“Fitz and the Tantrums’ Music Draws a Lot from Motown.” - Interview

With their soul-influenced pop tracks and infectious dance tunes, it’s hard to listen to Fitz and the Tantrums without wanting to dance in your living room. Their unique sound, driven by keyboard and horns (they play without a lead guitar), has gotten them noticed by audiences across the country, and they’re about to embark on an extensive summer tour. I recently had a chance to chat with Fitz about how the Tantrums got started, his favorite places to perform and their relationship with fans.

Q - How did Fitz and the Tantrums come to be? I understand it had something to do with an ex-girlfriend and an organ?

A - At the time, I was going through a bad break-up, and we had a “no talking” policy. I saw that she was calling, declined the phone call and got a message from her that said, “I know we’re not supposed to be talking, but I know you’re kind of a keyboard fanatic, and my neighbor has to move in a hurry. He’s got this little church organ in the basement that he’s selling for $50.” I called her back and was like, “put the money in the guy’s hand now!” I got it, and I literally had six hours where I had to find piano movers who would move it that day, otherwise the landlord was going to throw it out. So I got it back to my place, turned it on, and it actually worked.

Sometimes when you get possession of a new instrument it’s like a new vocabulary that all of a sudden gets introduced, and I just felt like this thing had spirits inside of it. And any time I played anything, I felt like it inspired an idea. So I sat down that night, and had one of those moments were a song just wrote itself from start to finish. That’s the track called “Breakin’ the Chains of Love,” which was basically the first song for the band and really set a couple of key things in motion. It really defined the direction of the band, and we said right away we were going to try to do a band without guitars. We wanted to have an amazing female vocalist and a horn section as well.

I called my friend, James King, who I went to college with, and he came over and flipped out. And we started working on our stuff right away. We thought it was begging to be played live. He recommended Noelle Scaggs, and Noelle recommended a couple of the other guys, and literally five phone calls later, we had the band that we have now. Each one of these guys is a true talent. It’s my ultimate dream band with every best player that I could ever want to play with!

There’s something magical when you put the six of us in a room together. It feels pretty electric right from the first time we ever played.

Q - What’s the best part of performing live? What can fans expect at your live shows?

A - The best part of playing live for us is our connection to the crowd. We put on an extremely high energy show. We want people to come and have a good time. It’s a dance party! We are always trying to make the audience be the seventh member of the show. There’s a lot of call and response, singing along, dancing and clapping. For us, there’s nothing pretentious or ironic about what we’re doing. We’re just six musicians trying to make the best music we can every night.

We don’t just play the music the way it is on the record. Every night, each show has its own vitality and electricity to it.

Q - What’s your best road story?

A - For us, it’s this crazy nomadic lifestyle, and you get to be introduced to cities in a really unique way. You pull up to some alleyway of a venue, and you’re in a part of town you would never go to as a tourist. The bartender or the bouncer will tell you some good local places. You basically get a really unique introduction to each city.

For me, it’s the experience of getting to go to some of the places I’ve never been to before. I’d never spent a lot of time in the South, and we’re traveled through the South extensively now. I’ve had this falling in love with places like Asheville, North Carolina and Nashville and Charlotte and Charleston. It’s a really incredible experience to travel to all of these places!

Q - You’ll be in Detroit on Friday, June 17, 2011. Will that be your first time there?

A - That’ll be our second time there. We did a tour in the dead of winter in January. It was literally almost five weeks of never-a-day-above-freezing. We travel pretty bare-bones; we don’t have roadies loading in and out for us. Portland, Maine was -15. Minneapolis was -20. It was insane, but we had a great time in Detroit!

Our music draws a lot from Motown, and from that period of music, so for us to be able to come to the Motor City was a pretty special day for us. So we’re excited to come back and have our second time around in Detroit.

Q - Who are your musical influences, and who inspires you?

A - I think I speak for all members of the band when I say we all have really eclectic taste in music, especially post-ipod. We all have a love affair with soul and funk music. For me, it’s obviously Otis Redding, Marvin Gaye, the Supremes, all that stuff. My musical taste runs the gamut from Radiohead to Zeppelin to Major Lazer. My older brother was really into 80s new wave, so a lot of the first records I got to borrow and steal were his.

Q - What’s the best advice about the music industry that you’ve ever received, and who gave it to you?

A - It was from a friend, who wasn’t in the music industry, but I watched her have a pretty extraordinary situation happen in her life with her business. She said to me, after it was all said and done, “just make sure you enjoy the ride because the ride is the deal. There’s no endpoint. Don’t always be looking on the horizon. Enjoy the process.” I didn’t quite understand that until things started to go really well for this band. There really is no end goal; it’s each day and the journey of what each day is.

Q - Is there anything you’d like to add?

A - We do all of our own Facebook and Twitter. So people can always send us a note, and when they do, it’s not an intern who responds. It’s actually us. And that’s been a really incredible way for us to interact and stay connected with people. It’s also a good way for fans to keep us in check, in case we post the wrong dates or venues. So it’s a cool relationship, and we’ve built a really strong relationship with our fans by letting them see what our lives are like. We post silly photos on the tour bus or our favorite restaurant or “look what we did today.” It’s a different way of having a connection with fans that wasn’t there before, and it’s proved to be really cool because we’ve developed these extra friendships with a lot of our fans.

Visit Fitz and the Tantrums on the web at: http://fitzandthetantrums.com/.


Kate Brindle is a stand-up comedian from Ann Arbor, MI. For more information and for tour dates, visit her at http://www.katebrindle.com/ Email Kate at hottiepants@zoiksonline.com.
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