Interpol drummer Sam Fogarino just moved to the country outside Athens, Georgia, where he’d been living for about 10 years. As he described to me on the phone in late June, his new neighborhood is pretty much an enclave of clapboard buildings from the 1800s. We spoke about music, bikes, and touring on the eve of Interpol’s European leg to promote its new record Marauder, produced by Dave Fridmann and recorded at his studio, Tarbox Road Studios, in Cassadaga, New York, from December 6, 2017, through April 18, 2018. The album comes out August 24.
When did you catch the motorcycling bug, Sam?
A friend of mine acquired a Yamaha GT80 and his father ran a salvage yard. It was a summer job for me, and one of the guys who worked there, a motorcycle gang member, just threw me on a bike and pointed me down the street. I was speed shifting through four gears, and from then on I was hooked.
I couldn’t afford a bike then, and the bikes I rode would last a day or two before I realized the center block or something else major was cracked. Oil gushing everywhere; a seized motor on a bike that never really ran well to begin with…
About 10 years ago, I realized living in Georgia that off-road riding was my best bet. I bought a 1976 Honda MR175 and hit the north Georgia trails. I couldn’t wait every other weekend to hit the trails, so in 2013 I bought a 1980 Yamaha XT250 to ease my way back into riding, but then Interpol touring happened. Two years ago I found a mint ’79 XG500 on eBay, and rode it for six months until I hit a tree.
I destroyed the front end, and recently have been restoring a scrambler-style ’81 Yamaha SR250, which is almost done. I’ll see what happens with my bike situation once the tour winds down. I might just buy a BMW R nineT Urban G/S; I got to ride one when we headlined the Pure & Crafted motorcycle festival in Berlin last year. Our keyboard player Brandon is another hard-core motorcyclist and joined me on a test ride. The BMW bikes are so easy to ride, just like their cars. Butter. I felt like I could balance the bike on my two fingers, like a Bugs Bunny cartoon.
You guys have a new record and new tour starting. After six albums, how do you feel about Marauder?
We’ll probably go on tour for 18 months like we usually do. I’m really satisfied with the record; maybe it has something to do with age, but within the band I feel we went for where we wanted on this one and really nailed it. Like adept hunters having command of their prey.
Working with producer Dave Fridmann was a first for Interpol. We never went with a dedicated producer in the past; we’d skirt the line by working closely with an engineer ourselves. Dave knows what he’s doing, so it was his place to tell us what we didn’t know.
Was it your dream as a kid to play drums for a living? Who have been your main influences?
It certainly was, and at the time it struck me I didn’t know how to play anything. I remember the specific day in my premature brain that I wanted to play music for a living. I was about 8 years old.
Slowly but surely I found out the hard way how long it takes, if it ever happens. I was well into my 30s by the time Interpol’s first record came out. I dug a lot of ditches, so to speak, in the interim. The dream dream morphed and waned depending on my station in life, but it was always something I wanted to do and would be happy doing for a living. Here we are 16 years after my first Interpol album, still talking about music.
It must’ve been quite a treat opening for U2 during its 360 Degrees tour.
It changed my life. U2’s graciousness, camaraderie, and generosity as people was comforting. You hear these stories about up-and-coming bands opening for mega stars, but growing up playing music in Philadelphia I had bottles thrown at me, so I’m up for anything. I can’t get hurt!
The crowds were great, and watching U2 play was like going to school each night. What I tell people that despite the spectacle of that tour, at the center there were just four dudes from Dublin wanting to be a rock band. They maintain a pretty tight formation on stage.
Let’s not forget that U2’s drummer, Larry Mullen Jr., started the band. Just like Stewart Copeland started The Police.
And Topper Headon from The Clash wrote the bass line and piano parts for Rock the Casbah, basically the melody of the song!
Certainly a long way from playing your first Interpol gig at the Mercury Lounge in May 2000, eh?
My God, it was like riding in an old Cessna and hopping on a Learjet. It really raised our numbers a bit.
How do you stay fit and limber to beat your drum kit to death on tour?
Remembering that I’m not 25 anymore; diet is something that I’ve taken more seriously. Metabolism changes, and what you put in matters. Down South here my favorite exercise is chopping wood, which is great mentally while working so many different muscles. You can’t pummel the log, so it’s kinda zen to focus the violence on one log. You can’t be flailing that ax.
There’s a subtle dynamic to chopping wood, like playing the drums or riding a motorcycle. You can’t gun it to death or you’ll be scraping the pavement.
Are you the only Interpol motorcyclist?
I am; either I spend eight hours a day making music or spend that time at the co-op working on bikes. My bandmates have their own obsessions.
The great thing about living here is the ability to ride motorcycles safely. I joined a co-op called Bedlam Werks and it changed everything in terms of me and motorcycles the past few years. There’s something about living in a small town and having a place to go and a community that open things up.
I interviewed another motorcycle-mad drummer last December, Jorma Vik from Eagles of Death Metal and The Bronx. Who else in the musical community rides that you know?
No one else, really. Sometimes I’ll meet someone who shares the same passion.
Speaking of touring and riding, do you get out on a bike when you’re on the road with Interpol?
I thought about bringing a bike along, but because motorcycles are such a big part of my life away from the music I feel better keeping it that way when touring with the band. I get consumed with my bikes, from maintaining and upgrading them, even though I’m mechanically dyslexic. I need to be clocked off from work to really enjoy the bike.
Music is what gives me to have the opportunity to have free time to enjoy motorcycling, really. I have the rest of my life to learn more about motorcycles, to immerse myself in that world and watch professionals do it eight hours a day when I’m home.