Interview by Charlie Weinmann
Photos by Jason McDonald
It’s been seven years since The Strokes released their record, Comedown Machine. A lot can change in seven years, and for a band to come together again after so much time to create something new is something to admire. For the band’s drummer, Fabrizio Moretti, re-establishing a vibe with the band mates he grew up with was just what he needed after making music more or less on his own since 2013. Despite the time that had passed, The Strokes were able to craft this new music, with the help of legendary producer Rick Rubin, which rings familiar to their signature sounds, yet sprinkled with new energy and life. The new record, The New Abnormal, seems to be aptly titled for the times, though it was completed before the pandemic gripped the world.
I chatted with Moretti on the last day of April about his experience making the record, reconnecting with his band, as well as another project he’s been working on, which he has designed to be inclusive of artists all around the world.
CW: How’s quarantine been for you? What’s been keeping you busy?
FM: Music, and I’ve been learning how to cook, and I’ve been doing some painting on the side. I’ve been reading. It’s been tough, man, I gotta tell you. I’ve been feeling for everybody.
I agree. It’s a fortunate thing to be healthy and to be able to do things, like cook. I’m glad that you’re healthy.
Yeah, there’s that underlying sadness, that during this time, somewhere not too far from where you are, somebody is suffering. Many people are suffering. And many people are putting themselves on the line to alleviate that suffering. That’s pretty intense.
Absolutely. Well, I’d like to ask you about the new album. My favorite song so far has been “Eternal Summer.”
Me too. Well, maybe it’s my second favorite.
What’s your first?
“At The Door.”
What do you like about that track?
I think it’s the furthest we’ve traveled from ourselves but still maintaining our DNA.
What was the process of writing and recording the music like for you? How long of a process was it?
It was a long process. We started with the demos here in New York, and we sent those demos off to Rick Rubin to see if he would want to work on these songs. We wanted to present him with some material. He said “yes,” and then there was some time in-between that, until we got to his studio. He encouraged us to jam every morning to see what would come of us being together in this place, sequestered in this place called Shangri-La.
Most of the songs came from us jamming and building an idea. It was very cool how he knew to reinvigorate the band; he needed us to be a band again, to be all in the same room just jamming, and not worrying so much about ‘writing a song,’ or ‘parts,’ but just feeling each-other’s vibes out.
That’s a cool approach. When did that happen? When were you guys doing the bulk of the writing?
It was a while ago. The past is a muddy haze, man, I don’t even know how to bring it together. It was a long time, though. It took us a while to finish.
Did you have anything specific you wanted to accomplish with the drums for the new record? Did you have any ideas of what you wanted to achieve?
No, because we were really kind of sailing on this wave of interaction, you know? Like feeding off of one another in the moment. With the band, we have a history of playing each-other’s instruments, and making up parts for one another, but in this case, we really just sat at our posts, and vibed out with one another.
I think that having Rick there, as the captain, who we all wanted to respect…not fear, but like, you know the way one fears something grander than them? Like Kierkegaard’s “Fear and Trembling.” We need to pay homage to him and to listen to him. And to trust him. And sure enough, he was a guiding force that made us all congeal.
What can you say about making music in that space, at Shangri-La? It’s a legendary recording studio. Had you ever worked there before?
Never. I had never even met Rick, so the initial thing was walking in and feeling nervous about meeting him. You walk in, and it’s all this kind of white-washed house with these long corridors; you’re walking into this altered place. You look around, and you see all these instruments, and you’re told by the people that work there that “you’re able to play around with any instrument you like. Everything is fair play here.” Then you realize you’re holding an acoustic guitar from the ‘30s, and everything is sacred, and there’s a bus out in the back that was Dylan’s touring bus. It’s all just magic. “The Last Waltz” was filmed and recorded there. It was pretty cool.
I’m envisioning you guys “sitting at your posts,” and I assume for you, you mean the drum kit–what would you say is most unique, or most different about your drumming on this new record compared to what you’ve done in the past?
Well, I had a very clear view of Rick’s feet from where I sat. He was always there from noon to seven, which is something that I wasn’t expecting; he was very hands-on. And we would jam, and play the tunes, and I would see his feet tapping to the beat. And then, I would try and get more complicated and do more fancy stuff, and I would look at his feet and they would immediately stop. I started to train myself to play beats that would keep his feat tapping; less about playing what’s fancy, and more about keeping his feet tapping. It was really about the groove and less about trying to be a ‘snappy drummer.’
It’s got to be about the song! So, it’s been seven years since the last Strokes record–one’s musical taste, and understanding of music is bound to change in that time…How would you say that your thinking on music has changed since the last Stroked record, and how has that influenced your contributions to the new music?
In that time, I was really building music at home, and doing things by myself became easier and easier…you start on this path feeling you can do everything by yourself…everything is accessible, every sound, if you’re willing to pay enough, you can have it. You’re spellbound by that for a while and start writing music, but it’s kind of influenced by that…I felt particularly that I reached a point where I discovered that my solitude wasn’t beneficial anymore, and I missed the influence of my compatriots, my fellow musicians. Not that making music by yourself isn’t fun and rewarding, but there’s certainly an edge that you get to, or at least I did, where you know you can’t go any further by yourself. It was nice to come back after so long to a room…actually, probably if we had kept on going, I would have taken this for granted, but after having stopped for so long, coming back to these people who not only understand me, we understand each other in a subconscious way. We feed off of each other without even knowing how we do it. It’s a very rare and precious thing.
Yes, it is. How old were you guys when you started playing together?
The first time I played with Nick, I was thirteen. And then Julian and I started playing together soon thereafter. I think our first show, I was fifteen.
That’s a lifetime of playing music with someone. Very valuable indeed.
When I listen to the new record, there are sounds and beats that make me think of ‘80s music. What is your connection with music from that time period? How did that time period influence this record for you?
I mean, it’s not like we’re going for that sound, but I think certain times we land there because of the nostalgia for that time. We were all children. I guess we were forming our musical opinion without even knowing it. It’s like it’s a color that we can paint with to evoke a certain nostalgia as a bed for a melody, or for a vibe. In terms of practical thinking, it’s not like I personally seek out inspiration from ‘80s drummers–although Phil Collins is a pretty awesome, all around musician. He’s someone that I aspire to be like: somebody who can write music as well as they can play the drums. And vice versa.
I also wanted to congratulate you on the new Machinegum album, Conduit. I was recently turned on to it, and what you guys did with the art exhibit earlier this year was really cool. What excites you most about that project, and how does the way in which you approach that music, artistically, compare to how you approach your role in The Strokes?
You know how I was telling you about how I was making music alone in my kitchen? That was Machinegum. That’s almost a funnel for me to be able to get out my emotions, or to exercise my personality. Because even when I bring a melody to The Strokes, I have such faith in Julian’s lyrics, that I don’t bring lyrics. That’s his job. And it’s actually very fun to bring a melody and see how he responds lyrically to it. But there is that part of me that wants to express stuff lyrically, too, so Machinegum became sort of my exhaust pipe to do that.
What really excites me about that in the future, is that maybe I can cultivate it in a way to become independent from me. I’m trying to build, or at least I’m trying to think of a way to build, a stage upon which the musician and the listener can have a reciprocal relationship. I want to make art with people who I don’t know. I want it all to be under Machinegum. That seems like an exciting future. We recently made a video that hasn’t come out yet, which we started before the Corona Virus, and we just asked people to mimic and act out these directions that we gave them, to show this community that pans out across the globe. I feel like now more than ever, we have so much power and technology in the communal mind, and we’re exercising new and bold ways of expressing that because of the confines of this sad, sad time. It’s a very lush moment for ideas. … Hopefully you’re a part of Machinegum, you know?
I think it’s a novel idea, and I support it one-hundred percent. I just have one more question: what’s been inspiring you recently in the art world, whether it’s music or anything else…?
Yeah, I mean, it’s almost like what isn’t inspiring these days? But, I recently got to do a collaboration with Sotheby’s, where I curated this process of witnessing these paintings. It was centered around the same principles, the importance of the individual, but also of the individual in a collective, or group. I built this maze, that compromised the view of these paintings, where you could only really see the whole thing if you were standing by yourself, and you got this moment to really witness the painting, and have a quiet moment…to allow yourself a quiet moment with art…that’s been pretty inspiring.