Fitz and The Tantrums Is More Than Just a Dream

Needless to say, my blonde roots were showing on the day of my chat with John Wicks from Fitz and The Tantrums. Being a native Texan living in Arizona, where you never set back the clock, is bound to set anyone off eventually when discussion of time zones falls into place.

Needless to say: I mistook Mountain Time for Pacific. However, John thought just one state not changing the time for daylight savings was creepy and we were able to work out an interview over the phone.

Time-zone creepiness aside, Fitz and The Tantrums will be making their way to Phoenix on August 4 to perform at the Crescent Ballroom for their More Than Just a Dream tour. Besides the nostalgic moments that John and I obsessed over for a bit -- Fitz and the Tantrums was my first review for this paper -- we were able to chat about the differences between their first and second album, along with his obsession with running marathons and coffee -- he has his own coffee blog.

Up on the Sun: Funny enough, about this time last year, I got to chat with Noelle Scaggs about how y'all were in the process of recording your most recent album. As well, it's kind of nostalgic to me, but last time y'all made a stop by in Phoenix, y'all had an outdoor concert in downtown. That Fitz and The Tantrums show was the first concert that I ever reviewed.

John: That's right. I remember that now. Wow, it's all coming back to me now. Last time I was in Phoenix for that show, I ran the Rock and Roll Marathon right after we played. I'm like a freak runner. I played the show, ran the marathon after, and right after that I jumped on a plane and flew to Denver to meet the band and play a show that night.

I was cramping during the set, eating crackers, and salt pills. It was brutal. I have a 50-mile race and a 100-mile race coming up in the fall. I'm training for it now.

And we've added many to our crew now, and we have people out in Phoenix, and they reminded me that y'all don't change time out there. And I'm like, that is freaky. Being from Montana and not living in L.A. like the rest of the Fitz crew, I didn't realize that was such a thing. And I remember that when we were out there for that concert I had some issue with time change.

I'm from Texas and lived here for about three years now, and apparently I still can't grasp this freakiness. Clock times aside, Fitz and The Tantrums has got a really distinct sound. There is no guitars; it's very abstract and different. Pickin' Up The Pieces really possessed that sort of Motown sound, but with More Than Just A Dream it seems that there was a different transition or progress throughout the band toward a more varied sound. Well the first record was very much -- well, I would even say that it was probably about 75 percent done [when] we had all met Fitz. He had done a lot of that record already in his living room. So the tone of Pickin' Up The Pieces had already been set and the compass had already been set to a certain direction.

And now with More Than Just a Dream, the difference is that we've all been a band for a little over four years now. We all have our distinct influences and voices. As a result, you're going to get a completely different sound. The first record, like I had said, the compass was already set.

Strangely, it was actually really fortuitous that the first record had already sounded that way, that kind of Motown vibe. That was actually the reason I got called for Fitz. I had a reputation when I was working with Bruno Mars and Cee Lo to be able to produce that sort of sound on the drums and play within that style.

And then before I knew it, I was in this band that sort of took off, and I never really had any plans of being in a band. I was just, like, a hired drummer guy. [Laughs]

But like I was saying, when our most recent record came about . . . we all have our own influences. I'm usually influenced by disco, funk, and new wave. That came into the album. Jeremy, our keyboardist, is really influenced by Prince.

And as a result, [with] our different styles, we got this new album. The rules going into making it was that there were no rules. Many times we would get the remark, "Well, this doesn't sound like Fitz and The Tantrums, so we can't do it." [For this], we weren't allowed to say that.

It was like nothing was off the table, and we were really into that. I know a few times people would say that it didn't really sound like us, and we would be like, well, screw you!

And it's cool that you say that, because I do catch a little bit of the old sounds in the most recent album, but there are significant differences.And to be honest I was impressed, but stunned at first as to how much musical ground Fitz and the Tantrums covered from Pickin' Up The Pieces to More Than Just a Dream. I'm glad to hear you say that. We did get a lot of flack from some people on this album. But at the same time we got a lot of appreciation and praise for this album.

It's interesting to hear that you're influenced by disco and new wave music, and yet you're involved with a wide range of genres. It is funny. And here's the thing, I grew up playing drums in a jazz context. Like, I was a full-on jazz musician, like jazz Nazi or snob. In college, I had this roommate who was a trumpet player. And I went to college in Central Washington. He and I would make these trips out to Seattle, and he knew of all of these gay dance clubs. I thought at first that he was freakin' crazy.

But he convinced me that I had to experience this. And through that, I kind of got rid of that jazz Nazi personality. I realized that -- first and foremost -- that the drums are all about having fun and getting people to dance. And the exposure to that world, the dance music world, really put my priorities back where they initially were, when I started to play drums. Which was that this was supposed to be fun. It's not an athletic event; it's just about having fun.

Needless to say, I got heavy, heavy into electronic music. I was trying to figure out how to make the acoustic drums sound more like the beats and melodic tunes that you typically hear in house music. I love it.

Of course with all the music festivals nowadays bringing in more electronic artists, Fitz and The Tantrums are on the same lineup with many DJs and producers from the electronic side of things. Yeah. I think when you start closing yourself off to certain things without really giving [them] a shot, you're just stunting your own growth. You're not doing any service to yourself. Now don't get me wrong -- there's music that drives me nuts, but I'll listen to anything. But it doesn't do me any good to say whatever sucks. It doesn't do anyone any good.

But we were getting a lot of backlash, actually, on this recent record. People wanted that basic sound, and they wanted to hear and know what was familiar. Basically Pickin' Up The Pieces part two. We got a lot of people saying they don't like it, but for every one of those people we've got at least 30 to 40 people who loved it. It's all about not closing your mind off.

Exactly. My rule is either you're going to like it or not like it, but at least give it a chance. But usually if I'm iffy about some particular music, I try to go experience it live.

I love Fitz and the Tantrums, and I won't lie -- I had that question of whether or not y'all would be able to harness that same sound you hit in the studio in a live setting. And y'all sounded exactly the same or, heck, even better.

Awesome. That's cool to hear you say that. And that was really the goal. The first record -- I think the only thing that maybe slightly was lacking was because we weren't a band yet when the majority of that record was made, we weren't able to capture that energy of a live set. And I think we really captured that this time around.

I don't even know how Noelle kept a straight face during these promo segments, especially when your dream had to deal with wolves and Patrick Swayze in Dirty Dancing. Yeah, I think we were just looking for ways to -- in a fun fashion -- to present each song on this album. And from More Than Just a Dream we kind of decided, let's make these dream sequences. There's also this dynamic between Fitz and Noelle that really honestly does require some psychotherapy.

Maybe even some role reversal, with Noelle being the therapist. It was just kind of this tongue-in-cheek thing because of the dynamic between the two of them and it included the rest of us in the band as well. We're all like these crazy creative freaks with a sense of humor.

Noelle did crack a couple of times during these sequences. She lost it at one time when I started talking and the imagery showed a wolf and Patrick Swayze. But she kept it pretty straight. She's had some acting offers though, so I think that kind of showed through.

With the first album being released in 2011, tours following that along with recordings for the newest album and now touring for More than Just a Dream, has there really been any break time? No not really. There was probably just a month where we were kind of sitting back waiting for our labels to be switched to another.

And it didn't really feel like a break, because there was a lot of anxiety there. Besides that I think we've had a week long break. We're touring some with Bruno Mars, and headlining our stuff as well. It's constant. Don't get me wrong, I'm not complaining. I'm still in disbelief that people know who we are.

We're all still kind of looking behind us, going, are they really looking here for us? It's crazy to see these jam packed shows.

Fitz and the Tantrums is scheduled to perform Sunday, August 4, at Crescent Ballroom.

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Taylor Moon
Contact: Taylor Moon