Blues and Soul Music Magazine

Issue 1099

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Fitz and The Tantrums: Feelin' Pretty Fly!

Fitz and the Tantrums
Fitz and the Tantrums Fitz and the Tantrums Fitz and the Tantrums Fitz and the Tantrums

Having established themselves over the past five years as one of Americaâs hardest-working and exciting live acts, LA-based eclectic soul/pop sextet Fitz and The Tantrums this month follow up their 2010 breakthrough debut LP âPickinâ Up The Piecesâ with the UK release of their eagerly-anticipated US Top 30 sophomore set âMore Than Just A Dreamâ. Which, marking their first release for the Atlantic-affiliated Elektra Records, is currently being pioneered by its relentlessly-pounding, catchy US Top 100 offshoot single âThe Walkerâ, whose message of single-minded determination was inspired by the almost-mythical âSilver Lake Walkerâ, the shirtless (and now-sadly-deceased) neighbourhood fixture known for his perpetual power-walking around Californiaâs Silver Lake Reservoir at all times of the day and in all weathers.

A longtime studio engineer and aspiring musician, Michael âFitzâ Fitzpatrick first formed Fitz and The Tantrums in Los Angeles, California in 2008 driven simply by âa need to be creative and not lose my mind over a break-upâ. Putting together the band by recruiting a seasoned set of locally-based musicians - Noelle Scaggs (female co-lead-vocalist); James King (saxophone/flute); Jeremy Ruzumna (keyboards); Joseph Karnes (bass); and John Wicks (drums/percussion) - to join him, Fitz would quickly go on to record the newly-formed sextetâs debut EP âSongs For A Breakup, Vol. 1â in his home studio in the aforementioned Sliver Lake district of LA. Following which, with Fitz feeling strongly enough about the band to invest his life savings into the project, Fitz and The Tantrums would soon embark on a year of captivating audiences with their outrageously-entertaining live set which within months would garner them a reputation as one of the most exciting live acts in the country.

Nevertheless, it wasnât until March 2010 that the comboâs standout appearance at the feted SXSW festival in Austin, Texas would bring them to the attention of Fitzâs Silver Lake neighbours Dangerbird Records. Who, after signing the band in April 2010, would the following August release their critically-acclaimed, Sixties-pop/soul-influenced debut album âPickinâ Up The Piecesâ. Which, going on to top Americaâs prestigious Heatseekers chart while spawning two airplay hits along the way, (âMoneyGrabberâ and âDonât Gotta Work It Outâ), would in turn lead to an exhilarating and exhaustive schedule of high-profile TV performances, sold-out headline shows, and so many festival appearances that fashion bible âVogueâ would end up declaring them the âHardest Working Band of Summer 2011â!

Meanwhile, May 2012 would next find Fitz and The Tantrums - having now signed to Elektra - arriving at Hollywoodâs Sound Factory studios eager to channel the non-stop raw energy of their live show into the making of their by-now-eagerly-awaited second album, with Fitz this time instead of producing himself opting to enlist producer Tony Hoffer of Depeche Mode/Beck/Phoenix notoriety. All of which has now resulted in an arguably-more-contemporary, big-sounding set where the bandâs timeless soulful songcraft consistently shines through a diverse array of musical moods ranging from the spirited, springy bounce of âOut Of My Leagueâ and celebratory triumph of the punchily-anthemic âBreak The Wallsâ to the bass-prodded, soul-drenched shuffle of â6AMâ and the haunting closer âMerry Go Roundâ with its moving tale of the loneliness and sadness of being on-the-road.

⦠Cue the groupâs co-lead vocalists Fitz and Noelle taking time out from the hectic demands of their current US tour for an interestingânârevealing first-time chat with âBlues & Soulâ Assistant Editor Pete Lewis.
What they wanted to achieve musically with their new album

FITZ: âI think for us we wanted to achieve a lot of GROWTH on this second record. You know, if weâd just made Part 2 of âPickinâ Up The Piecesâ - the first album - I do feel that that would have been a bit of a cop-out, an easy path to follow. So when it came to writing this new one we really did set out to find a truly cross-genre record, one that was a hybrid of all the different styles that have influenced all of us and that truly showed the diversity of the six of us in the band and our musical tastes. Which is why, while for the first record we wrote 12 songs and 10 of them made it onto the album, with this one - because we really wanted to expand and evolve and take some chances - we ended up writing about 35 or 36 in about a month-and-a-HALF, going as far to the left and as far to the right as we possibly COULD. And then once 15 songs had emerged that were contenders, what happened was we took those and went into the studio where we eventually whittled it down to the 12 that ended up on the RECORD.â

How the group felt about getting away from the âretro-soulâ tag this time round and how that in itself has impacted on the music

FITZ: âWell with the first album as you say, there were a lot of people using words like âretroâ or âthrowbackâ. Yet to me while yes, âPickinâ Up The Piecesâ did draw heavily from the soul music of the Sixties and that whole Motown and Stax vibe, it was also drawing very heavily from all the British bands of the mid-Eighties that were looking at soul music as a point of REFERENCE. So as far as I was concerned, what we were doing was already a mixture of a lot of different lenses that weâd been looking through. Which is why with this new record, while we obviously still wanted to keep a lot of that soulful element, with me being as much a connoisseur of the whole Eighties period as I am a lover of soul music, we really wanted to bring all those new wave and new romantic influences more to the fore as well as expanding further by mixing it up with some hip hop production, a little indie rock and some pop songwriting elements too... And though while, once youâve had some success and gained some fans, you do find yourself going into the second record having all these thoughts creeping into the back of your head along the lines of âWould our fans LIKE this?â - especially when youâre trying to make some changes and evolve - luckily for me I did have one or two mentors and other musicians around that just said âLOOK, make a record that YOU love and your fans will FOLLOW!â - and so that sort of became our MANTRA! And whatâs been really incredible is that here in the United States this record has even surpassed the FIRST one - the reception has been INCREDIBLE! Which to us feels like a real validation of the chances we TOOK and the choices we MADE.â

How the huge amount of touring the band had done between albums also influenced the songwriting this time round

NOELLE: âWell, when you spend about four or five years on the road you not only get to know each other as a band and a family but you also, from your experiences of performing for people, get to know what your AUDIENCES respond to best. Like weâd often find ourselves messing around with tracks and speeding up a lot of the songs from âPickinâ Up The Piecesâ to really fit that live element of our STAGE performances. So what we found when Fitz and I went into the studio this time was that there was a definite growth WITHIN ourselves as far as the actual WRITING was concerned. You know, this time round we really did want to focus on things outside of just discussing LOVE. Because with us having walked the path of the touring world - which can sometimes be lonely and sometimes be fun and sometimes be extremely exhausting, often all at the same time - we really wanted to develop a record that was based more on STORYTELLING and bringing in the different EXPERIENCES weâd had, in addition to developing the songs with our AUDIENCE in mind. Because with us having developed such a high-octane show and a show that basically asks the audience to be the seventh member of the band - something which wasnât THERE when we wrote the first record - this time weâd be like âWould they sing this part WITH us?â or âCould this group sing ALONG here?â You know, that side of things really did make a DIFFERENCE.â

FITZ: âYeah, you do have to remember that as a musician and a writer you do write about your own EXPERIENCES. So while the first album was almost entirely a record about heartbreak and love lost and all the different stages of mourning the end of a relationship, because for the last four/five years weâve been out on the road, with this new one - as Noelle says - the lyrical themes are much BROADER. So while there are still stories of love - because weâre still all riding the wave of good and bad relationships and the successes and failures of all that - at the same time we do now have a song like âSPARKâ, which is about the journey weâve been on as a GROUP. Like at one stage it felt like, despite all the success we were having with the first record, there was still this almost dismissive attitude toward us in terms of people calling us a âone-hit-wonder bandâ or saying the success weâd had was a âfreakâ. Which is why that song is specifically about us conquering all that and saying âWeâre here to STAY!â⦠Then we also have a song on there called âMerry Go Roundâ, which is a pretty emotional one for me. Because it describes the chaotic journey weâve had and what it means to be a travelling musical nomad who had these dreams of being in a band and touring the world - but then when you DO finally achieve all that, what you realise is that along with all those dreams and the highs that come with it youâre now in this very disconnected realm of being in a different city every day and being separated from you friends and your family and your HOME. You know, itâs basically about the bizarre contradiction between the joy of achieving everything youâve always wanted and this kind of total isolation and loneliness that comes WITH it, where Iâm trying to capture some of what it feels like when youâre in a hotel in a town youâve never been to before and youâre on the seventieth day of touring and you donât know your up from your DOWN.â

The album âMore Than Just A Dreamâ and single âThe Walkerâ are both out now through Elektra Records/Atlantic.

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