Tons of artists take elements from the past to enhance their sound, but there are very few who are able to pull it off convincingly.
Tons of artists take elements from the past to enhance their sound, but there are very few who are able to pull it off convincingly. From that group, there’s almost nobody who does it in such a way that it still seems fresh in 2013. Nobody except Fitz & The Tantrums of course.
Since coming out with their debut EP in 2009, the band’s been turning heads in the music world and even earning the moniker of “Hardest Working Band” by a number of publications. The band’s highly anticipated sophomore album, More Than Just A Dream, came out this past spring and definitely lived up to its expectations. On the success of its lead single “Out Of My League,” the band is reaching new heights and popularity all the while showcasing their trademark soul music that they’ve built their name and reputation on.
Fitz & The Tantrums return to The National this Sunday with Capital Cities for the first time in just about two years. We spoke with keyboardist Jeremy Ruzumna about their upcoming show, the recording process, and, of all things, parachuting.
Are you guys excited to be heading back to Richmond?
Yes! [Laughs] We’re aiming to always have fun on this tour. I seem to recall there’s an awesome fine arts museum there. Fitz & The Tantrums always try to stay abreast of all things cultural.
So you’re a couple of months removed from More Than Just A Dream coming out. How do you think the reception has been for this album?
We’re really happy with the reception. Our single, “Out Of My League,” was number one on the Alternative charts for two weeks in a row and we couldn’t be happier.
What would you say is the main difference between More Than Just A Dream and Pickin’ Up The Pieces?
The main difference between the two albums is that this time around, we basically quoted the movie Grease and said “the rules are: there are no rules.” We took our love of songwriting, hooks, and all the stuff we always do and just totally expanded our sound. Sonically, the first album was all about [frontman] Fitz’s huge, old organ and his out-of-tune upright piano and making those two things the musical centerpiece. On this album, we decided that anything goes and we just used anything & everything that we thought sounded cool. We used everything from vintage keyboards from the 60s & 70s to synths from the 80s to laptop synthesizers and everything in between. I’m really happy with the result.
After a guitar drought on the first album, what lead to the six string showing up on the new album?
Well, the dirty little secret is that there is one song on the first album that has a guitar on it, but nobody ever mentions it. As far as guitar on this album, we just listened to what the songs told us to do and there were a couple of songs that tapped us on the shoulder and asked us to please put some guitar on them. Still, keys in this band play the staring role and guitars are kind of like the Steve Buscemi or something like that. They show up and make a memorable appearance.
How did the songwriting for the new record work out?
The songs on this album came from all different directions. Some were Fitz. Some, like the single, were sparked by Noelle [Scaggs]. Some were sparked by the band at jam sessions. There’s a song that John [Wicks], our drummer, brought in from his home studio and there’s a song that I brought in from my home studio. All different stuff. Working with [producer] Tony Hoffer is amazing because he made everything feel easy, but secretly he was constantly pushing everything forward. It was like a Jedi mind trick.
What kind of tricks did you pick up from Tony while recording?
He and his engineers really knew how to give each song its own personality. Part of that was how they mic’d & recorded the drums and used a different configuration on each song to give it its own space. Funny note: there was a keyboard there, a Roland D-50, that I used to have in college. It was famous because Enya used it on “Orinoco Flow” and I never thought it would be cool again! But we used it all over the album including on “Out Of My League.”
What other producers out there would you guys say you’re dying to get into the studio with?
Lots of exciting stuff is coming from the Diplo camp and I’ve always admired people like Nigel Godrich & Daniel Lanois. I’ve also really been feeling Patrick Nissley and Lucas Banker, who do the music and songs for Ivy Levan. Their stuff sounds amazing. Ultimately, it has to sound like Fitz & The Tantrums though.
Was there anything new you guys specifically wanted to do for this new record?
We just wanted to make music that sounded cool to us and hopefully other people would find it cool too. Obviously people have!
Anything in particular you were listening to in the studio or influenced by?
This band has such diverse tastes and these days we live in a musical landscape that really has no boundaries. You can find anything you want at any time, 24/7. That limitlessness makes things exciting and everything just resonates off of everything else. No matter what you are influenced by, it ultimately goes through the Rube Goldberg device of each person’s mind & interpretation and ultimately ends up sounding unique anyway.
For whatever reason, what song did you guys work the most on in the studio?
We thought we had finished “Out Of My League” when we turned it into the label, but they came back with some corrections and tweaks that turned out to be totally right on. I have to admit I was surprised, but it worked.
Were there any songs that you felt strongly about, but they just didn’t end up on the record?
There’s a song called “Tell Me What You’re Here For” that evolved from a band jam session and it has this musical hook that James [King] & I came up with, his flute doubling my organ. It’s dope and everyone loved it, but at the end of the day, it ended up on a special edition and not on the album proper. Oh, well.
For fans of soul music, B-Sides were a way to find some good music back in the day. With extended versions, bonus tracks, et cetera, what do you guys think about the death of the B-Side?
I think it’s sad in a way, but the flip side (no pun intended) is that with digital technology & the internet, you can put anything out there instantly. We take for granted that you can record a song on your laptop in the morning, mix it, and have it on the internet by the afternoon so it’s accessible world wide instantaneously. That was unimaginable not that long ago.
So for your live shows, what would you say is one aspect of your performance you guys really focus on?
The most important element of our shows is energy. We take the songs and we amp up the energy even more. We basically just go out and try to destroy. Our secret weapon is that Fitz & Noelle will stop at nothing to connect with the audience and bring them in to the experience.
Anything extra special up your sleeve for the Richmond audience?
[Laughs] Yeah, it’s called Fitz & The Tantrums.
You guys have been touring all over the place this year and I’m sure performed at too many festivals to count. My question, is there any set from another band that you saw this year that just absolutely blew you away?
Radiohead was just a religious experience and I love Ivy Levan. People are just now starting to get into her.
You’ll be back in Richmond on October 20th with Capital Cities. What do you guys think about them?
We love Capital Cities! Their music is dope and we just naturally gravitated to them when we met them at a couple of festivals. It really felt natural and I haven’t been this amped about a tour in a long time!
What other bands out there right now are you guys really into?
Polica. London Grammar. Oh, and Ivy Levan again. Of course.
Your music has been on TV shows, commercials, and God knows what else. Where’s the weirdest place you’ve ever heard one of your songs?
I was in an Über cab the other day and got into a conversation with the driver. He asked me what band I was in and I told him Fitz & The Tantrums. He freaked out and began singing “Tighter” at the top of his lungs. That was amazing!
If I asked you to make a Rock Band Bucket List, what would you say is the number one thing you guys would love to do, but haven’t yet?
Playing “The Walker” on camera while parachuting from an airplane while simultaneously getting a foot massage mid-air from a supermodel. As that was happening, watching Drive on a giant flat screen TV that was falling through the air next to us. And posting it on Instagram. If it’s not on Instagram, it didn’t really happen.