Fitz and the Tantrums are on the path to stardom. In the midst of their second tour of the year and coming from live performances on the late night television circuit, I caught up with bassist Joseph Karnes and keyboardist Jeremy Rezumna to ask a few questions about the band’s sound, life on the road, musical influences and the future of the band.
The Backstage Beat: How did you all first come in contact with Fitz? How did you come to join the band?
Jeremy Rezumna: John Wicks, the drummer and I were playing in a bunch of bands together and doing a lot of studio work together and he told me that this guy Fitz, who does commercial music sometimes was putting together a band and I thought, yeah, I’ll do a couple of gigs with a band, kind of check it out. Next thing I knew, two and half years later, it’s become my entire existence.
Joseph Karnes: Basically ditto for me, but more through James, the saxophone player
TBB: What was the overall process from when you first formed to when you released the first full-length album?
JK: Well, there was the EP, which was getting done before the band was really put together. After that we just started to play shows and it was the kind of thing where we got some lucky breaks. We opened up for Maroon 5.
JR: And Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings.
JK: Yeah, and Flogging Molly. So some nice, high profile tours, especially the Maroon 5 one, just because that was so early on. Its like, right out of the gate, we’re 8 shows in as a band and we’re playing a show like that.
TBB: You’ve both played with a number of other bands and worked as studio musicians. How does this experience compare with the work of some of your previous bands?
JR: The thing about this band that really impresses me, starting with Fitz and then on to every member of the band and every member of management, is it’s been laser-guided focus from the start. We’ve said to everything. I feel like we’ve put out good vibes and been good to people. Oh, and we always show up well-dressed.
JK: Ha. Well, we try.
JR: Yeah. But it’s just been this laser-guided focus, and a lot of luck, obviously. And a little bit of talent [laughs] That’s the thing about this band- everyone’s just totally professional and easy to get along with.
TBB: Your sound has been describes as soul-influenced indie rock. How do you think the sound of Fitz and the Tantrums differs from the classic 1960’s Motown bands?
JK: I think we take a lot of the tones and sounds of that era and some of the songwriting ethos of it, but really, we’re trying to take that music and do our own thing with it. It’s really just using it as a stepping stone.
JR: We’re not trying to copy or sound like any particular era at all. It may come off that way a bit, but I think that at the end of the day it’s definitely about pop songwriting. I mean, in my opinion, it’s the sound as if some of the greats bands of the ‘80’s were just recording in the mid ‘60’s.
TBB: Fitz has said that he doesn’t use guitars in the band because he feels they are overused in current pop music. How do you think not having guitars affects the overall sound of the band?
JK: Well, the first it does, especially in live context, is open up room for the vocals to really sit on the top and all the other instruments really sit in their own place. There’s only one chordal instrument, and that’s Jeremy on the keyboards. Then there’s just saxophone and bass. So there is a lot of space for the instruments and that’s one of the great things about it, aside from the fact that you can actually hear what people are singing in the show. I’ve been in a lot of rock bands and just with the guitars, the only way to get them to sound the way you want them to is to turn them up. They take up that same frequency range, so a lot of things get swallowed up in that. So, it’s really nice to be in a band that has space.
JR: And really, its much easier to get along with everyone when there’s not a guitar player. [laughs]
TBB: What other music is on your radars, personally? What are you listening to besides Fitz and the Tantrums?
JR: We’ve all been getting into a few things. Like, Stepdad, Mike Snow, Major Lazer. What else? I’ve been into Toro Y Moi recently.
JK: Toro y Moi? I haven’t even heard of them.
JR: Yes you have. I played them in the car for you the other day.
JK: Ok, yeah. Really, anything we can get our hands on. A lot of our friends are putting out records, like my friend Jim Bianco just put a record out that’s really good.
JR: I don’t have any friends.
JK: You’ve got friends. What about me?
TBB: Aww. So final question, where would you like to see Fitz and the Tantrums in five years?
JR: On the road and making albums. And I’ve always had a dream of owning a fur Lexus. So if I could just stock up enough cash for that, that’d be great.
JK: A small island for me, thank you.
After the interview, I took a seat by the window inside The Loft, where I could see a line of people , all the way down the block, waiting to get in to the sold out Fitz and the Tantrums show. Having only learned about the band a few days before the show, I felt like I was missing something. What did all of these people in line know about the band that I didn’t? I had a feeling that I was in for a great show.
My instincts were right. Opening for Fitz and the Tantrums was April Smith and the Great Picture Show, a small group led by April Smith and her soaring, soul-infused voice. The Loft was already packed with the sold out crowd and although it seemed to clear that they were all there for the main act, they watched April and her band with enthusiasm.
After a solid set from April Smith and the Great Picture Show and a short break, Fitz and the Tantrums took the stage. From the first note of the first song, the energy in the room completely changed. Suddenly, the crowd that had respectfully listened to the opening act was dancing and singing along with Fitz (Michael Fitzgerald) and vocalist Noelle Scaggs.
Fitz himself dance for most of the show, no small feat, considering he continued to sing without missing a beat. The audience, which was an interesting mix of older soul/Motown fans and young hipsters, was captivated throughout. At one point Fitz even had the entire crowd get low onto the floor and dance their way up, an amazing accomplishment considering the large crowd in the small space.
By the end of the night, Fitz, along with most of the crowd, was drenched in sweat. A good time was had by all and I finally figured out what the long line of people outside before the show had known that I didn’t- that Fitz and the Tantrums are a band not to miss live and one that I have a feeling we’ll be hearing much more from soon.
Thanks to TBB photographer Tom Dausner for these great shots!