September 11, 2009

Interview: Fitz of Fitz and the Tantrums

Like fellow funk and soul revivalists Sharon Jones & The Dap Kings, Fitz and the Tantrums make music that's a throwback to another era. Only Fitz and his quintet are less gritty funk and more Motown and pop-infused soul. Yes, this music is made for dancing, but it's also made for shamelessly singing along to. Like the title of the band's debut states—Songs For A Breakup, Vol. 1—these songs are energized by the heartbreak and wrongs casued by love. Not regular people love. Effortlessly cool and blues-drenched soul love; the kind of narratives popularized into anthems by groups like the Supremes ("You Can't Hurry Love") and Temptations ("Ain't Too Proud Too Beg").

Fitz spoke with Everybody Taste about the inspiration behind his debut with the Tantrums, his childhood experiences with music, and the band's upcoming tour dates with Flogging Molly.

How did you first get into music? What was the first song that made you want to play?

Well as my mom likes to say I came out of the womb singing. It was never something I got into it just always was. My parents are not musicians but HUGE music lovers. The catch though is that my dad only let there be classical music playing when he was around. That actually turned out to be an amazing blessing and education... to this day when i hear classical music it takes me back to being a kid watching my dad close his eyes and be swept away by those amazing works. But when he left the house or we were driving with my mom then we got to rock out!! Off the Wall [by Michael Jackson] was the most important record to me. My brother gave me his copy and I listened to it over and over.

What was the first instrument you learned?
We had a piano at home and I taught myself how to play chords so I could sing and write songs. I actually got that piano back as an adult and I started to take piano lessons. That was amazing and tranformative because it finally gave me the ability to really write the kinda of songs I wanted to do for this record.

First concert you attended?
First concert? Hmmm, U2

Were you in bands growing up?
No, I was always too shy. I went to a high school for the performing arts and always hid in choir. It was only when I grew up that I got the confidence to finally put a band together and play the songs I had been writing in my cave.

I understand Songs For A Breakup, Vol. 1 was inspired buy a church organ you bought from your ex-girlfriend's neighbor. That's an unusual string of circumstances. What was it about the organ's sound that was so inspirational? Had you played the organ before?
When I got the call from the Ex for the organ I just jumped at the chance. It took me all day frantically calling over town to find a piano mover who could do it that day. They were loading into the truck as the sun was going down and when they put it into my living room it was night! I had never played an organ before but I was so inspired by this massive thing sitting there blasting out these loud as fuck! amazing old organ sounds that I wrote the the first track "Breakin' The Chains of Love" right then and there. My poor neighbors!!

Your sound is obviously inspired by a lot of 60's Stax and Motown records. Were there particular artists you had in mind when cultivating the sound?
Aboslutley... I'm a huge Otis Redding fan, Aretha of course, early Hall and Oates. I am obsessed with great songwriting and I think that era is simply the best. Once I got into recording—when I worked in the studio for this producer—and really got into the way records sound, then that era just blew my mind even more.

What was the production process like? The songs on the record, especially "Breakin' The Chains of Love" and "Winds of Change", have a very rich and almost aged texture to them. Were they recorded live?
Well I didn't have any money to make this record. All I had was this piano and this organ taking up half my living room and this old beat up mic. I couldn't record live with only one mic so I was forced to build the songs layer on top of layer. Recording each instrument one by one. My living room is hardly an ideal place to record with wood floors and plaster walls, but I decided I would just make the sound of that room part of the character of the record. I would plop the mic in the middle of the room... pretty far away from the organ or piano. What ened up happeneing was that it helped give the songs life and a fullness, that now I couldn't imagine having recorded this record anywhere else.

How did your band come together? And who came up with the Tantrums as the name?
Well, when I was done recording the EP I called James King who played on the album to see if he was down to start playing live. I asked him to recommend a drummer. I called John Wicks AKA "the Captain". He brought in Ethan P-Boy Phillips on bass and J-Ruz on keys. James said we had to call Noelle scaggs for back ups and literally in less than a day the band was formed. I feel blessed to play with these guys because everyone is so talented and it has made for an amazing live show.
As far as the name goes, I wanted something that captured the spirit of what we were trying to do. My name is Fitz and when I came up with the Tantrums it was perfect because I have been known to have a few of those in my lifetime!!! This record has attitude and definitely some anger about being hurt so it just worked for me.

"We Don't Need Love Songs" is an incredibly deep and soulful track, probably my favorite off the EP. It's also well positioned as the closing track, somewhat signaling that you're moving past the breakup. Will there be a Vol. 2 or is there a full-length of a different subject matter somewhere in the future?
Thanks! I am really glad that is your favorite because its is definitely a favorite of mine. No other song puts me in the zone when we are playing a show more than that song. There IS a vol.2 in the works right now. I am feverishly trying to finish it between tour dates. There is going to be an evolution to the full length. But I have always been unlucky in love so there are more songs that deal with regret and the realization that sometimes it's you that's the problem and not them and that is sometimes a bitter pill to swallow.

It's hard not to like the bright and danceable sounds on Songs For A Breakup Vol. 1, but it seems like an odd pairing to be opening for Flogging Molly. How do you think your music will mesh?
Ha! Well I'll let you know how it goes but I think, no I know, that Flogging Molly's fans are real music lovers and they are incredibly loyal to Flogging Molly. We were really honored that they asked us to go on tour and I think that their fans are gonna give us a chance to win them over. These days people have very eclectic musical tastes and they respond to great music and a great show and we are gonna give them both.

My last question is something I ask at the end of every interview. If your band, Fitz and the Tantrums, were an animal, what would it be?
A raccoon. They look cute from afar, but get close and they'll tear your eyes out!!! Ha!!!!!!!!

Fitz and The Tantrums - "We Don't Need Love Songs" (from Songs For A Breakup, Vol. 1)

Fitz and The Tantrums

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