Rhythmic Empath

Like few units before or since, New York’s Interpol truly truly embodies the city’s sound and spirit. Oozing style and sophistication while maintaining a streetwise disposition that reflects the grit and grime as much as the beauty, the band’s musical landscapes sweep from ambient waves of melodic melancholy to driving bursts of pulsating tension. On their sixth and latest studio release, Marauder, drummer Sam Fogarino wanted to tap into yet another element of the city—its swing.

By doing so, Fogarino succeeded in creating a recipe of his own that drew not only from his own classic-rock drumming heroes, but from famed R&B players and producers. Marauder’s powerful opener, “If You Really Love Nothing,” has an infectious, galloping swing that sets the tone for the entire record. “Those grooves are like riding a horse,” Fogarino offers. “Once you hit the pocket, it just glides and plays itself.”

For Marauder Interpol enlisted producer Dave Fridmann— famed for his work with Mercury Rev, the Flaming Lips,
and Tame Impala, among others—and opted to record the entire album analog. The inherent parameters of recording to tape pushed the core of the songs to the forefront, that core being the three strong musical personalities in the group: Fogarino, guitarist Daniel Kessler, and singer/guitarist/ bassist Paul Banks. Sonically, Marauder finds Interpol at the intersection of where they’ve been and where they’re going. We spoke with Fogarino right as the media blitz for the highly anticipated Marauder was beginning.


 

MD: Is Marauder Interpol’s first album to be recorded to tape?

Sam: To this degree, yes. We kept the chain 100-percent analog. Every record we’ve done has been analog on the front end, using tape as a preamp of sorts for the notion of warming up the digital files. Dave Fridmann took it old-school. If it hit tape, it wasn’t just to grace the tone. It was performance-related, because of the freedom that you don’t have with a tape machine as opposed to the laziness created with the luxury of digital technology. When recording to tape, you have to prepare for the performance; there’s no fixing it in post-production. That’s the biggest benefit of recording to tape—you have to have your performances together.

MD: Was the decision to go all-analog part of a discussion the band had with Dave Fridmann before entering the studio?

Sam: We didn’t really discuss anything ahead of time, and that was the whole point of working with Dave, who’s a proper producer, so to speak. We didn’t worry about the process. We trusted his experience.

MD: As you mentioned, all past Interpol records were recorded to tape, but then dumped to Pro Tools for post-production. Did it rattle you at all to learn that this album was going to be analog all the way?

Sam: I didn’t have any trepidation. I’m fifty years old, so recording to tape is not novel to me. The first time I recorded was in 1984 at a community college, and that was to half-inch 8-track tape. So I was totally up for it, because it’s in my muscle memory, and I found it exciting. It really locked the band in, in ways that I can’t really explain. I think the [performances] speak for themselves. When I was tracking, Dave would say in the moment, “Make it feel this way,” and we’d hone a given part in the moment. It was a very liberating experience. The whole statement was about being a band.

MD: What’s your attitude toward using a click track?

Sam: I love the click. The click is [my] homeboy. It reveals itself when it’s appropriate. Aside from recording, I think
a good test for using a click is playing the song live. If a song’s personality comes off while you’re governed, then it’s great, and it’s meant to be. But if the song seems to suffer or feel really stiff, then forget it, and allow those fluctuations. Lately, the whole band has been trying to decide what’s going to be on the click and what’s not, and thus far, it’s been pretty interesting.

Some songs tend to get really fast
live. It’s kind of horrifying, when you can measure how some of our older songs
end up being like 10 bpm faster on stage. Sometimes that still works, and you leave
it alone because people are used to those interpretations. And then sometimes you’re like, “Wow, we’ve been playing this song
like shit for ten years.” [laughs] And when that’s the realization, you bring it back by introducing the click, and it re-informs the whole intention of the song. Sometimes
the aggravated energy of live performance mars those songs. And we have this duality between playing these driving, 16th-note punk-rock songs, and then slowing it down and getting mid-tempo and ethereal. On stage it’s sometimes hard to switch those hats, because you either feel in the role or you want to play on top of every beat, and the click will just go, “Nope! This is how we’re gonna do this, man!” So I love the click.

MD: For songs that were recorded to a click, have you ever bumped them up a few bpm for live performances?

Sam: Yeah, dude! In fact, you’re kind of reading my mind, because I just did that
the other day without telling the band. [laughs] Sometimes just bumping up 
the bpm by one or two keeps the energy from falling behind, which is what usually happens when there’s discomfort from my tempos being anything close to empirical. Sometimes I can really feel it, and maybe I’m not relaxed enough to allow them to gain a little swagger. It’s amazing, when you’re metering it, how much difference just one bpm can make. Depending on the type of song you’re playing, it can make all the difference! Whereas other times it can be like five bpm plus or minus, and it still feels relatively the same. It’s mind-boggling.

Sam Fogarino

MD: In addition to going all analog, did the band and Dave set any other parameters for the recording process?

Sam: I think Dave didn’t want to go past what was afforded to us by the tape; we couldn’t rely on having endless tracks and independent playlists. In addition, as much as I like it, on our last album there was so much midrange going on. There were tons of guitars, as well as space filled up with keyboards and strings, that it created this solid block, which has the potential to kill any dynamics happening above or below that frequency. Dave steered away from that. We decided to keep it simple, or keep it to what was there at the core of the song. To intentionally leave space is cool, because in the digital domain it’s so easy to default to filling all the space with extra sound.

Dave steered that, and it made things more exciting as a result because the initial intention of the songs stayed intact. And that always starts with just the three of us, with Daniel being the only one playing guitar, Paul playing bass, and me playing drums. That’s what you hear on this record because that’s how the songs were written. When we were writing these songs, we’d always record these simple room-mic demos, and you can kind of hear that spirit on the record. It wasn’t that those demos presented a finished product, but they were songs that sounded fine with just those three voices, and I think Dave fed off of that.

MD: That said, are what we hear on the record primarily full takes?

Sam: Pretty much. Dave would sometimes comp multitrack tape, which is so old- school. It’s brazen! Editing with razor blades. That’s what’s so impressive about him. He jumps between the analog and digital worlds with relative ease. It was always his decision, which made it so easy for me to play my parts and not worry about anything else—not about how it sounds, about what it was being recorded to, what kind of compressors were engaged….

After I was done tracking, I had fun marveling over what was happening, and I was a total geek about it. That’s when I started asking about what compressors or mics he used on different records, or about his time in Mercury Rev. He was such a sport about it.

Sam Fogarino

MD: Was there anything about Dave’s studio that surprised you in regards to his approach to miking and recording drums?

Sam: Yeah—he did all of it! But it was minimal at the same time. There weren’t a ton of room mics, and it was amazing because the sound of his room when you hear it on playback defies where the mic was placed. It would seem like a mic would be placed way too close to its source, but it would still have so much ambience. He just knows his room. It hasn’t really been treated to be a [typical] studio either. It’s just kind of a living room with the ceiling removed and vaulted, opening up to a loft. Those were my burning questions: “Did you treat this room or have it tuned? Did you design this room to sound the way it does?” Before I could even ask the question, he told me that he used to have a partner at the studio back in the day, and they just went into the room, clapped, and said, “Yeah, this is it—this is cool.” He’s a teacher as well, so he knows what “proper” is, but he knows that some things are not meant to be empirical. It’s subjective.

MD: Speaking of empirical evidence, everything you’re saying validates my experience when I first heard the record. My first impression was that it sounded like I was in the room with the band. It was voyeuristic in that way, like you’re watching a band at their rehearsal space without the spectacle that comes with a concert experience. There’s an honesty and vulnerability in that.

Sam: I would agree, and I’m glad you hear that. That’s what’s fun about listening
to Zeppelin or the Rolling Stones or any true rock band with a guitar/bass/drums configuration. You can hear the band as a whole, and it’s exciting and natural.

MD: Being that the studio was an atypical drum room, is there a specific kit setup that records well in that room, or did you use your own kits? I know you’re playing a Gretsch Broadkaster now.

Sam: I used a frankensteined C&C kit comprised of components from three 
of my C&C kits. All of my C&C kits are based off of Gretsch kits in regards to the bearing edges and the wood selection and plies, 
so that was [the reason for] the switch back to Gretsch.

MD: Were there any particular drummers or styles that inspired your parts on Marauder?

Sam: There were my go-tos of John Bonham and Charlie Watts, but I also got hooked
on the idea of making this record swing
in spots. I’ve toyed with it in the past, perhaps implying a swing. But this time I wanted to do it for real, and so I listened
to old Otis Redding. I also listened to what Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis did rhythmically with their drum programming on Janet Jackson’s Control record. They had such a cool interpretation of what the drum parts should be on that record, and I can almost picture two drummers being needed to play that stuff. I was a teenager when that record came out, and at that point I didn’t care so much about lyrics and such, and I wasn’t really empathetic to the songs melodically. But what really got me was how amazing those drums sounded, whether they were real or not. The minds that created those parts [make for] one badass drummer. To my weird brain, some of those beats could have easily applied to some of the metal songs of that period; it kind of smeared everything together for me.

MD: The album’s press release mentions how Paul’s lyrics got more personal on this record. When you’re in the writing process, are the lyrics written, and how does that affect your awareness of how what you’re playing might be clashing with a melody?

Sam: The melody is usually intact pretty early on, but Paul waits for the final hour
to write the actual lyrics. So that and the intention of the song are what he pains over. There’s always been a good rhythmic and vocal-melody relationship. And that’s not my intuition, that’s his rhythmic intuition, which aids [my ability] to accentuate rather than step on the vocals. Paul is very open about borrowing from the rhythm. He finds melody in the rhythm. It’s all rhythm at the end of the day—it all has meter—but how he adds musical value to that is a testament to his own badassness.


Sam Fogarino

Fogarino’s Setup

Drums: Gretsch Broadkaster in Crème Oyster Nitron finish 6.5×14 Keplinger stainless steel snare (10-lug with die-cast hoops)
9×13 tom
14×14 floor tom 16×16 floor tom 14×24 bass drum

Cymbals: Dream
15″ Dark Matter hi-hats 18″ Dark Matter crash
20″ Bliss crash-ride
20″ Dark Matter ride

Hardware: DW, including a Machined Direct Drive single pedal with Danmar Zoro white felt square beater, and a Machined Direct Drive hi-hat stand

Sticks: Vic Firth 5A wood-tip (white)

Heads: Aquarian, including Performance II, Reflector, Hi Frequency Resonant, and Classic Clear snare side