Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Interview with Fitz & the Tantrums

photo: Dangerbird Records
A version of my interview originally appeared in the North County Times.

When it comes to holiday music, Michael “Fitz” Fitzpatrick gravitates toward ‘60s classics.

“I love all those old Phil Spector Christmas recordings; they’re amazing. And you can’t go wrong with Sinatra,” said the Fitz & the Tantrums singer, in a phone interview from his Los Angeles home.

No surprise there: his band’s snappy full-length debut album “Pickin’ Up the Pieces,” specializes in vintage pop and soul that could’ve been crafted in the same decade.

The L.A.-based sextet just released their own seasonal tune, “Santa Stole My Lady,” co-written by backing vocalist Noelle Scaggs.

“We wanted to do something fun and in line with the angry [vibe] of the record,” explained Fitz. “Noelle came up with a great concept. We’ve printed up some limited edition 7” vinyl copies. We’ll be playing it when we’re down at the Belly Up.”

Those who attend the show should be prepared to shake their stuff. 

“We dance our butts off; Noelle and I never stop moving. We like to make the crowd [part] of what’s happening onstage. There’s a lot of participation. We’re kind of mean that way – if you’re not dancing, we’re going to call you out and get people to encourage you.”

From a performance standpoint, the Ike & Tina Turner Revue is one reference point. Watching Fitz and Scaggs onstage, “you don’t know if we’re going to make out or fistfight.”

Fitz first met saxophonist James King while attending Cal Arts in Valencia. In the mid-2000s, he worked as a producer, engineer and programmer (Ladytron, Chapin Sisters), alongside Mickey Petralia (Beck).

“I focused on learning to make records because I was obsessed with how those old Motown records sounded,” Fitz explained. “Then I decided to take piano lessons again.”

Later, after purchasing an organ from a garage sale, he played the instrument and “it was one of those magical musical moments. I was so inspired that I wrote ‘Breakin’ the Chains of Love’ in five minutes…it was the first time I felt completely authentic and true.”

Opting to make his own album sans guitars in 2008, college pal King was recruited first. They made five phone calls and the lineup was complete. “Usually, it’s a pain to find the right people. We literally could have played a show after our first rehearsal. Everything just clicked.”

Last year, the sextet put out a well-received EP (“Songs for a Breakup, Vol. 1”), appeared on KCRW radio program Morning Becomes Eclectic and opened a New Year’s Eve gig for Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings in Washington D.C.

In the interim, they’ve toured with both Jones and Maroon 5, appeared on TV’s “Last Call with Carson Daly” and the popular, award-winning “Live from Daryl’s House” internet performance show.

“I’ve always been a huge fan of Daryl Hall and gotten comparisons to his vocals…to be sitting with him and saying, ‘on this song, we can do a two-part harmony,’ was amazing.”

Meanwhile, songs from the album have received airplay on prominent SoCal stations KCRW and KROQ and continue to get spins across the country.

While recording at Fitz’s home, the band was “heavily influenced by Motown and soul,” but didn’t want to make a carbon copy. “We took it as a jumping off point to see if we could push the envelope” and move that sound into the future.”

On the title track and “Chains,” the robust lead vocal recalls the Four Tops’ Levi Stubbs.

“The music sounds fun and upbeat, but if you actually listen to the lyrics, they’re cutting and a little bitter. I try to create a male mantra or perspective of heartbreak.”

That’s evident during “Rich Girls” and “Money Grabber,” directly inspired by past relationships. Songwriting is definitely a cathartic experience for Fitz.

“At my lowest points – if I’m going through a bad breakup or bent out of shape - music truly saves my life,” he candidly admitted.

Some foreign flair was also added to the proceedings. “News 4 U” features a brief spoken word section in French. “It’s my little shout out to my mom,” said Fitz, who was
born in France. “If it wasn’t for her, I wouldn’t be speaking” the language.

Firmly rooted in the present is “Dear Mr. President,” inspired by the poor economic climate of the past few years.

“That one sticks out from the rest of the record. I always saw it as a letter to the president…Obama was bound to let everyone down with all the hype around him. At the same time, I just wanted to sing this song to him and say, ‘hey, you can do better.’

Fitz & the Tantrums opens for Greyboy Allstars on Friday at the Belly Up Tavern in Solana Beach, Calif. For more info, go to

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