Heading to Chicago for three sold out shows at Metro (Saturday, November 19th, Sunday November 20th and Tuesday, November 22nd), Fitz & The Tantrums frontman Michael Fitzpatrick joined me on the phone in October for an insightful conversation on "Snowpocalypse," Lollapalooza, success, the internet, the band's future and much more.
Q. As far as Chicago goes, this has been a heck of a year for Fitz & the Tantrums: Metro in February and then only six months later Lollapalooza in August and that crazy Schubas aftershow. So how was your summer in Chicago?
Fitz: Well… I gotta say that, for me, I waited all year to get to Lollapalooza. It was super exciting. I mean, the first time we came there was the day after “Snowpocalypse” at the Metro (laughs). We sold that first show out at the Metro and it was like “Wow, something’s happening for us in Chicago!” It’s really cool for me too because my parents actually lived in Chicago for many years. I’m not from there but my parents lived there for like eleven, twelve years, so I came there many, many times. And then after that first show in February, we just worked our butts off all year long and I was just waiting for Lollapalooza. They gave us the main stage, which was incredible, but it was a really early time slot so I was like “Oh, I don’t know. Is anybody even gonna be there?” But we came out onstage and there was like twenty-five, thirty thousand people out there to see us and it was pretty incredible to be playing on that stage and look out and see the Chicago skyline. But I gotta say that, as awesome as that was, I had an even better time at Schubas that night.
That show was absolutely insane.
Fitz: Ya know, there’s just something when you’re like in a small space with people. Everyone was packed in there. That s**t was so f***ing hot, it was ridiculous! I was just dripping, drenched in sweat even more so than I had been all day at Lolla where I had set up for myself a mission: I am not gonna take my jacket off during the show at Lolla. And I ended up sweating twice as much that night at Schubas! But man, the energy was just insane. It was just so much fun. I mean, at Lolla there was a lot of people that were there to see us and then there was the row of Eminem superfans that were kind of gonna wait like ten hours standing in the front to make sure they were front row. So they were just sort of staring at us going “You are not Eminem” (laughs).
But yeah, Schubas was incredible and as you know, we’re coming back to the Metro. Those shows sold out faster than any [of our] other shows and [we’ve added] a third night. So, it’s pretty exciting. I love the Metro. For me, it’s one of the funnest clubs to play. I love Joe Shanahan. Joe took a total chance on us and booked us at the Metro back in January or February when honestly we kind of had no business playing a club that size. So for us, it was just exciting to see he took a chance on us and it paid off. So it was really great.
Q. Aside from the music, I think one of the reasons that people identify so much with this band, is its story. It is the classic do-it-yourself success story. You self released your debut EP three times. You paid your own way to open on several tours. In an industry that doesn’t do much inspiring anymore… your story is kind of inspirational! And now you’re performing to massive festival crowds. What are things like for Fitz & the Tantrums right now?
Fitz: Well, you know, it’s pretty crazy to see that progression because it was really, like you said, our do-it-yourself thing. You know, nobody was giving us the time of day. Not that our music’s that radical but it certainly doesn’t fit into a nice little box of what’s on radio or what record labels are interested in. It really was for us this sort of like word of mouth sort of campaign. And for some reason, when people got turned onto us or saw us play live, they became ardent supporters and so passionate and went around and told everyone they knew or bought their friends a CD and said “You have to listen to this.” And that’s where the whole foundation for things sort of started to get really big and more mainstream things like Lollapalooza or late night TV paid any attention to us. It was that groundswell. I mean now, nobody tells you when things are going really well, how freaking busy you’re going to be. I just got back to L.A. yesterday. I was in New York the day before, Toronto the day before that and San Francisco the day before that. That was a pretty crazy couple days of travel. We did Austin City Limits. That was three of the most brutal days of travel. But these are quality problems… To be in demand and have to get places but it’s also, physically, one of the most challenging marathons that any of us in the band have ever tried to pull off.
Still, to this day, and one of the reasons why I think things started to go well for us in the dead of winter when we were touring, was we were doing literally like three shows a day. We’d show up at a “Triple-A” radio station or NPR station in the morning, play a couple songs, go to the next station, play five songs, go to an indie record store and do an in-store and then go to the show that night, play a show and then, since the very beginning, we’ve been selling our own merch and doing a meet-and-greet with people… So it was literally like some days on that first big fall/winter tour like three to four shows a day, every day for five weeks.
Q. I’ve read your response letter to the Bob Lefsetz blog where you referenced the fact that you were a bit disenfranchised with the industry, working for a producer as his engineer and paying bills by writing music for film and TV. Were you close at all to calling it a day musically before this took off?
Fitz: I’d say for me, in terms of being in a band and making my own music, its been a long road to get here and its been a dream that I’ve definitely picked up and put down many times. And I had sort of put it down and was just trying to find a more realistic way of making a living by engineering, by writing music for film and TV and stuff. And when I wrote those first couple songs for Fitz & The Tantrums, there was no intention of doing anything because I had been burned so many times by the business before. I was just doing it for the love of it and I was losing my mind going through a bad breakup and trying to get over that. And that was the motivation for those first songs.
Q. You just talked a bit about all the work you guys put in for this to take off. The travel. Doing interviews with a million small blogs. Shaking every hand. Even at Schubas, you guys stuck around to talk to everybody. But now that you’ve theoretically “made it,” how important is that stuff to the band still?
Fitz: I mean, it’s something that we still do today. We just were in San Francisco and did the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival. We played for fifty minutes and then we announced right before our last song “We’ll be over at the merch booth. Come say hi.” Well we ended up staying at the merch booth for almost two hours because the line was so long.
I think what people really respond to is that we have humility. We’re all incredibly appreciative of what’s happening to us. We know how lucky it is to get a break. We all have been in the business for a while. We all have friends that are working just as hard and can’t seem to get arrested. And I think that people appreciate that humility and being just down to earth. If they get to meet us and hang out and talk for a second and take a picture, it makes their day. It makes them excited. They’ve invested in us as people, not just musicians, and they’re excited to follow us and to see what happens in our career. It’s like a deeper bond with our fans. It’s kind of incredible to be a part of and just, at the same time, witness in sort of just an observational kind of way.
Q. A lot of that early success was internet based and we now, obviously, live in an era where the internet, for better or worse, is the dominant music distribution force. Pickin' Up the Pieces is a very fully realized album. Sales now seem entirely refocused, with the internet, on singles so how do you feel about the role of the album as Fitz & The Tantrums move forward?
Fitz: I mean, it’s undeniable that people seem to think that. But also, listeners as well, they cherry pick one or two songs and that’s not completely of their own fault either! There’s been times where I know I’ve bought an album based upon one song I liked and I’m like “Wow! There’s nine crappy songs and then the one song that I like.” But for us, we absolutely have the mandate to ourselves that we wanted to make every single song on the album great, as great as we could make it, and have each song be able stand on its own two feet and not be buttressed by the other songs on the album. And in our heads, I mean, I’m a pop song fanatic and I mean pop in the best way as far as just great melodies, a song that you hear once and you’re already singing along to before the song is over. And we really tried to make sure that each song could be its own single. I mean, we’ve sold almost 100,000 copies of the record and I think that’s because of the strength of the body of the album. People are into the whole record.
Q. You guys performed “Lovesick Man” at the Schubas show. I take it you’re working on new material?
Fitz: We are. We did that song and a couple other new ones in the set and we just have been so busy that we have been forced to just basically be writing at soundchecks and somebody will have an idea or a ditty and we break out our songs and record it and we literally have hundreds of ideas, little parts, whole songs, little melody lines that are on our phones and we actually just next week are going into the studio for the first time in a very long time to just start going through some of those ideas, jamming out some new ones and just being creative because in February we’re going to start working on the next record in earnest. So we’re trying to get a little head start on it by just going and being creative. So February/March we’ll hopefully get busy like hopefully really trying to write the next record and see where it takes us.
Q. One of the band’s big breaks came from doing the show Live From Daryl’s House. I have talked to several artists who’ve performed on that show and every single one raves about the experience. What was it like for you being on that show?
Fitz: I’ve been a huge Hall and Oates fan my whole life. I have always had people compare the tambre of my voice to Daryl’s. I think he’s way more of a bad ass than I could ever be but I could even hear it sometimes that there’s a similarity in the tambre of our voices. So there’s been many times where there’s been that comparison made. Actually, the whole way that we got onto Live From Daryl’s House was that I was doing an interview a while ago with a San Francisco reporter and he said “Has anybody ever told you that you sound a lot like Daryl Hall?” And I said, “Yeah, I’ve been told that several times.” Well, I guess that a couple weeks later, he was interviewing Daryl about Live From Daryl’s House and he said, “Daryl, have you heard of this band Fitz & The Tantrums? Fitz sounds a lot like you.” And that’s what piqued Daryl’s interest. Daryl heard the record, loved what we were doing, especially from his like Gamble & Huff sort of roots. You know, because so many people think of them as ancient hits but Daryl’s kind of truly one of the original blue-eyed soul singers.
So we get to go up to his house up in upstate New York. He restores these colonial houses that are literally from the 1870s or 1780s, I forget which, but are just unbelievable. He restores them meticulously. He was gracious and welcoming and really intelligent, an intellectual man. We didn’t even rehearse with his band. It was three of us from our band and a bunch of his guys and we would talk about the songs and the cameras rolled and we did the songs without even rehearsing them and we all sort of looked and he goes “Well, that was amazing! It wasn’t perfect but it had vibe. So… is everybody happy?” We were like “Yeah! Next song. Let’s move on.” Well, we did the first song, took a break, I walked into the kitchen and his Mom and his sister were there and his Mom looked at me and she goes “Fitz, come here” and waves me over. So I come over, she pulls me close and goes “You sound just like my son.” And I was like “Well there you go! I got validation from Mama Hall!”
I gotta say, as I said in the Lefsetz letter, doing that show was more impactful to our career than all of late night TV combined.
Fitz: That’s the power of the internet. And I like that he just started with things as DIY and built it into something where real music lovers are going there to have a musical experience. Hundreds and hundreds of thousands of people have seen our episode on there and there’s a direct correlation of someone seeing it and then clicking the “Buy” button and going to iTunes and downloading our record. Like a month after we did that episode and it aired on his website, every city we went to there was always a grouping of people that would be like “I found you guys from Live From Daryl’s House.” It would be whole families! Like a sixteen your old daughter, first concert ever, nineteen year old son, Mom and Dad, all fighting for the TV, all coming down to the show. It was like “Wow!”
Q. It really is such a cool vehicle to break new music. Well, I'll let you go on this one. You mentioned it earlier: The shows at Metro coming up (Saturday, November 19th, Sunday, November 20th and Tuesday, November 22nd). For fans that haven't seen your live show, it's impressive. Can you give people a bit of an inkling of what they're in for?
Fitz: Ya know, we try and put on the same high-energy show whether we’re playing in front of ten people or five thousand people. We put on the same show. For us, it’s really about elevating the experience to the next level. We’re not a shoegazer band. For us, it’s a celebration of music and we want it to be a party for people. We want people to have a good time. For us, the critical thing is to try and make the audience the seventh member of the show. You were at Schubas. You know there’s a lot of call and response. Sometimes, it’s about just pushing people a little bit to let their hair down and give them permission to have a good time. But at the end of the day, it’s really about having it be just a hot, sweaty mess, dance party.
This interview was conducted by Jim Ryan.
Fitz & The Tantrums (with opening act Walk The Moon)
Live at Metro
Saturday, November 19th
Doors open at 8PM, Show starts at 9PM
18 and over
Sunday, November 20th
Doors open at 6:30PM, Show starts at 7PM
Tuesday, November 22nd
Doors open at 8PM, Show starts at 9PM
18 and over