Sam Fogarino Q&A

I had the opportunity to correspond with a musician that is already an indie rock legend; Sam Fogarino. He is best known as the drummer from Interpol and has also released an album under the name Empty Mansions.

Empty Mansions brings Fogarino’s talents to the table not only as drummer but guitarist and vocalist and he has brought along bassist/keyboardist/vocalist Brandon Curtis (Of the Secret Machines) and guitarist Duane Dennison (of the Jesus Lizard). If the lead off single “Lyra” is any indication we’re in for an LP of classic rock and roll cuts entitled Snakes/Vultures/Sulfate.

Have you always written songs?

Well, I started writing back in the mid 1990’s, but not ‘songs’ so much. Down in Miami, where I stared playing in bands, amidst the punk rock scene was
(and still is) a thriving noise sub-scene. The king pin, Rat Bastard [Frank Falestra], provided a forum for those who opted in splattering sound in leau of paint, or whatever, by often hosting a noise night at the (mainly) punk venue, Churchill’s. Having been apart of a few of Rat’s improv outfits, I became highly interested in creating bodies of ‘music’ that paid no mind to theory, or determinate pitch. At one point, I though about attending The School Of The Art Institute Of Chicago. At the time, ’96, they had an incredible sound installation program, that was totally based on ‘non-music’ I even went as far to petition the admissions board against having to take a still life course. What does drawling have to do with sound?! The head of the sound program was blown away, and called me. He said if my reel was strong enough, I was in, and would not have to take a still life class. Of course I never followed through, but ironically I ended up living in Chicago, where, during my time spent there, I got more into writing these short, a-tonal pieces. By the time I landed in NYC, a couple of years before joining Interpol, my noise started to take a more melodic shape, slowly morphing into a more common, pop structure. After becoming the drummer of Interpol, my writing slowed down a bit. For one, I needed to get normal’d to a very unusual band, in terms of the inner-dynamic, and the creative process. Then there was a lot of touring in a van…. But when we moved into a bus, and I finally could afford a laptop, I got back into working on my own songs again, while on the road.

How did you decide on Empty Mansions as an outlet for your songs?

It all came down to timing, really. Everything relating to the songs felt right for me to complete on my own, before involving other players. This is an approach I’ve only taken working on noise pieces, which obviously is quite a different monster from EM is going for.

Are the songs featured on snakes/vultures/sulfate songs that you’ve
held onto for a while or are they newer songs?

All the songs are relatively new, barring the bass line on the track “Led To Measure”. I actually wrote that bit during the sessions for Our Love To Admire, Interpol’s third long-player. It was for an entirely different song.

How did Secret Machines frontman Brandon Curtis become involved in the project? Was it a result of touring with him as a keyboardist?

Yes, totally. Close proximity aside, Brandon, fully understood what I was going for, probably before I even did! He’s just so easy to be around and work with for long periods of time. Plus, his talents are massive.

How did Duane Denison join the group?

Duane and I first met at a festival in Denmark back in 2003. He was very friendly and absent of pretension. But we did get back in touch until late 2011. One thing lead to another…. And the next thing I knew, Duane had played on most of the record. Lucky me. For real.

Do you guys get along and have fun when playing in Empty Mansions?

Thus far, yes. Very well I must say. We’ve all been at this thing for a while. And with EM, nothing is ambiguous. There’s no power struggles, no weird ego trips. Basically, we all know what/where/why/and when.

How has your experience in Interpol helped shape what Empty Mansions and Snakes/Vultures/Sulfate have become?

In certain respects it has. Otherwise the two share not a thing in common. Just the way it should be.

Have you had any challenges getting together the Empty Mansions project?

Yes, me.

What do you enjoy most about being in the driver’s seat, so to speak, on this project (Writing the songs, playing guitar and drums)?


Do you have any plans to tour with Empty Mansions?

Yes, the first leg will be 10 shows in late April. All will soon be announced.

What are your hopes for Empty Mansions and the debut album Snakes/Vultures/Sulfate?

I finished the record, and it will be released. We’ll leave it at that!