Fitz & the Tantrums' Michael Fitzpatrick: I've been known to sing in the shower
It was blatantly obvious from the moment Fitz & the Tantrums' sterling 2010 debut dropped that the LA-based group was going to be huge. Pickin' up the Pieces, released on Dangerbird Records, was pure, unadulterated pop with a brassy coating of vintage soul sounds that drew comparisons to blue-eyed '80s acts like Hall & Oates. The record's infections hooks and mass appeal catapulted the band onto larger stages, and their relentless touring ethic has earned them a well-deserved reputation as dynamic live performers. Catching the attention of Jive records, the band went major earlier this year with their blockbuster follow-up entitled More than Just a Dream.
The new album has already stirred a bit of controversy amongst their fanbase by mostly dispensing with the vintage trappings of their debut and shooting for the moon with a full-on, contemporary stadium-pop sound to match their newfound popularity. Gimmie Noise caught up with lead singer and songwriter Michael Fitzpatrick to discuss the band's new songwriting directions and his showering habits.
Gimmie Noise: When I first heard "Out of my League" I immediately thought of a scene in a John Hughes movie where a character belts a song into a hairbrush in the mirror or a shower. Are you a shower-singer?
Michael Fitzpatrick: I love it! I've been known to sing a little bit in the shower... That song and this record are supposed to be mixing genres that make you feel like a flashback and new all at the same time, so I'm glad that it conjures up those movies for you!
You mentioned that writing Pickin' up the Pieces was a cathartic experience that helped you get over a breakup, were you working out any similar issues for this record? Where did the lyrical inspiration come from?
Fitzpatrick: Well, on this record there's definitely songs about love and heartbreak, which is easy because I've just never been lucky in love, but it's also about other things, because we've been on the road a lot as well, so subject-wise it's a little bit broader of a record. There's themes like the loneliness of being a traveling nomadic musician. On "Merry Go-Round" there's sort of ideas about working through...these inhibitions, these things that hold you back, to "The Walker" which is just a song about having the faith to walk to your own drum in life, and in the same time has the double-meaning of some of the darkness of obsession and compulsion.
"Break the Walls" and "Spark" kinda sound like a preemptive "talk to the hand" for the haters. Did you consider the reaction More than Just a Dream's stylistic shifts would create while making it?
Fitzpatrick: Well definitely, but I think that was also just that we've had a lot of success, but we've had to earn it, every step of the way. There have been people that have wanted to write us off all along. I think that's what "Spark" is about, that idea that we're here to stay. But I know that we all wanted to take chances and make a pretty evolved record, and therefore when you get into that you're obviously going to ruffle some feathers. To me, that was just a positive sign that we were growing as a band. It would have been too easy for us to make a really safe record like "Pickin' Up the Pieces, Part Two" and not push ourselves or grow. I think we would all have been disappointed with ourselves if we had done that.
What about musical inspiration? Pickin' up the Pieces felt like a '60s-and-'70s soul homage, but this one's a lot harder to tack down. Who were you listening to while writing these songs?
Fitzpatrick: I think there's always a ton of references on the first record that were subtler and I think we're just a little more brazen with it now, the mixture, that cross-genre nature of the record. I think we've also been influencing each other from our diversity of listening, from a Deerhunter track to a Major Lazer track to a Jeff Buckley track. It takes the whole gamut of everything.
You were a pop songwriter and a producer before you formed Fitz & the Tantrums, how do you think that informs your newer songs?
Fitzpatrick: Well, I've always just been obsessed with songwriting, and what makes a song "great" or memorable where you can't get it out of your head. I think that it always informs every decision you make, in terms of craft. We wanted every song on the record to stand on it's own two feet, that there would be no album filler, you know?
These songs feel stadium-and-radio ready, there's a lot of big, epic hooks and sing-along parts, how do you develop those kind of moments in your songs? Is there a band interplay about it? Like, "can we make this bigger?"
Fitzpatrick: Well, it's two things. One, we wanted to write a record for where we wanted to see ourselves, to envision ourselves. Also, when we were writing the record, the more I think about it, the writing is so informed by the live show that we've created. We have this reputation for putting on a crazy, high-energy live show and how much our audience participates with us, so I think when we were writing the choruses and stuff, we wanted to write it in a way that already sounded like the crowd was singing along with us.
There's a lot more of Noelle on this record, did that happen organically, or did you intentionally set out to write her vocals into the album more?
Fitzpatrick: I think as we've developed that live show, our relationship on stage just grew more and more and it became this dynamic-duo, so we just had to keep that energy in this new record.
You mentioned before that y'all were trying to capture the energy of your live show on this record. How has the live show changed since the early days?
Fitzpatrick: We're trying to build on what we already have, which is this foundation, and we're excited to really explore how we can always be pushing the energy and dyamic of what we do with these new songs. It's been a long time since we made that first record and we've played those songs every night and now we're just excited to mix it up with the new songs. We can't wait to play Minneapolis, we've put in two Basilica Block Parties and now we get to reap the rewards, which is two sold-out shows at the Varsity Theater and I'm psyched!
Fitz and the Tantrums will be performing at The Varsity Theater with Saints of Valory and Ivy Levan Sunday, June 16th and Monday, June 17th. Doors are at 8pm and the show is 18-plus.
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