frontman?

Well, I don’t really feel all that much of a difference. For me, there’s no line of separation between the instruments I play when I’m chasing down an idea–be it of a melodic or rhythmic nature. With EmptyMansions (Interpol as well) some songs start from behind the drum kit. Not always with a defined beat, but rather a feel. That said, with the drum kit not being my sole priority, oddly, I feel a sense of freedom not having to anchor the band. I now get to steer the shipinto stormy seas, with someone else in charge of the life line!

Your drumming in Interpol was probably the most exciting and creative element of the band to me. How does your rhythmic sensibility inform the way you write songs for Empty Mansions?

Thank you. The biggest difference is that, the songs from one band to the other are worlds apart, stylistically. The drum patterns will change, but the sensibilities remain. In other words: same approach to coming up with totally different parts/beats/fills/et al.

What was it like to work with Duane Denison on guitar? Did it change the way you thought about playing or songwriting?

Getting to work with and befriend Duane, has been a highlight of the past few years. Only topped by the birth of my Daughter during the summer of ’09. An important thing that Duane gave me was a true boost of confidence in my songwriting– Simply by contributing his time and massive, unique talent to the record. He’s not one to blow smoke and waste his time. Plus, when on a few of the songs, he refused to re-record my original guitar parts, saying they were right on, and sounded great, I was blown away. Can’t argue with Duane about anything relating to the six-string.

What was the process like working with Brandon Curtis?

I don’t think there would be a record to release without him. The fact that we’ve played and spent a lot of time together on the most recent Interpol tour, I believe really aided in the process of making an album together. But, also, he understood, without question, just what I was aiming to do via EmptyMansions. After a short time tracking, we didn’t even need to speak to each other before trying out random ideas. Overall, it was a seamless process–Brandon’s abilities stretch far and wide as a songwriter, musician, engineer, producer. I’m lucky and better, having worked with him on-stage, and in the studio, and to have him as a friend.

Are you a gearhead? Does any specific gear inspire you? What piece of gear is absolutely essential to your music?

I’m a big gearhead (I ride a 1976 Honda MR175 Elsinore, which I tweak constantly. I’m a freak on both sides of the term!) Compression. I love compressors. In my rack I have about 16 channels of compression. Tube and transistor, from a Valley People Dynamite, to the recent re-issue of the Compex, the “Levee” compressor, famous for the drum sound on Zeppelin’s “When The Levee Breaks”…. There’s just something special about the way you can shape an envelope with them. Even when used conservatively; either as sonic glue, or to keep the peaks at bay, they’re the things that make good sounding records sound good.

The Empty Mansions bio lists some of your lyrical and musical influences ["Lyrically, the songs are the result of, Sam, reading much postmodern fiction by writers such as Hubert Selby Jr (‘Sulfate’); discovering an appreciation for aerial dance and a fascination with outer-space (‘Lyra’); the TV-drama Justified (‘Up In The Holler’), and Black Francis of Pixies fame (‘That Man’). Musically, Sam drew upon classic heavyweights; Neil Young (The closing track on snakes is a cover of ‘Down By The River’), The Stones, Zeppelin—filtered through his affinity with the likes of Sonic Youth and Pixies."] Are there any other less obvious influences you’d like to share (experiences or music that maybe doesn’t immediately come through in these songs)?

Along with the points of reference I site, there’s quite a big auto-biographical component to the record. Life lived has a lot to say.

What are you listening to these days?

I haven’t been listening to much lately. I’m in the studio just about everyday. If it’s not for creative purposes, it’s maintenance, or wiring, re-wiring, etc… When I’m not in the studio, I’m either riding, or working on my dirt bike. Then there’s Fatherhood. I’m not left with much mental room (or time) to just sit and listen to music….

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Empty Mansions – snakes/vultures/sulfate is available now on Riot House Records and