Band of the Day

2011.10.15

Fitz and the Tantrums

Motown-inspired indie pop that will spark a dancing frenzy
Don't come back anytime, you've already robbed me blind.
lyrics from MoneyGrabber

Fitz & the Tantrums are a six-piece indie-pop/neo-soul band from Los Angeles, California. The group's genesis came about in 2008 after Michael Fitzpatrick, founder and lead vocalist, wrote "Breakin' the Chains of Love" on a used vintage Conn organ he found at a garage sale. From there, he recruited Noelle Scaggs (vocals), John Wicks (drums), James King (saxophone, flute), Joseph Karnes (bass) and Jeremy Ruzumna (keyboards). Their producer Chris Seefried also works as a cowriter for the group. Pairing vintage soul sensibilities (à la Motown and Stax Records back-up bands) along with modern indie-pop, the group have garnered equal attention from soul, ska and indie scenes alike. With bright piano and xylophone sounds rhythmically driving forward, typical Fitz songs put Fitzpatrick's indie croon and Scaggs's soulful backups at the forefront while deep horns fill in the gaps. The production quality, both warm and big via reverb and layering, borrows heavily from Phil Spector's famous "Wall of Sound." After releasing their first EP in 2009 Songs for a Breakup, Vol. 1, the group toured the US with underground mainstays Hepcat and Flogging Molly - later getting their "break" in the form of touring with Maroon 5. In 2010, they opened for legendary British 2-tone group The Specials during their US tour. Signing to Dangerbird Records, the group released their debut LP Pickin' Up the Pieces in 2010. Proving they are more than an opening act, the LP soared to #1 on the Billboard Heatseekers chart, while Rolling Stone deemed them a "band to watch" in 2010.

Sometimes the best music comes from the strangest situations. Shortly after a break-up, Michael “Fitz” Fitzpatrick received a call from his ex-girlfriend about a neighbor who was selling a vintage organ for $50. By the morning, he had written the song “Breakin' the Chains of Love.” Five musicians later, including his college friend James King (sax and flute), and Fitz and the Tantrums was born. The opening track on Pickin' Up The Pieces, “Breaking' the Chains of Love” sets the mood for the band's debut album, born out of a Los Angeles apartment. Guitars have been left behind, replaced by an organ-driven sound, with Motown and funk-inspired horns and handclaps. What sets it apart from being a rip-off of this era of music is biting lyrics like “Fooling around, messing around all the time/No way I'm gonna find you, you're making me god damn pay!” While the album is full of danceable tracks like “Breakin' the Chains of Love,” there is also an element of social and political commentary. Like many of the politically-charged songs of the 60s, “Dear Mr. President” brings to light the injustice of social inequality by asking things like, “One meal ain't enough for three, is this the way it's supposed to be?” A piano and handclap-driven melody underlines a call to action as Fitzpatrick begs, “Please Mr. President, put your foot down!” “Pickin' Up The Pieces” has a sunny and shimmying vibe, with a happy flute solo and jangly tambourine beat. Co-vocalist Noelle Scaggs brings a vivacious and sassy dynamic, shining just as brightly alongside Fitzpatrick's soulful yearnings. Blast it on a record player, and you might as well be at a block party in 1960s Detroit. But the album's most memorable moment comes in the form of “MoneyGrabber.” This is the type of song that has an immediate familiarity—it's guaranteed to incite a crowd into a mass dancing frenzy, with a sing-a-long chorus of, “Don't come back anytime, you've already robbed me blind/This is your payback, money grabber!” Recorded in Fitzpatrick's living room (dubbed “Dillon Street Studios”), Pickin' Up The Pieces is by no means a slick and glossy debut album. Instead, its this warm, vintage vibe that makes it so irresistibly charming.