More Soul Than The Devil Could Buy
The Pockets of Sound with Michael Fitzpatrick
Words by Alexandra Johnson
Illustration by Meera Lee Patel
Los Angeles, CA — As modern science works feverishly towards the invention of a time machine, Michael Fitzpatrick possesses the only working blueprint in existence, inked in the form of sheet music. Casually laughing off the frustrated scribbles and eraser shavings of science’s shortcomings, Fitz already knows the only combination that will work: an organ, himself, five of the best musicians he knows and some of the catchiest tunes you can find – with or without guitars.
As it is the dream of every inventor to create something that has the ability to move us back in time — this is not the case with every musician. Typically they aim for a sound that embodies a forward stride with only a sprinkling of classic technique, however, Fitz and the Tantrums do just the opposite. Instead, they formulate catchy tunes that play major homage to 1960’s Motown, while blowing it up with just enough of the gritty-edge found in the music of today.
Just waking up on west coast time, within every frequent yawn, Fitz bore the evidence of a high-energy, sweat-pouring show performed just the night before in Vegas. As he began a retelling of the unbelievable, knuckle-gripping journey that he and the Tantrums have been on in the past year, he started where it all truly began — his childhood.
“For me, loving music was never even a choice. I just was a kid that was always singing uncontrollably around the house, driving everybody else nuts. It’s truly been something that has been in my bones always. I always hear music in my head, I’m always tapping a rhythm, maybe out of nervousness, when I’m sitting at a table. I think for a lot of musicians, it’s not a choice”, explained Fitz.
With a true talent that festered within, Fitz enrolled in a high school for the arts where he fine tuned his vocal abilities. In the years that followed, Fitz found himself on a conquest that led him straight into the most magnetic musical evenings of his life — the true beginning to what is now Fitz and the Tantrums.
“A lot of people think that I’d started this as a solo project, and it wasn’t really that. I was just going through a terrible breakup at the time. I got this organ and it was sort of out of a necessity to express myself and even distract myself from going crazy. I just needed to make music. A lot of times when your writing a song, it’s you and whatever your instrument is, late at night. That’s when I wrote the first song, ‘Breaking the Chains of Love’. It was this magic moment, where the song wrote itself in five minutes from start to finish”, Fitz remembered.
“It really set the compass for what I wanted the music to sound like. And quickly, within a week or two, I added James King, the sax player, and he turned me on to Noelle Scaggs, our other vocalist. We made a few other phone calls, and that’s the band we have. So, it came together pretty quickly.”
Even with such a hasty conception, a band was pulled together that immediately ignited a spark of creativity. Whether it be chalked up to luck, good karma or sheer chance, six musicians had found one another, each with more heart than any wizard could give away and way more soul than the devil has ever been able to buy. With each piece playing an integral role to the project, they quickly found that it would be the sum of their talents that would carry a seemingly everlasting glow.
“Not to use Malcolm Gladwell as a reference, but everybody in the band has put in their 10,000 hours of practice. Everybody has really put in their time to be the best musician they can be. Sometimes it can take 40 phone calls and try-outs to find the right people. You know, ‘This guy’s a great player, but he just won’t shut up.’It’s always just a struggle to find people, ask anybody. But this was one of those circumstances where it just clicked, like so many other things that have happened for this band. Five phone calls were made and that’s everybody whose in the band, we met for the first time and it was just electric”, continued Fitz.
“Everyone has their own extreme love affair with soul music and funk. So, it was a natural point of reference for us to all come together.”
– Michael Fitzpatrick
That point of reference lent itself as the foundation of what would soon after become a retro-inspired, soul-shaking blast of dance-inducing music. With a list of what Fitz coveted in his vision, he couldn’t help but be turned off by the prototypical go-tos of the contemporary industry.
“When I wrote that first song, there was a couple of things that were really clearly shown to me right away. One, that I knew that I wanted to have a horn section. Two, that I definitely wanted to have a female vocalist to sing counterpoint or harmonies. And thirdly, that I did want to try and make a big sounding record without guitars. For me, I just feel like in any music that has a band, the guitar is always there, it’s always featured, it’s always prevalent. I’m just sick of hearing it”, explained Fitz.
“I wanted to see if we could create something that felt like it was full and rich and felt like it could be heard on the radio, without those guitars. I think a lot of people don’t realize it at first when they are listening to the record, or they come to see us play live, but halfway through they are like, ‘Hey, there’s no guitar’. It’s because you are so used to seeing and hearing it. What it does for your ears is it makes a different sound. All of a sudden, it becomes more about the rhythm section, the bass and the drums and what the organ’s doing. And it creates this really cool pocket for the vocals to sing in.”
The amalgamation of the highlighted instruments paired alongside fervent, soul- infectious vocal arrangements, makes for a genre of tunefulness not easily defined by the ordinary tags.
“Soul-indie-pop is the label that everyone gives us, and I don’t really hate that description. We are definitely a band that’s really heavily influenced by Motown, but we are not trying to be the exact duplicate of that. We are trying to put some different, edgier elements into it, which is where some of the indie reference comes from. And then I’m just a lover of a great song. My mission in writing a song is, I want to write the song that gets in your head and you hate me later ’cause you want to get it out”, said Fitz.
With the band’s latest radio spin, funk-infused ‘MoneyGrabber’, Fitz executed his foot-tapping, hum-spurring mission, but we certainly don’t hate him for it. As contagious as it is, though, you ain’t heard nothing until you experience their music live.
“If you come down to a show, you can expect to dance your asses off. We put on a great, high-energy show. It’s just about six people who love making music and love doing what we do. When we get on stage, Noelle and I leave it all out there, we leave the stage drenched. So, if you come to the show, expect to have a good time and to dance”, Fitz promised.
On the brink of their New York City show at the Bowery, Fitz is looking forward to re- navigating the concrete grid, woven strong with family ties and the backing of good friends and even better fans. “That shit’s already sold out! All of my friends are like, ‘Can you get me one?’ and I’m like, ‘Dude, I don’t have any more’. I’m saying it and I’m sitting here getting chills. It’s pretty exciting. New York has been really great to us very early on. It was one of the strongest cities, where we have been able to consistently do well”, continued Fitz.
“And I love it, because my mom, dad and brother live there. So, for me it’s always a chance to see them and for my parents to come down to the show and see what we’re doing. And I always make the crowd give a shout out to my mom and dad.”
Even with a mutual love stemming in the Big Apple, for Fitz and the Tantrums there really is no place like home. The choice to record both their EP, Songs for a Breakup, Vol. 1 (2009), and their full-length, Pickin’ Up the Pieces (2010), within the familiarity of Fitz’s home, is one that won’t fade away for future sessions.
“We’re on the road so much now, that we are forced to do a lot of songwriting at sound checks. I think invariably, we’ll be also having to record some of these songs in other cities, which I kind of like the idea of letting a song be influenced by the city you’re in. But, we’ll always have a home base. We had such success with trying to do it there, on the DIY tip. Next record, for sure, a large part of it’s going to still be done there”, Fitz remarked.
It was even in their native California city, where Fitz experienced his first true wake- up call of emotion-rearing amazement. Without any speed humps, dry spells or storm clouds overhead, F.A.T.T. quickly spiraled into a sellout act without as much as a warning.
“We did this west coast tour that ended back in L.A. When we booked the show, months before it, we didn’t even know if we could fill the room. It was the El Ray Theatre, which is a beautiful old-school theater that holds like 800 people. We never played a show in L.A. for more than 250 people. We came home from this tour, where we had all these amazing experiences, and then we get home and that show is sold out. We walk out on stage and Carson Daly is shooting it and the crowd just went crazy. I went to say hello and thank you and I got so choked up. Getting to be at home in a venue I love, just so many dreams were coming true. It was a real moment, where I couldn’t help myself but get incredibly emotional”, continued Fitz.
“The show was amazing, 800 people singing your song is not a bad thing. I’d say that was definitely a really defining moment. Looking out into the crowd, it was all walks of life. Front row was two little Mexican dudes, like 16 year old kids watching the show. Then, next to them was the NPR, cool, thirty-something people. Next to them was young, 20 year-old college girls. Next to them, was the 45 year old couple. It was just so eclectic and nobody cared who else was at the show, they were just all having a good time.”
In the midst of their big winter tour, Fitz and the Tantrums continue to invade cities one at a time, embodying an era that most of us have so far only found tucked in used record bins or in the musty smell of our grandparents’ shaggy carpets. Heading full speed into the year ahead, F.A.T.T. have suited up and proven that the past can sound even better when you give it a second go.
“This whole thing happened because we did it old school. We went out on the road and just played shows. After every show, Noelle and I go out and meet and greet anybody and everybody that wants to say hello to us. We sell our own merch. We put in the hard work that it takes and we are going to continue to do that and hopefully we will be lucky enough to keep being able to do it and keep growing it. Everyday is another new experience. I’m just on for the ride at this point”, Fitz concluded.
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