Something that always appealed to me about Interpol was its exactness. The clean, sharp tones exuded throughout Interpol’s first two albums, Turn on the Bright Lights and Antics, led me down a path toward more economical pioneers of the genre Interpol so lovingly revived. For all of Interpol’s cleanliness, its drummer Sam Fogarino’s debut as EmptyMansions is as gritty. What both acts and - I am told - Fogarino’s first band, the Holy Terrors, have in common is a virtuosity in any live atmosphere, small club or super-sized venue.
Fogarino’s solo debut, snakes/vultures/sulfate, is one of those lucky releases greater than the sum of its (many) influences. A long-time fan of the Pixies, there is no shortage of motifs here (but, thankfully, not the overdone loud-quiet-loud thing). One song, “That Man”, even name-checks Frank Black outright, but fortunately, and a little oddly, it’s delivery brings to mind something closer to Cop Shoot Cop.
More than anything, though, snakes/vultures/sulfate sounds more like a paeon to Fogarino’s beginnings and favorite things (song subjects run the gamut from TV show Justified to aerial dance). A notable Neil Young influence permeates the album; a nod of acknowledgement comes in the form of the closing cover of “Down by the River”, but such tributes are filtered through effects from the harsher side of early indie rock; that Duane Denison of Jesus Lizard played guitar on the album ensures this much. More importantly, a noise rock edge is lightly felt, which is not surprising considering Fogarino’s early bands, such as Florida’s The Holy Terrors and Gus. The Holy Terrors’ guitarist, Dan Hosker, unfortunately passed away last year and is commemorated in the album’s liner notes. Fogarino’s Florida background is evident in the southern rock swampiness that saves some songs, like the honky-tonk noise conglomeration “Sulfate”.
Live, there are moments when all of these influences surprisingly converge into something a bit reminiscent of Sparklehorse’s harder material. This is actually even more preferable a path than the many taken on snakes/vultures/sulfate, as some of the muddier passages are channeled through something more tuneful. Or at least such was the case when Fogarino brought his band to Brooklyn’s Knitting Factory.
Although the capabilities in a live setting were always there, Fogarino’s command of an audience is something new. Although it’s not exactly show-boating, his stage presence is far more outgoing than anyone’s in Interpol (although bassist Carlos D was known for showing off, it was still in an aloof sort of way). The Knitting Factory crowd was small, which allowed Fogarino to interact with individuals on multiple occasions. This made for a laid-back atmosphere; however, as with most bands Fogarino is associated with, the music was tight and precise. Despite snakes/vultures/sulfate sounding very much the product of studio treatment, in the live setting all effects were recreated fairly faithfully. Fogarino’s vocals came across as a bit clearer than on record and, although his musicianship is definitely his stronger asset, this was not a bad change.
Due to snakes/vultures/sulfate being only eight songs in length, the EmptyMansions set was filled out by a cover of Low’s “Lullaby”. Seeing as Low’s minimal songs share little in common with EmptyMansions’ noise-rock experimentations, the nine-minute song was clipped and mutated, yet still managed to gain a position as the set’s breather. The Neil Young cover followed suit, sounding less hollow than on record, but still coming off as more valiant rendition than bar band cover. The placement of it in the set also seemed like a wiser choice than its placement on snakes/vultures/sulfate. As an album closer it feels too late in the game. Seeing how Young’s music had a notable influence on snakes/vultures/sulfate, it doesn’t feel as teased out as it maybe should have. Placing the cover higher up on the album could have served as both an intermission and a knowing nod to a somewhat unexpected reference point.
After the set, Fogarino graciously stood around to chat with a few fans, even obliging a guy who ripped the black cover of his snakes/vultures/sulfate vinyl in order for Fogarino to sign it. On stage and off, Fogarino presented himself as a consummate gentleman using his fame to bring more obscure corners of his history nationwide. Hopefully he will continue to do fans of any portion of his discography proud.