[photos + Q&A] Fitz & The Tantrums’ Michael Fitzpatrick on his soul’d-out tour
Last Friday at the House of Blues, Fitz & the Tantrums brought their soul-inflected indie pop to Boston. Right before the band’s encore performance of their hit “Moneygrabber,” singer/songwriter Michael “Fitz” Fitzpatrick told the audience that the band likes to get down and party — literally. The ringleader of the Los Angeles sextet explained that everybody at the sold out venue should get down also, by squatting or sitting down on the ground. If they were spotted still standing amongst the crowd, Fitz and vocalist Noelle Scaggs would point and call them out.
"This day and age, you better be able to put on a great live show because it's really one of the ways you're going to make a name for yourself."
Sure, it was kind of uncomfortable, but it made for a unique climax of their performance. When the song started, it was an explosion of Motown-inspired beats and about 2,400 dancing Fitz fans. Yesterday afternoon, I reached Fitzpatrick by phone for a chat about his grueling tour schedule, where his band gets their Motown sound, and what it takes to break out in the music biz. Fitz finally had a day off after a fortnight of energetic shows, but he still found time to chat with the Phoenix for the first time since January.
I thought it was funny that you said on stage in other cities, Fitz is an original name, but in Boston it isn’t. What do you mean by that?
With so many Irish people in Boston, it’s not uncommon to meet a lot of Fitzpatricks or Fitzgeralds. Every time I’m in Boston, there’s at least two or three other Fitzses that come up to me after the show.
Do your friends and family also call you “Fitz” now?
That’s where I always got the nickname, because when your first name’s Michael, there’s too many Michaels. Everyone’s got a dad, a brother, and a lot of friends named Michael. So my friends early on started calling me Fitz and that’s really where the nickname came out of.
I went to your show at the House of Blues last Friday, and it was fantastic. You guys bring a lot of energy to the stage. How do you access that every single night while you are touring?
Honestly, some nights, I have no idea because it is such a physically exhausting show and we just, today, had our first day off after doing 14 shows in a row. There’s some days where I am so physically exhausted, trying to sleep as much as possible and rest until that moment we go on stage. I think, the music itself just inspires us and we feed off the energy of the crowd. The more we kind of push each other, the crowd pushes us, and we push the crowd. It sort of fuels us to always go to that next level.
Did you have a lot of time in Boston before going to your next show? I know while you were on stage you said it was one of your favorite cities, and there must be bars around here you guys have to hit up while you’re in town, especially since your keyboardist Jeremy (Ruzumna), is a native Bostonian.
Yeah, that’s the trippy thing about being on tour. We pulled in at noon, and we left at two in the morning. It was very little time to do anything in Boston, but in the afternoon we took a walk to our favorite coffee shop and back.
What coffee shop was it?
Blue State Coffee, next to the Paradise Lounge.
Did you also have a performance with WFNX last Friday?
Yeah, we did an afternoon little mini concert for some of the listeners upstairs in the Foundation Lounge at the House of Blues. [Click here to see photos from that concert.]
Your show last Friday was sold out. Have other shows on your tour been selling out also?
Yeah, I mean, Philly sold out; DC; Cleveland; Columbus, Ohio; three nights [at Metro in Chicago]. It’s pretty incredible.
I know that the band started in Los Angeles, but after selling out at Boston’s HOB, I was wondering where you feel you have a bigger fan base — East or West Coast?
It’s hard to say. We’re from LA, so we have a pretty big fan base there and in San Francisco and Seattle. We definitely have a nice little fan base in the South. But, I don’t know, maybe the East Coast is really where our biggest fan base is.
At the show you said “Tighter” was one of your favorite songs on the album, is it also your favorite song to perform live?
It definitely is one of them because a lot of the other songs are very high-tech and uptempo and high-energy and playful. That song requires for me, as a performer, to really get in touch with a different side, emotionally. To get the audience to sing along with us with that song … it makes me emotional every time I do it.
You’ve described your own sound as “soul-influenced indie pop.” Can you name other artists who have inspired the band’s sound?
Anybody from the Motown group — Otis Redding, Aretha, Sam Cooke — and then artists like Talking Heads, and ABC songs from the ’80s. There’s a lot of hip-hop influence for the record. It’s really sort of a mixture of styles. It’s not just a pure soul record.
One of the most interesting thing about your sound is the lack of guitars. Should we never expect to hear a guitar on a Fitz and The Tantrums record?
I don’t think we’ll ever limit ourselves. If a song was ready for it, we would certainly give it a try.
Lyrically, which of your songs are you the most proud to have written?
It’s hard, because they are all your babies. We really took a lot of good care to make every song on the record stand on its own two feet and be great. I love them all, and “Don’t Gotta Work It Out” is one of my favorites.
I’m also impressed by how fast this band came into the spotlight. What do you think was the reason for that and do you have any advice for up-and-coming bands wanting to make it?
It has happened fast, but at the same time, we have truly worked our asses off for three years straight now. Even before then, with initial recordings, we’re pushing four years in progression. I’m sure to most people on the outside that seems fast, but on the inside, when we’re in the band, driving all night to the next gig, it doesn’t seem that fast to you. I think you better start at the core with great music and great songs.This day and age, you better be able to put on a great live show because it’s really one of the ways you’re going to make a name for yourself. We have been willing to make a lot of sacrifices — to play anywhere, everywhere, to do an interview anytime, anything. Go and do some website session, do somebody’s bedroom blog, you know, anything and everything. At the same time, you also need a little bit of the right time, some serendipity, and a lot of luck. You have to do anything and everything you’re willing to do and work really hard at it. Don’t be cocky and don’t be lazy, and know that even with all of that, there’s no guarantees.
There were new songs you guys played on stage. It may be a little too soon to ask, but do you have any idea of when you want to release the next album?
Well, we’re working. We’re writing on the road … If everything goes well, we’ll get to work on the next record around February and March, and then, hopefully, we’ll be able to have the next single out next summer and have the record come out at the end of summer.
The article above was copied from the Boston Phoenix website:
Written for The Boston Phoenix Blog on November 15, 2011.