Posted On 24 Jun 2016
Since forming in 2008, Fitz and the Tantrums have always been a band hell-bent on evolving. Having made a splash with the soulful R&B-revival sound of their debut album, 2010’s Pickin’ Up The Pieces (released on Dangerbird Records), the band offered up a New Wave-influenced dance-pop sound with its Elektra Records debut, 2013’s Heatseekers No. 1 More Than Just A Dream, which featured the gold-certified and #1 Alternative Radio singles “The Walker” and “Out of My League.” The album’s success sent Fitz and the Tantrums on a two-year touring odyssey, which enabled the Los Angeles-based sextet — known for its explosive, no-holds barred live shows — to cement themselves as one of the country’s hottest live acts.
“We felt incredibly validated by the reception to More Than Just A Dream,” says the band’s co-vocalist Michael “Fitz” Fitzpatrick. “We knew we could pull from many different styles and create a truly hybrid form of music, and do it in a way that felt authentic. At that point, we felt even more empowered to do whatever we wanted creatively.” But when it came time to write the songs for Fitz and the Tantrums’ third album, it became clear to Fitz and his co-vocalist Noelle Scaggs that they were suffering from a classic case of writer’s block.
It was January 2015 and the band, which also includes James King (saxophone, flute), Jeremy Ruzumna (keyboards), Joseph Karnes (bass), and John Wicks (drums, percussion), had barely been home since the release of More Than Just A Dream two years prior. Cooped up with each other in an insular environment on tour had taken its toll. “The last album was made super fast and in something of a bubble,” Fitz says. “This time there was a lot of massive change happening for all of us personally, so once we put our roots back in the ground at home, I needed someone to hold up a mirror and say, ‘Where are you right now, as a human being? What do you care about? What do you want to say to the world?’”
To hold up that mirror, the band turned to outside collaborators for the first time — the songwriters and producers Sam Hollander (Panic! At The Disco), Wallpaper’s Ricky Reed (Twenty-One Pilots), Jesse Shatkin (Sia, Matt & Kim), and Joel Little (Lorde), which gave Fitz and Scaggs an opportunity to answer some tough questions. “We relinquished control of ourselves,” Scaggs says, “and that enabled us to tell our story in a completely truthful manner.”
The result is Fitz and the Tantrums’ most emotionally connected record yet and one that centers on the theme of desire. “I wanted to explore this idea of desire in all of its forms,” Fitz says, “from primal, sexual desire on a song like ‘HandClap’ to the desire or need to belong on a song like ‘A Place for Us.’ Desire is one of those emotions that really forces you to turn your brain off and just feel. That’s just the nature of it. And that lends itself really well to us making a record that provides a soundtrack for people to access that emotion no matter where they are. If you’re getting ready for work in the morning and you’re thinking, ‘Ugh, I hate my boss,’ you have access to this music anytime that just changes the molecular structure in the room. It changes the energy.”
One of the first songs written was the first single “HandClap,” which garnered over a million streams on Spotify its first week out. A tale of lust and animal desire, contrasted with the desire to not be alone, “HandClap” set the tone of the album right away: “I was searching for something that felt visceral and edgy,” Fitz says. “As soon as that moment happened, I was relieved. It felt like the compass — that theme of letting go and losing control — had been set. And it found its way into the rest of the album.”
Learn more about Fitz And The Tantrums in the following All Access interview:
Thanks so much for your time today! How is 2016 treating the band so far? What were some of the highlights of 2015 for the band and your music?
2016 is looking really exciting. We have the new album coming out June 10th, and we’re about to start touring for that. Fingers crossed, but this album feels really good.
This June, you will be releasing your self-titled album. How do you think your sound has grown over the years? How does this record reflect that?
I would say that with each album, we are realizing more and more who and what we are musically, and with every song we make, we try to move closer to that.
It’s a constant process for any band or artist, and all you can do is to obey the muse.
With More Than Just A Dream, we were able to go bigger and really flesh out our sound in ways that we hadn’t before.
We called this new album Fitz and the Tantrums, because we are really coming into our own and discovering even more of our potential. You can hear it in the beats and in the production and in the feeling you get from these songs. It hits deep and it hits hard.
Do you think that you all work together differently now? How have the dynamics changed over the years?
Well, we’ve been playing together so long that we have an almost psychic connection onstage. Like, I can finish John (our drummer)’s musical sentences onstage, and vice versa. And that goes for all of us. And we’ve really learned how to harness all of our collective energy and shoot it out towards the audience like a crazy sonic cannonball. It definitely makes for a great show.
Can you talk about the first single for you forthcoming album, “Handclap”? How did it come together? What was the inspiration for this song?
Handclap is just one of those songs where all of the elements just work together so perfectly. I love songs where there’s not only a vocal hook, but a sonic one as well. The handclap in this song is just as important as the lead vocal in terms of driving home that hook. Plus it’ll give the audience a chance to get some when we play it live.
It’s simple, driving, and relentless. Which is how I would describe our band as well.
What was it like getting back into the studio after the break and putting out “More Than Just A Dream”? Did you ever feel kind of pressure to release more hits like “The Walker” and “Out Of My League”?
Sure there was pressure, but the thing is that since the beginning we have always put pressure on ourselves to deliver the best music possible. So in a way, this was no different. The real difference is that once you’ve had some success, you know that a lot of people will at least give you a listen.
The other interesting thing is that now we have the live show in mind while we record. Like on Handclap, where the claps work as a musical hook, but also we can envision the synergy between us and the audience even as we are in the studio. So in a way, the line is blurred between the album and the live show.
You’ve got an extensive upcoming summer tour planned. I am curious to know how you keep up the energy night after night? How has your tour rider changed this time around? Are there certain things that you can’t go out on tour without this time around?
Well, the rider is getting healthier, that’s for sure.
People still picture touring as this nonstop party, but this ain’t the 80s. When you’re on the road, you really have to take care of yourself. If Fitz or Noelle lose their voice, we have no show and the whole thing grinds to a halt.
The funniest thing for me is after meet and greets, where you shake 100 peoples’ hands and it’s flu season. So immediately afterwards, our tour manager puts a bunch of hand sanitizer on our hands. It’s automatic at this point.
Can you recall a favorite show in the past? What do you think makes an amazing performance for Fitz And The Tantrums?
We’ve had some really fun times onstage. Actually, when you’re on tour, most of the day is incredibly dull, so getting onstage is the time that we get to have fun and release all that pent up energy.
I make it a point to always have fun no matter how big or small the show is. But anytime we get to play our hometown is really really special, because we’ve been gone from our friends and family so long, and we get to come back and see everyone and show them what we’ve been up to. We did the Palladium and it was fantastic.
What artists continue to inspire you and the band’s music? Who would you still love to work with in the future?
I’m always inspired by anything soulful, and I’m also really inspired by a lot of the new and creative things that are happening in electronic music. I guess I’m always looking to the past or to the future for inspiration.
At the end of the day, what do you hope is the message of your music? What do you hope listeners take away from your songs?
Really, beyond the lyrics and the literal meaning of any song, the most important thing is how you feel when u listen to it. If we can take you on a journey where we lift you up really high, and also explore some dark emotional territory, but then make the whole thing into a crazy, neon-bathed celebration where you come out the other end feeling cleansed and purified, then we’ve done our job.