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Posted November 6, 2013 by Jeff in Tunes
 
 

Fitz and the Tantrums: Finding out exactly who they are

Fitz and the Tantrums
Fitz and the Tantrums

It didn’t take long for the neo-soul band Fitz and the Tantrums to pick up steam. The band practiced only once before playing its first gig.  The group’s full-length debut, 2010’s Pickin’ Up the Pieces, yielded the infectious single “MoneyGrabber” and led to bookings at Lollapalooza and other major fests. Singer Noelle Scaggs phoned from a Clifton Park, New York tour stop to talk about the band’s new album, More Than Just a Dream, and the current tour.

Talk about what made you want to join the group in 2008.
It was pretty much the music. I had been in a band for a very long time prior to joining this one. You just know it. The synergy was there from the beginning. [Singer] Fitz and I sang together and our voices blended really well. It was one of those magical happenings. This music spoke for itself. The energy was bouncing off all of us.

Did you share a love for soul music?
Yeah, and that’s why the other members were chosen. The music was based upon the Motown/Sax period. James [King] knows how to get the horns to sound right. He knows where to take it and how to modernize it in that way. I come from a hip-hop world. I grew up in the ‘90s and listened to Tupac and A Tribe Called Quest and stuff like that. It brought a different level of performance when it came to the live show as well. It gave it more of an organic appeal.

You guys started playing live almost immediately after performing. How was that possible?
It’s the level of musicianship. We were well-versed in getting things together that quickly. When you’re doing your first show at [Los Angeles’] Hotel Café, you’re probably playing for 25 minutes, so you’re able to make it work. You can make a lot of magic happen in five songs by extending sections. As we progressed, we developed more material.

How’d you get the gig opening for Maroon 5?
[Singer] Adam Levine was at a tattoo shop in New York and his tattoo artist had listened to us on [the influential radio program] Morning Becomes Eclectic, which was our first radio appearance. He brought home the EP and was listening to “Breakin’ the Chains of Love,” the very first song we wrote. He tweeted about it within the hour. He really liked what we were doing. We invited him to a show and next thing we knew, we were getting an offer to tour with them on their college tour. We took it and it was great.

Talk about recording that first EP. It sounds like it was a real DIY affair.
As was the first full-length record. We had a little bit of money but it wasn’t sufficient to take it into a studio setting and hire an engineer. Fitz had come from the world of doing engineering so he was versed in being able to put it together. We recorded everything in his living room. That shows the technology. You just have to have the ear. Other artists have pulled it off too. Young the Giant just did the prerecording for their second album in this house they rented. It’s amazing the things you can come up with.

More Than Just a Dream was recorded at a proper studio. What was that experience like?
I wouldn’t say it was drastically different. For us, it was really different having a producer. Having that outside-looking-in person allowed us to let go of things that we were trying to hold onto. It gave us a cohesiveness with the sound. [Producer Tony Hoffer] would say to the six of us, “I know you want to do this but let’s try it this way instead.” To have that communication happen was really cool. It really challenged us. He’s an amazing mixer as well and we could really fine-tune things before we even got into the mixing process.

We made a rule that there were no rules as to what we were going to do; we were just going to create the best songs possible.

Is “Out of My League” written about an actual relationship or is it fictional?
It’s not really based around anyone. It’s a late night unexpected happening. We wrote it as a ballad at my house. We thought there was something there and I recorded a demo for Fitz. I was a little bit nervous. It was early in the writing process. We made a rule that there were no rules as to what we were going to do; we were just going to create the best songs possible. For me it was so far left. I heard it as a British rock band singing it. I didn’t know if it would fit for us. Fitz loved it. We tweaked it more. It’s just about how you’re crushing on somebody you think might be too good for you.

Some reviews have noted that the album sounds more like it’s evoking the ‘80s than the ‘60s. Is that accurate?
Yeah, that was something we wanted to bring forth more. We didn’t want to get pigeonholed as a retro ’60s band. We knew we had more to offer. We were trying to bring forth those small elements that might have been lost but still push forward that modern sound we were going for on the first record and really find those elements. The ’80s synth thing found more of a presence on this album. I have to give credit to Fitz and Tony [Hoffer] because they come from the same mind when it comes to that love of music. We wanted to make sure we were bringing a modern sense on the lyrical tip. We just decided that that was what we would do. We had been on the road for nearly four years. We had the experience of performing in front of crowds and making them sing along and seeing how they interact and we wanted to bring that into the song and make sure the songs translated in that way. We were writing the chorus to “The Walker” and we could hear the crowd singing along. It turned out to be this fun record that you could perform live.

And yet you still have your identity on the album.
Yeah. That’s what we were going for. With this record, you’re really finding who you are. We found our voice with the EP. We wanted to know how we could progress. We didn’t want to repeat what we did on the first record. Your sophomore record either makes or breaks you. You already have that pressure. The worst thing you can do is stick to something, especially if you’ve broken out of it. We’ll still be attached to those songs. We’ll have that vibe. Our fans have taken the journey with us, and we’ve gotten new fans as well.


Jeff

 
Jeff started writing about rock ’n’ roll some 20 years ago when he stood in the pouring rain to hitch hike his way to see R.E.M. on their Life’s Rich Pageant tour. Since that time, he's written for various daily newspapers, alt-weeklies, magazines and websites. Feel free to comment on his posts or suggest music, film and art to him at jeff@whopperjaw.net.