Fairmont: Okay with Not Making It
Neil Sabatino has been there and back again. He’s shared the stage with punk rock legends, pop-punk icons and emo heartthrobs. He’s played Warped Tour back when not too many people could say they have, and he’s even been in a band with My Chemical Romance’s guitarist Frank Iero.
Sabatino’s also seen the dark side of the industry. He’s fought with record labels and band mates alike. But all this is just fuel for the creative blast furnace Sabatino uses to write his music in the band Fairmont.
Unlike other bands Sabatino sees burning themselves out by making getting signed to a major indie label their only goal, he and his band mates are in it all for the long haul.
This long haul first began for Sabatino when he joined his first band in 1993.
“I did the typical first band that goes nowhere,” he said. Called Little Green Men, it was Sabatino’s first chance at writing songs. The band experimented with all kinds of music from a Radiohead sound to ska punk, but a lack of dedication from the singer caused Sabatino and the band’s drummer to move on to Stick Figure Suicide.
Having joined the band in 1997, things began to move for Sabatino. In 1999, Stick Figure Suicide won a battle of the bands contest that allowed them to play the local stage of Warped Tour. This was in Warped Tour’s early years when there were fewer stages and few bands got the chance to play. To play the New Jersey local stage meant a band was going places. Yet he wasn’t ever happy playing punk music, so he eventually left Stick Figure Suicide for the band Pencey Prep. It was in Pencey Prep that Sabatino played with Frank Iero and future Fairmont bassist John McGuire.
“That was my first experience being on a more indie record label,” he said about the band’s record label, Eyeball Records.
Despite the great success the band had, internal disputes climaxed on a three-week tour and meant the end of Sabatino’s stint with Pencey Prep.
Although they played a sold-out show with Thursday the first night, an unreliable van began the tour on the wrong foot.
“It broke down before we even left on tour,” he said. The van had a leak in the gas tank and could only be filled up three-quarters of the way.
As the band reached Minnesota, long drives added more tension. There, the van completely died and it cost $660 to get it out of the shop. Taking refuge with Sabatino’s in-laws in the town of Fairmont, the band booked a last minute gig.
“It [was”> a shitty Monday night bar show,” Sabatino said. Upset about having to play to only a few people, some members of the band refused to play. The whole episode left a bitter taste in Sabatino’s mouth and caused fighting once the band got back to New Jersey. Sabatino finally quit.
Angered by his former band mates and other disagreements with Eyeball Records, Sabatino began writing songs about what he was going through.
“That was the fire I needed,” he said.
One week after being kicked out of Pencey Prep, he had written eight songs for a demo.
“I called my friend with a studio and said I needed to record this by the end of the week,” he said.
Thus, Fairmont was created.
“We went through a whole bunch of lineups in the beginning,” he said.
Sometimes, friends would play in the band, but they couldn’t do it full time. Other guys would fill in from The Multi-Purpose Solution and American Degenerate. If Fairmont was going on the road, the first person to try out for a spot would end up in the band. Every couple of months, Fairmont had a new lineup.
The Fairmont of today is one of maturity and a steadier lineup.
“We all love just playing music,” Sabatino said. “There’s no drama in the band.”
They have now had the same drummer, Andy Applegate, for the past three years. According to Sabatino, Applegate really rose to the occasion of Fairmont’s diverse sound.
“I’m lucky I found him,” Sabatino said. “We can pretty much knock out a brand new song in like an hour.”
As a whole, the band has been working on improving their sound. On top of Applegate tightening up his drumming and McGuire taking bass lessons from a friend, Sabatino has been taking vocal lessons. He hopes people will notice the band is paying greater attention to the details.
“This is how I always pictured the band would sound,” he said.
The best way to describe Fairmont’s sound is diverse. From acoustic to electric, Sabatino attributes the band’s diverse sound to the wide variety of music he listens to, which ranges from Bob Dylan to jazz to Aqueduct.
“I think I’ve always been just a gigantic fan of all different kinds of music,” Sabitno said.
Because the band’s sound doesn’t match what he calls “an already saturated music scene” in the New York/New Jersey area, Fairmont doesn’t get a lot of attention there.
“Any time you do anything original, you’re going to suffer it,” he said, but he thinks the pain and anxiety of being overlooked by major record labels helps him write better songs.
After the band’s first record came out, Sabatino sent copies to everybody he could think of. Everybody who got a copy really liked it, especially if they knew about the Pencey Prep situation.
“I was pretty proud of it,” he said. “Especially to know that you did it all yourself.”
He still looks back and thinks those were good songs.
Today, Sabatino teaches technology and helps with special education children. The job has so many sick days and school holidays that it works perfect along side the band. The money he earns allows Fairmont to put out the records they want.
“When you go with a small label, they only have so much money,” he said.
Fairmont’s latest album, Wait and Hope will be released along side a tour in August. Sabatino said this album would be more upbeat than previous ones because he was listening to classic punk when he was writing it. He nicknamed it a record of pop revenge anthems.
“We’re already not banking on this release making us,” Sabatino said, and added that he thinks it will take more records and more tours before that will happen.
In the mean time, Fairmont is planning to branch out to other parts of the country. They hope to play shows in Portland and Seattle, as well as Philadelphia.
“We’ve done pretty good in Chicago and Minneapolis,” he said.
Despite having over a decade of experience under his belt and an industry resume that could put most people to shame, Sabatino and his band mates are happy where they are.
“I’ve accepted the fact that I might go my entire career without getting the respect I feel I deserve,” he said, and added that when all is said and done, he just hopes Fairmont was important somewhere in the history of music.