Twenty years is a long time in any industry. Creating and releasing impressive music with one group for 20 years in the ever-changing music industry is a miraculous accomplishment. Fairmont just hit that milestone this week. Founder singer/guitarist Neil Sabatino stated Fairmont as an acoustic solo project but quickly blossomed into a full-fledged major player on the New Jersey music scene. Twenty years of writing high caliber songs, releasing EPs and albums, playing shows both small and large, including festivals. A lot of blood, sweat and tears go into fronting a band and that Sabatino has done so at such a high caliber for two decades deserves to be celebrated. That he did this while running his label Mint 400 Records?
But don’t take my word for it. Here are what some respected people in the music industry have said about Sabatino and Fairmont.
Fairmont has a natural intuition of what makes a great song. Pop sensibilities that also edge their way into new musical territories, pulling in lots of influences to create something that is reflective but also stands totally on its own. And that voice! Eat your heart out, Dawes! – Renee Maskin
Neil is a one man music industry. With his band Fairmont he takes all the passion he puts into the Mint 400 Records empire and blasts away on music that swallows and channels over 60 years of rock n roll; everything from Beatles 65 to the Front Bottoms S/T. Fairmont we salute you! – Glenn Morrow | Bar-None Records
The two words that come to mind about Fairmont are persistence and evolution. The band has continued to change and grow despite whatever setbacks, personnel changes, or worldwide pandemics get thrown its way, and I’m always looking forward to hearing what comes next. – Jim Testa | JerseyBeat
Since the beginning, Fairmont has always had a way of combining familiar-enough songwriting with stripped-down fundamental sounding recordings. Although their sound tends to vary across different albums, they always find a way to equally invoke the big production and hooks of The Shins and Nada Surf as much the sound of early 60’s Beatles and Kinks recordings, and the end result is always songs that feel timeless. – AJ Tobey | Bankrobbermusic, Rough Trade Publishing
Fairmont sits in the sweet spot of songwriting and indie rock by incorporating all sorts of sonic textures and skills while avoiding the deathly trap of over indulgent repetitive one trick ponyisms. They continue to excel and improve and uplift as the years pass, without decaying sonically. – Nicholas Maratta | Cantations, Shithead’s Rainbow, Cantations
Along with Sabatino, Fairmont’s current line-up includes longtime collaborator multi-instrumentalist Christian Kisala, bassist Matt Cheplic, keyboardist Lisa Grabinski and guitarist Evan Pope. The band shows no signs of slowing down and are in fact releasing some of their best music with recent albums such as last year’s Liminal Spaces. That’s why we are thrilled to premiere their new song “Tomorrow’s Sun”. The track will appear on A Retrospective 2011-2021 out this Friday and will include never before heard mixes and a live song. The video was created and directed by El Valerie.
I asked Sabatino some questions on 2 decades of Fairmont.
What accomplishments are you most proud of in your 20 years with Fairmont?
Well first and foremost to keep the same project going that long took a lot of effort. I definitely contemplated renaming it or starting fresh a bunch of times. In the early days we were proud of how much we toured and how many people saw us face to face. Over the last 10 years though with the rise of streaming music we exponentially way surpassed the amount of people who have heard us. I’m just glad we have done things like charted on the NACC charts with all of our recent records and have gotten sync licenses. In the end all of that means people actually heard the music I recorded in my basement. That’s always been the goal and we always did exactly the kind of music we wanted to. I’m so happy with the friends I got to play music with especially in the last ten years so the journey is what I’m most proud of.
Did you see the band going this long when you started out?
Yeah, I kind of knew I wouldn’t stop making records for a really long time. I just had so many styles of music I wanted to try out and so many things I wanted to say with that music. In recent years it’s been much more about exploring musical styles and figuring out the strengths of my current lineup. I feel like in some of our newest materials we wrote things that are structurally interesting and hopefully more aesthetically pleasing to the listener than previous albums. Although I can’t complain at all, I’ve really liked the direction of the band for the last 10-14 years. I just felt the first decade we were figuring a lot of stuff out and now we kind of hit our stride with the last few records so it sometimes feels just as new and fresh as ever. It took us almost 15 years to really make a dent in radio but we are so happy that our last few records charted pretty high and stayed there for multiple weeks, this last record for 4 weeks!
Why do you consider your 2008 album Transcendence the “best I have in me”?
At that point I wanted to really try to make the band a career and I put so much focus and effort into that release. I felt like we pined over every musical decision and brought in Christian Kisala who really helped us step up our musical acumen. It’s one of the few records I’ve ever done where there wasn’t any tracks I look back at
and say “Oh I wish that song wasn’t on there or I wish I did that differently”. I think it’s also one of our most accessible poppy albums. I personally love the album but like other stuff we’ve done after that way more, but as an listener I guess I thought if someone is asking me what’s the best Fairmont album, I would think they might enjoy that one the most because of the production, the band, the orchestration and instrumentation, the big over the top choruses of people singing and so on. That album to me sounds like it could be a Broadway play as it has a little bit of a story to it and things like and intro and reprise with the same refrain. I think it was just the most ambitious I’ve ever gotten with a record, but at the same time immediately all the press we got was bad. Later on, like years later it started getting more attention from sync licensing and other press outlets that we didn’t even approach so I knew we must’ve done something right. But initially it was soul crushing so when we moved onto doing more records I just kind of said to myself I’m going to do exactly what I want to do and how I want to do it and I don’t care if I’m the only one who likes it. The result was our EP The Meadow At Dusk which was our first album to
chart with CMJ and I’m pretty proud of that one too but people seem to like Transcendence the best from our catalog. So “the best I have in me” was more for the way people view the band and not necessarily how I feel about it.
Back in December you released a Spotify playlist called ‘Songs That Inspire Fairmont’s Songwriting’. What do you look for in other artists’ work for inspiration?
I don’t know anymore but I know it when I hear it. Someone smarter than me can probably look at the list and tell you why I like what I like. I think it all has a pop element to it but it also has somewhat of a dark element to it. Some of it just is so connected to a time and place for me that I don’t even think it’s about the music. Other times it’s a lyric that really hit home. It’s all about vibe, and the songs on that list have the right vibe to resonate with me. Like a good song makes me want to pick up my instrument and write, so that may not be the same for other people but every song on that list just made me want to create. Subconsciously even though it’s a very schizophrenic list I think there’s a little bit of all of that in what I write. It’s almost like let’s say your cooking and you taste fennel for the first time and your like that’s an interesting taste and then you try maybe adding that to a vegetable and later on
maybe adding it to something sweet like a cookie. That one little taste changes the flavor in an interesting way. Is that a bad analogy? So like taking Neil Young vocals, throwing in some Smashing Pumpkins electric guitar, Tom Waits chord structure, Beatles harmonies, modern Fountains of Wayne production on 60’s style material, a little edge in the bass like Joy Division, Ivy-ish backing vocals, Geowulf synth tones, Coconut Records vibe, it’s just like taking the right spices, getting them together in the blender to make something where all the pieces compliment each other.
Do you pay attention to things like Spotify plays and video views and are they somewhat a measure of success?
For me it’s not because this band existed before all of that and our records have been on every service starting with mp3.com. So the real numbers would be exponentially higher and I’m not going to drive myself crazy trying to explain to people why one of our older albums sold 3,000 CD’s and had 40,000 streams on Myspace but now has like 5 on Spotify. It’s a different time, fans moved on and hopefully we’re making new fans. I have far more respect for bands who don’t pay for clicks and let people discover them organically. Organically people have been
discovering parts of our catalog that I definitely was not promoting and I think that is great. I love when you find a song by an artist that nobody else seems to care for but you love it and see something special in it. Don’t worry, some day there will some new service and some bands will measure their worth by the streams on that service. Remember PureVolume.com, we had pretty good real streams on there too and now nobody cares so why should I.
What still excites you about creating music after all this time?
I think all of it. I love the writing process of just sitting down with a guitar and figuring out a whole song and then bringing it to my band to see what they think and how they interact with it. For me at this point especially since Covid it’s been all about the songwriting process. I demo stuff a lot more nowadays where as I used to just bring it practice and see what they think. I think because of that I have developed the songs a little more before my band hears them. For me I can’t imagine living a life where I’m not creating something. Even if it gets to the point where I
don’t share what I’m creating, I will always be creating. I don’t know any other way to fill my spare time.
Will Fairmont play live again sometime soon?
We have our Retrospective of 2011-2021 coming out this month and we’d like to go out and play a set of songs from it but have mostly been working on just recording in the last year. Because of Covid we really took a step back and kind of used the space to reflect on moving forward in a different way. Right now we finished the Diana Ross song that just got released on the new Mint 400 Records movie comp and we finished a new song for the Retrospective. I also am in the middle of producing a few records, one of which is for our bass players other band The Bitter Chills. So probably when that wraps up Fairmont will start work on a new EP, which was written over the past year, but I haven’t really sat down with everyone to work out parts. Shows will come once we get back into a regular practice routine but I think it will only be a handful as we are having more fun recording and writing than
the whole affair that playing a show is. Also now my kids are older and demand a little more time from me so that is a factor as well. So short answer, yes I think you will see us live again at some point and it will be mostly from the Retrospective we are putting out.
What do you hope for Fairmont in the next 20 years?
Another few albums would be great. I run into so many talented people running a record label that I’d love to collaborate more and have guests on a bunch of future stuff. I feel like I still have more to say and write. I don’t really feel the need for a quota though either. I kind want to make sure whatever I put out into the world is worth putting out there. So who knows…
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