If history has taught us anything about pop music, it’s that hard times make for swingin’ tunes. In the years since America’s economic tumble, we’ve watched vintage soul music not only make a comeback but stake its claim on the popular songbook, infiltrating every genre from hip-hop to indie rock. Among the revivalists, though, few do it as well as Fitz & The Tantrums. Building off a Stax-era foundation, these Los Angeles–based music makers weave in elements of ’80s New Wave, ska, and hip-hop to create a sonic palette that’s made for the dance floor. When I spoke to frontman Michael “Fitz” Fitzpatrick last year, he explained that tough times are prime breeding grounds for upbeat music because, at the end of the day, “people just want to dance.”
This October, Fitz & Co. release the follow-up to their 2010 breakthrough debut, Pickin’ Up the Pieces. In the months leading up to the as-yet-unnamed sophomore album, the band is splitting their time between wrapping up the record and playing some seriously high-profile gigs. (This weekend, they open for Ben Harper at both the Santa Barbara and the Hollywood bowls.) I caught up with vocalist Noelle Scaggs and got the details on the next chapter of Fitz & The Tantrums’ jiving musical story:
You guys are getting pretty close to finishing the next record I hear. We’re getting close. We’re in the mode of having to get these songs finished before we leave for tour this weekend. We already have the release date set for October 9, so we’re gearing up all the artwork and prepping for the first video and figuring out what the single [is]. It’s going to be really cool. We’re very very happy with the direction it’s taken.
How has the writing process changed since Pickin’ Up the Pieces? Well, we went from a January tour straight to writing mode. We wrote 30 songs in the span of a month and a half, which is very quick — I feel like that hardly ever happens — but it was just a really cool, easy process. It was just a really good flow, and when you start hitting that flow, you can really start looking at the songs you’re writing and making sure you’re writing great songs.
Have you hit any roadblocks? I definitely hit my creative wall in certain areas. Just doing rewrites, you end up thinking, “Oh God, I have to change that, and it’s going to take me two hours to think of one word.” But it’s all part of the process, and we have a great producer, so it’s really worked out.
Was there a lot of pressure involved in trying to follow up a successful debut? When you’re making your sophomore record, I think there’s always a little bit of pressure. You really want to push yourself; you don’t want to be stuck in a box. And after the growing success that we’ve seen because of the first record, there is a little pressure there to make sure that we kept our fan base. What we’ve learned, though, is that our fans are pretty diehard.
Pickin’ Up the Pieces was based on a breakup. Is there a theme that’s uniting the new album? It’s a mixture. It’s not just about heartbreak and relationships and getting over things. When we were writing, we’d throw out topics and different scenarios and create these story arcs for each song, so every song has something to say. There’s one song that I had written which was basically about dying, about coming out of your body and realizing that you’re no longer on this Earth the way that you’re used to knowing. It’s about having these regrets in your life about not living fully or not paying attention to certain details in your life and wanting to bring back the day. That was something that I really wanted to do; I didn’t want every song to be about love, and I think we really accomplished that.
How has the writing dynamic changed within the band? You know, you can really be surprised when you challenge each musician to go home and develop something, to really be a part of the writing process, because a lot of times, musicians don’t have that opportunity. In the beginning of this band, it was Fitz, and we were recording him in that way. It quickly became more of a unit, versus it just being about one face. Everybody in this band has a personality to the way they play. I’m really fortunate to be in a band like this. … And it’s a really great challenge for me as a songwriter and a lyricist to be pushed by them.
Fitz & The Tantrums play the Santa Barbara Bowl with Ben Harper on Saturday, June 30, at 6:30 p.m. For tickets and info, call 962-7411 or visit sbbowl.com.