We caught up with Michael Fitzpatrick, front man of “Fitz and the Tantrums” before his band’s sold-out show to discuss the makings of the band, the recent resurgence of soul music, and his irrational fear of black olives. Read on for the full interview.
Greetings. Can we call you Fitz?
Yeah. My first name’s Michael but everybody has a brother, a dad and five best friends with that name so inevitably my friends got too annoyed with trying to distinguish, so they all just started calling me Fitz or Fitzy and that just stuck over the years.
And what about the Tantrums? Are the rest of the band members a little more volatile or what?
Ha yeah, and I just like the play of the two words together, and you know the live show’s really high-energy so it works.
What would you say is the biggest difference between your live show and the record?
When we were first starting to play, right from the get-go we decided we didn’t want to play the songs exactly the way they are on the record. And because of how many of us there are on stage, and what amazing players they each are, we really want to let people really have the experience of enjoying the craft of the musicians. There’s no playback, there’s no DJ spinning a record, it’s just old-school, great musicians playing. They’re all so competent so it lets every show become a unique entity.
How did you get this gang together?
Well you know, usually you gotta call a gazillion people and ask so many questions; Do you get along with them?, Do they have the skill? This was literally 5 phone calls and the band was there. We did one rehearsal, and we could have done a show that night. We didn’t have enough songs yet, but I am a big believer in just booking a show and then everyone’s forced to get it together, so we booked a show 2 weeks later and we’ve just been going non-stop ever since.
How long ago was that?
We just had our 2-year anniversary in December.
Congratulations! You guys are making some rapid progress…
Yeah, I mean the first year and a half was really about just getting out there and slowly building a name for ourselves. We didn’t have a record deal, we didn’t have anything. We made the record in my living room. We were just going out there, connecting with people, sometimes 5 people at a time. Now in the past 6-9 months all the hard work of laying the groundwork, travelling across the country is starting to pay off. Getting someone like Dangerbird records to get on-board and have their support pushing us to the next level is great.
What’s the main difference between having a record label like Dangerbird behind you vs. doing it on your own?
Well your team exponentially grows. Before it was just us, this little unit, trying to get stuff done. Now we have a label, and we found a home with someone that really gets us and supports us. You get a marketing person that works to get your stuff on the radio, a whole staff of people that really believe in what you’re doing and working every day to help that cause out. For me it’s the first time in my life that that’s been the case. My whole life it’s been me making the flyers, making the calls, booking the shows so this is a crazy new experience to have this kind of support.
So now you have a little more time to focus on the music?
Right, well it’s so busy now. We just did two crazy days in Philly and New York were we did 4 shows a day, between radio, TV, and the live shows. There’s really been no time to do anything but unload the gear, setup and play the next gig.
Yeah it’s super tiring but it’s also really rewarding to be connecting with all these places, a lot of radio stations that supported us, to be able to do a performance for them and meet them in person and say thank you. It helps too because a lot of them have never seen the live show, and once they see that, they’re hooked.
Sounds like the radio’s been a big part of your success. That’s how you first got the Maroon 5 gig right?
Yeah we were really lucky that KCRW, which is our NPR station out in LA was really supportive, they took us under their wing. We got to play a live show on their station, they played our records. They have a pretty broad reach in terms on their internet presence etc. There was a tattoo artist that was visiting LA and heard us on the radio, freaked out, went home and found out who we were and bought the record. Then he was back in New York and Adam Levine from Maroon 5 was in getting a tattoo and heard the record, Adam freaked out, and then 2 weeks later we were on tour with them around a ton of colleges up and down the eastern seaboard.
That’s an example of one of the serendipitous events that have played a huge part in the success of the band so far.
It’s interesting that, here in 2011, radio still plays such a big role in a band’s success.
Yeah you know I was of the mindset of “who listens to the radio anymore” but it’s still maybe one of the most powerful things. We’ve been really lucky to get played on a lot of stations nationwide, a lot of alternative stations and AAA and NPR local stations. It makes a huge difference, you know, it’s the only reason we could come to cities like Philly or Boston were we’ve never played before, sell out the show and have people sing along. At first it’s like “how the hell do you guys know who we are??” we’re just a little Cali band, but it’s largely because of the support of the local radio stations.
I’m hearing your music starting to pop up all over the place now, that t-mobile commercial, some TV spots etc.
Yeah that commercial was a crazy fluke, all of a sudden our name’s being said on a national commercial.
How do you feel about it? Good publicity?
Yeah I mean, they play the music, they say the name of the band, the show the album cover. It might as well be a commercial for us, so we’ll take it. And we can see on all of our social media platforms that lots of people are coming to our facebook page or our youtube page to find out more about the band. It’s interesting too because we did Carson Daly and Jimmy Kimmel, and those things are definitely powerful, but then we also did live from Daryl’s house, do you know what that is?
Yeah! How did that come about? He’s been getting some really interesting artists there…
Yeah he has. All the time people have told me that I have the same kind of timbre and tone has Daryl Hall (which I’ll take because I think he’s a bad-ass singer). We had reached out to him a long time ago and asked if we could come on his show and never heard anything back. Then I did an interview with a reporter in San Francisco and he made the reference, you totally sound like Daryl Hall. Two weeks later the same guy was interviewing Daryl Hall and asked if he’d heard of us, mentioned that I sounded like a younger version of him, you gotta check it out. That piqued his interested and then we got invited to come do his show.
How was it?
It was a great experience. He has a farm in upstate New York where he loves to restore old colonial homes. He has these two houses from the 1780s, put them on his property and connected them with this big master dining room. You walk in and you feel like you’re in the 1700’s, it’s so magical, especially being from the west coast where we don’t have anything older than the 50’s. So you do the session in that big connecting room, it was so exciting just to look over and see Daryl Hall, and ask him, you know “can you sing a 3rd harmony above me?” he was super gracious and welcoming. But anyway the whole reason we’re talking about this is that we’re in this weird in between place were radio still matters, and we still got a lot of fans from doing Jimmy Kimmel and Carson Daly, but we got so many fans from doing Live at Daryl’s House.
Yeah it seems like he has quite a following.
Yeah his producer said he’s well over 300,000 views / month. (That’s almost as much as the Mediocre Music Blog.) so now it’s every show we run into people saying they found us on Daryl’s house etc. Philly especially because of his ties to Philly it was every other person saying that. It’s maybe one of the most important shows we’ve ever done as a band.
Did you listen to a lot of Hall and Oates growing up?
Oh yeah I mean it wasn’t always cool to like Hall and Oates, but now in the cultural zeitgeist it’s kinda cool to like them. Bird and the Bee did their Hall and Oates cover record, and, you know, they’re the most successful rock duo ever.
Did not realize that.
They are, in terms in number of sales, hit songs etc. They’re the most successful rock duo ever. If you get past the aesthetics of how 80s some of their songs are and look at their careers, they were actually one of the first blue-eyed soul band out there. They were doing Motown kind of stuff and had their roots deeply in soul music, then in the 80s they evolved into man eater and that stuff. From a songwriting point of view though they’re just really well written songs. I think a testament to that is that they still have a relevance today, and are enjoying a bit of a comeback.
And it seems like, more broadly speaking, soul as a genre is having a bit of a resurgence. Between you guys, Sharon Jones etc.
For sure. I think you can give most of the credit to Sharon Jones and the dap kings for being first on the scene and breaking open what people are calling the neo-soul movement. They left room for people like us, Aloe Blacc, Eli Paperboy Reed, Jamie Lydell. Everyone’s doing their own thing in it.
What do you think’s behind it?
I think the reason is because it connects with people on an emotional level. It has heart, it has truth and authenticity to it that I think in many ways people are hungry for again. You know there’s so much programmed music, and super hyped-up music, and this music takes you back to the craft of songwriting and great musicianship. We’re not a shoegazer band, when you come see one of our shows you’re not even allowed to stand still. If you try Noel will call you out and ask why you’re not getting down with us. You know there’s nothing pretentious or ironic about what we’re doing. There no hipster irony, wink and a nod type thing. It’s just having a great time, enjoy playing music, and I think people really respond to that experience, especially live. And the music, I’m obsessed with writing a great song, and we worked really hard on this record to have every song stand on its own two feet. So I think people respond to this new movement of soul because it has soul and it has heart.
We agree. It’s certainly refreshing and we hope it continues. What’s after this tour, you guys doing any festivals this summer?
Yeah, we’re doing Sasquatch up and the Gorge in Washington. We’re doing Austin City Limits. I think if we’re lucky we’ll do Bonnaroo and Lollapalooza but I don’t think those are confirmed yet. I haven’t done too many festivals so we’ll see how it goes.
Another way to get your name out there, especially with the emphasis you put on your live show.
While writing the album, were there any live events that spawned it?
Well the whole band started out of being really devastated from a breakup and losing my mind. The thing about music for me is that at every turn, at my lowest points in my life, music comes and saves the day. If it’s just the need to heal and express oneself, or just having that activity to do to distract yourself from the pain and misery. So that was the catalyst, I just found I needed to be creative and do something to express myself after this breakup. That’s what kicked off the whole project, I wrote the first song “breaking the chains of love” that set the tone and direction for the record. I quickly brought in James and he turned me on to Noel, five phone calls and we had the band. Like I said we didn’t have any money so we made it in our living room.
What’s your take on file-sharing / piracy?
Look, you’ll never be able to stop it. The dam’s broken. Every day I see rapidshare/bittorrent files with our name attached to it.
Is that frustrating for you?
Well we’re a small band. By the end of next week we’ll have sold 20,000 albums, and moneygrabber will have sold 20,000 copies too. In this day and age that’s a real accomplishment. The interesting thing is that we give away Money Grabber, for free, in exchange for an email address so we can keep in touch with you. That’s still our best selling single on iTunes, even though we give it away for free. So that kind disproves the theory that if you give it away it will hurt you. Social media for us has been incredibly important. Noel and I do all the messaging on our facebook and twitter. We sell all our own merch, we love to meet and greet everybody after the shows. Just making that human connection with people is great because we truly are grateful to have an experience where we can come to a city like Boston and sell out. We want to meet people and I think people want to have that engagement with you. You form friendships and relationships with them that lasts over time. People send us messages on facebook and it’s her and I saying what’s up or thanks for the compliment back. But hey, steal the music, whatever. There are a lot of bands that wish people would steal their music.
Yeah it seems that for some bands, like metallica for example, they get to the point were they’re not wishing people would steal their music.
Metallica, whatever, they can cry all they want. They’ve made plenty of money, they can retire already.
Black olives, I don’t know why, they freak me out.
Would you rather be attacked by a horse-sized duck, or 20 duck-sized horses?
20 duck-sized horses. Sounds more manageable. I’m tall so I think I’d have a better chance.
Good call. Thanks a lot for your time Fitz. We really appreciate it and good luck with the rest of the tour.