Fitz And The Tantrums made a name for themselves a few years ago while touring and playing to legions of people that were aching for feel good music—and they happily delivered. They had the seemingly impossible task of following up their successful second album, 2013’s More Than Just A Dream, but after personally previewing it, I can assure you that their third self-titled album proves that they still got it…and then some.
I spoke with Fitz about what fans can expect from their album release on June 10 and their upcoming summer tour.
On June 10, you’ll be releasing your third studio album, Fitz And The Tantrums. How do you think your newest album compares to the highly successful More Than Just A Dream?
I think this album differs from each album that we’ve put out because we’ve always tried to evolve and push ourselves forward and take a lot of chances. With the success that we had with our last record, it gave us that confidence that all of those chances that we took on the record were good ones, so it empowered us to keep pushing the envelope on what we could do musically.
For the last album, we got off a crazy couple of years of touring and we went into the studio to write around 35 songs in 40 days. For this album, we thought it would be the same thing again: we got off of the road and started to write. I don’t know if it was a combination of exhaustion and being a little spun out from being on the road, but being in a new city every day, we definitely found ourselves with writer’s block and searching for that elusive new thing that would push the envelope.
It wasn’t clear what direction that may or may not be, so I tried to do some collaborations with outside songwriters to be almost two-fold, a new prism in the room that sort of reflected the light in a different way than the way we were used to seeing. Having these people really be an emotional mirror to us, sort of saying, “What are you feeling today, what are you experiencing, what is going on with your life?” because we had so many changes and experiences: marriage, having kids, the whirlwind rollercoaster ride of touring. It was a great experience being able to dig deep into what I was feeling at that moment and that’s why I feel like this is the most emotional record to date.
I was lucky enough to get a chance to preview your upcoming release and it sounds fantastic. What was the process behind recording it?
It started off with a lot of failed attempts and frustration in trying to find that magical thing. I’ve only had the experience once or twice making records over the last eight years where a song writes itself almost by itself from start to finish in 10, 15 minutes. We were like four, five months into writing. I was frustrated and I wasn’t happy with anything.
I met up with my good friend Sam Hollander and we wrote the song that is our single, “Handclap”, and it was just lightning in a bottle. The music happened in five minutes, we ripped though the lyrics, and that song came together. It was very primal and visceral. I went in and recorded the vocals, I came out and we were all just dancing in the studio because we could just feel the energy of this song. That scratch-vocal take is what ended up on the record because it just had this urgency and primal delivery. Once that song was written, I took a big sigh of relief because I knew that song was something special.
I saw you play in New Orleans at the Sugar Bowl Fan Fest in 2014, and I was really impressed with the connection you have with your bandmates. What do you think contributed to the musical relationship between all of you?
From the very first moment that the six of us got in a room, there was that connection. We’ve all played in different bands and have been musicians forever so you know when that magic is there. It was kinetic and real and there was just something about the way the six of us fit together, where there was no one piece that was greater then the collective we put together as a unit. Noelle [Scaggs] and I are always pushing each other as performers and we love connecting with the audience. The more we get the audience into it, the more they feed us and give us the fuel to keep going.
A lot of songs are about matters of the heart. When you have a man and a woman on the stage singing about love, it’s really easy to turn towards each other to be the “he said she said” dynamic of telling both sides of the story of a relationship. That’s sort of where that dynamic grew out of, we flip it between working it out between each other on stage and then turning it outwards towards the crowd and bringing them in.
My favorite song off of your new album is “Burn It Down”. What is your favorite song off of your new album and why?
It’s hard for us to pick because the 11 songs that are on the record are our babies that survived. For the 11 that “made it”, there are around 80 songs that didn’t make it, so they are all truly special to me.
It’s hard for me to pick, but I’m so glad you love “Burn It Down” because that’s a very emotional and personal song. I wrote that song almost as if it were a letter to my wife. The idea being like, look, we’re together, but I have these demons and this pain from my past that even though I’m in this relationship with you, sometimes I feel like I’ve built this wall around me, this fortress, this ice block inside of me. I could be married to you and sometimes make you feel like I’m a million miles away and if I don’t figure that out, I have the potential to ruin this and burn it down to the ground if I don’t work through this. “Burn It Down” is one of the most special songs on the record to me.
How does your wife feel about being the inspiration behind some of these songs?
When I played her that song and she listened to it, by the time the song was finished there were tears rolling down her cheeks. She knows not from a song point of view, but from life experience of what it’s like to be with me and she knows that there are those demons so she relates in her own way. Everyone comes into a relationship with his or her own demons and that truth resonates so much for all of us. You can be with somebody but do you truly trust in that other person? Are you giving them yourself freely, are you unguarded? It’s a hard thing to realize, because you recognize that in yourself and still have to be cautious. We have a child and we are married, so we’re all in.
It’s a very emotional moment and cathartic for us and for me. That’s what music is about for me, to work through those things and if that translates and somebody else hears it and identifies with it, or it helps them in any way, or heals them or inspires them, then that’s the greatest gift of having made music and having other people relate to it.
What made you choose the title Fitz And The Tantrums for your third record?
From our first record to second record, we changed a lot. We took a lot of chances and there were a lot of people that were worried about the chances we took. We felt very vindicated and validated by taking those chances and experiencing that success coming into the third record.
By having a self-titled album, it’s kind of like putting our stake in the ground, claiming our identity completely. We know who we are and that is a band that can take chances by taking all different genres and putting them together. We’re not going to be reducible to one genre or one stereotype, so for us it was a proclamation of our own confidence in our sound and what we do.
You’re about to embark on your 2016 summer tour, the Get Right Back Summer Tour, where you’ll be playing our area twice. What’s your favorite part of playing New York?
We’ve been coming to New York for so many years now and from the very beginning we just experienced so much love and support. We always expect a fun show with a lot of amazing energy and that’s been the case since the very first time we played there. It’s always a great, great show—one of the best crowds around for sure!
Check out Fitz And The Tantrums at Terminal 5 in New York City on June 21 and in Clifton Park, NY at Upstate Concert Hall on June 23. For more information, go to fitzandthetantrums.com.