Fitz And The Tantrums first reinvigorated the Motown sound a little more than three years ago with the release of their debut album, Pickin’ Up The Pieces. Their sound was something radio was not touching, but with the help of VH1, and the hit single “MoneyGrabber,” the network picked them up as one of its You Oughta Know Artists, and word quickly began to spread about the band.
Today, Fitz And The Tantrums, which consists of Michael Fitzpatrick, Noelle Scaggs, James King, Joseph Karnes, Jeremy Ruzumna and John Wicks, have been picked up by a major label and are releasing their sophomore follow-up, More Than Just A Dream, through Elektra on May 7. The band is also gearing up for two back-to-back tours—the first, a headlining spring tour and the second, the Moonshine Jungle tour with Bruno Mars.
Lead singers Fitzpatrick and Scaggs recently sat down with CMJ for a talk and had much to say about their new tour, the band’s ever-evolving retro sound and the club circuit.
How did the band initially get together?
Michael Fitzpatrick: I was writing a couple songs and called my friend James King, currently our sax player, and him and I started working on a couple of songs that became Fitz And The Tantrums. I knew we needed to have a feminine foil to my masculine energy on stage. He recommended Noelle to me and made a couple phone calls for the rest of the band, and we went into the rehearsal together and it was like instant magic. Our voices just blended together.
What band were you originally in, Noelle?
Noelle Scaggs: I was in a band called the Rebirth. It was like an Earth, Wind And Fire vocal soul band. We did a lot of stuff in the U.K. and Europe. I met James King because he played sax on one of the tracks. I was in limbo if I even wanted to continue in music anymore or if I wanted to do songwriting, then I got a call from Fitz and here I am.
You debuted at a time when Katy Perry, Usher and B.O.B. were on the charts. Was it hard to sell your sound when “MoneyGrabber” came out? Do you still find it hard to sell your music without radio touching Fitz And The Tantrums?
MF: I think we were definitely out of the box, but that’s what kind of made us unique and different. For all the magical moments that happened for us, it was some of the hardest work we have ever done. We went out on the road and played shows. We give a 150 percent every time. We bring such a high-energy show, and we play every show like it is our last. We won people over 10 at a time, 50 fans at a time, until we got to a critical mass point.
Do you enjoy the clubs or the festivals?
NS: We enjoy both. There’s nothing better than playing a club—it’s just contained in a room. I think any band enjoys that experience of being raw. In a festival situation, it’s more of a family aspect with children in the environment. Every time we go onstage, we want to be remembered for a good time, whether it be a festival, club or corporate event.
Do you find it harder to rally the crowd at a festival?
MF: At a club, you have your devoted fans, and maybe at a festival you have new fans. You have to make your energy go wide at a festival, for those who may have heard about us or never did. We love to be put in that challenging situation where we have to win over a cold audience that does not know us.
When did you start working on the sophomore album, More Than Just A Dream?
MF: Well, we were touring like crazy since the last record, and we took a couple days off after the last tour finished and then started going into writing mode. We wrote 30 or 40 songs in a month and a half. We knew we wanted to take some chances with this record. We wanted to take some risks and to take it to many different places. Then we started recording while still on tour.
We did our record with producer Tony Hoffer, and he was such a shepherd. We wanted to mix all these sounds together—old Motown drums with some hip-hop beats and electronic drums with vintage organ and ’80s synth—and Tony was the perfect guy for it.
The band notoriously did not have guitars on the first album.
NS: There are some songs with guitars on this new album. It’s not going to be a dominant thing in our music, though.
MF: There were no rules when making this album. The no-guitar rule had to be broken somewhat on this record.
You recently split from Dangerbird Records and made Elektra your new home. How did you reach the decision to change your label?
MF: Jeff, our former manager at Dangerbird, became the manager at Elektra. I think Jeff saw a lot of potential in us. I don’t think we would have felt comfortable if Jeff wasn’t a part of that equation. Here is the guy who gave us a real shot to begin with. We have so many fans at Elektra. Elektra commits to their artists and sees the same vision as we do.
NS: We worked with a really small team before at Dangerbird, and now we have the support at Elektra from a very large group—from the top all the way to the bottom.
The first single from the album, “Out of My League” sounds a little new wave. Is that indicative of how the rest of the album will sound?
MF: We are definitely going to new places with this album. People who were fans of the first record, there will still be some stuff on there as well. At its core, it still makes you want to have a good time and dance. The ’60s was in the foreground of the last record, and the ’80s was in the background. Now that relationship has reversed.
NS: Growing as a band, you become more defined in your sound. We wanted to make a record for how we sound live. It still has a real organic feel to it. We wanted the focus to bridge our music with our live shows. It’s going to be that record where everyone has his or her own favorite songs.
MF: At the end of the day, we wanted to make a record that we love and people will follow.