Fitz & The Tantrums:
More Than Just A Dream
photos / David Joseph Perez
story / Jessica Rounds
Only 3 years after exploding onto the indie scene with their chart-topping debut album Pickin’ Up The Pieces, Los Angeles-based sextet Fitz & The Tantrums have given us another high-octane album full of genre-defying gems on More Than Just A Dream. Laced with raw energy and a contemporary sonic force that bids you to jump up and dance, this album fuses a kaleidoscope of sounds into a bold pop punch that sends you reeling, and coming back for more.
“We always envision our music as a celebration,” says frontman Michael “Fitz” Fitzpatrick, donning a shiny, fitted black suit and sunglasses, looking ready to party. “The first record was 60’s Motown soul in the foreground and 80’s new wave in the background, and then a third layer of a little indie and hip hop. On this record, we kind of reversed it where the 80s influence and the indie are more in the foreground, but 60s soul is still there. For people that loved the first record, there’re still a ton of songs that are the through-line from the last record to this record, and then we’ve just gone to these new places.”
New places is an understatement. The only rule on this album is that there are no rules, and the hybrid of styles and sounds that should repel each other ultimately cohere in vibrant harmony. Songs like the exhilaratingly catchy first single, “Out of My League” brim with the soul and vivacity that translates into their famed live shows.
Fitz & The Tantrums, comprising Fitz (vocals), Noelle Scaggs (vocals/tambourine), James King (saxophone, flute), Jeremy Ruzumna (keyboards), John Wicks (drums, percussion) and Joseph Karnes (bass), played their first show in 2008 at Hotel Café in Hollywood, and they haven’t stopped since. Their irresistible tracks purveyed the indie scene, eventually garnering unanimous critical acclaim, and propelling them into a demanding regimen of TV performances, nights opening for bands like No Doubt and Jason Mraz, sold-out headline shows, and nonstop festival appearances.
Bottom line, they relentlessly busted their butts to give their audience an outstanding show night after night. (And speaking from experience, the band’s passion and chemistry culminate in an unforgettably FUN live performance where band and crowd alike are impelled into states of ecstasy.) Describing their approach to the new album, Fitz says, “As we’re writing, we are already envisioning how it’s going to go down for us live with our fans – how they’re going to sing along and participate – because our show is known for being so interactive. If you’re sitting still with your arms crossed, we’ll literally call you out and get your booty shaking. For us, we want the audience to be the 7th member of the band and to be given permission to have a good time…dancing is absolutely required.”
With the determination that earned them “Hardest Working Band” of 2011 (Vogue Magazine) comes hardship, as evident in a few songs on the new album. “The Walker” (album favorite of Fitz and Scaggs) is a delightfully addictive dance-groove inspired by the almost mythological Silverlake Walker, who would perpetually powerwalk their neighborhood, rain or shine, logging up to 200 miles a week. The happy tune belies the darker side of compulsion – and in the band’s case, the dedication to chasing their dreams. “It’s also about this darker side of compulsion and drive and determination where you can’t stop, and how that relates to how much we’ve sacrificed personally as a band to get to where we’ve gotten,” says Fitz. “The absolute commitment that it’s taken means everything else becomes secondary. And then you come home and your like, “I have no friends, I have no life.”
The album climaxes in “Merry Go Round”, a moving expression of the loneliness of being on the road, with lyrics like “I’m stuck on the edge of no place/The walls scream in silence at me/The faces blend into each day/I’m trying to remember my name.” Scaggs comments on the unrelenting schedule of the last 3 years of touring. “People ask, ‘is touring fun?’ When you’re on the stage, it’s awesome. But you’re constantly trying to figure out what day it is, what city you’re …days of the week, seasons, everything just sort of disappears.”
“When we are on our 15th day of tour and we’re so exhausted, we walk around like zombies all day long and can barely physically move,” adds Fitz. “But as soon as you cross the threshold onto the stage, it doesn’t matter if you’re on zero. Somehow, the audience just cheering and screaming, it just gets you going.” It’s obvious that the interaction between band and audience creates a mutual adrenaline rush, as people are unabashedly singing and dancing along.
The band finds other ways to enjoy the tour experience. As a coffee aficionado and foodie respectively, Fitz and Scaggs make it their mission to find the best spots in each new city. “John (drummer) and I are both crazy coffee fanatics. We want the snobbiest hipster making our coffee- the guy with the little mustache and his little bowtie. The snobbier the guy, the better I know the coffee will be and the cool thing is, high end coffee culture has spread everywhere…even Grand Rapids, Michigan! We’ll go on our walk and have a chat, and finding that spot becomes our mission in each city. My favorite is Blue State Coffee in Boston.” For the best shrimp and grits she’s ever had, Scaggs hits up Virginia’s on King in Charleston, South Carolina.
Spending so much time on the road together ultimately helped the band venture into imaginative and hitherto unexplored musical territory on their second album. In an harmonious dialogue that defines the two lead singers special chemistry, they describe a little bit about their creative process on More Than Just A Dream. “We spent so much time together, turning each other on to so much other music and we let it all seep in,” says Fitz. “It didn’t just have to be an organ and a piano. If we wanted to bring in an old Korg MS20 synthesizer, then let’s bring it in! Let’s not limit ourselves – if we want a fresh, new synthesizer with a high-end pop sheen, let’s do it. We had this rule of no guitars on the first record, and we decided to break that rule at least once on this record…”
“…Because that’s what the song was calling for,” finishes Scaggs. “And at the end of the day, that’s what happens too. The song ends up taking you somewhere.”
“It’s an organic life form,” agrees Fitz. “Sometimes I think Noelle and I would write a song and we would want it to be a certain way and then it would shuffle a bit and be like, ‘no I want to be this.’ And if you try and lasso it and restrict it too much, it just keeps bucking back until you give in and go where it wants to go. It’s a dance between hurting it and letting it take you where it wants to.”
And believe me, you’ll want to. More Than Just a Dream, is a sonic ride for any age and musical taste. “We’re not a band that’s trying to be too cool for school or super pretentious,” says Fitz with disarming sincerity. “We’ve always had this open heart and we have all walks of life that are into our music – the college kid next to the super hipster next to the KCRW 30-something – all standing next to each other having a good time. We just want people to enjoy it. If our shows and our music give people 5 minutes or one hour of relief from their day and their grind, and get them bopping their head and singing along on their long commute home, or blowing off steam one night at our show, screaming their guts out, getting all sweaty…that’s a reward enough for me.”
Catch them live on their upcoming tour with Bruno Mars. More Than Just A Dream today!