Fitz & the Tantrums' Noelle Scaggs: I'm Inspired by My 7-Year-Old Niece
Los Angeles' Fitz & the Tantrums
offer up a grassroots success story built on unadulterated creativity, elbow grease
and and just the right amount of luck. All systems were a go after the practice session in late 2008, and the band played their first gig just a week later. Six months into it, they were on tour with punk powerhouse Flogging Molly. Slots at major U.S. festivals such as Lollapalooza and Telluride Blues & Brews and an itinerary of near 200 live appearances since
January has contributed directly to the band's mounting success.
Their sound is pleasantly nostalgic, yet
maintains a necessary fresh flare of neo-soul and
futuristic lounge. In the live setting, frontman
Michael "Fitz" Fitzpatrick executes showmanship reminiscent of
James Brown, but with the presentation of Robert Smith and the
sincerity of his indie pop counterparts. The rest of the Tantrums' outfit
defy their backing band nomenclature and showcase a thematic equal
opportunity approach to the universal get down.
Noelle Scaggs, sultry vocalist, tambourine shaker and personification of
a new age for soul music, connected with County Grind from her home in L.A. to
about the band's unique road to success.
County Grind: You guys have
been on the road non-stop for the past year it seems. How are things going out
in California now that you are getting some time at home?
Noelle Scaggs: Things are good
here, nothing too crazy, just getting ready for the first date of the tour in
Charleston. This one is going to be a long haul. So
other than a couple one off shows around here it has been nice to just be home and catch up
on life things.
The band's story
is pretty unique in that you rehearsed one time and had a gig the next week. What
was the selling point for this music project initially that enticed you enough
to see it through from the beginning?
When I first
heard the project I was really attracted to the sound. It was something that
wasn't really familiar in the spectrum of not being exactly Motown or something
from the '80s. It had a really cool mixture and a more modernized feel. I was
also really attracted to Fitz's singing voice and the vibe that he was trying
to create. When we initially talked about doing the show I was in an in between
phase of whether or not I wanted to join another band, do a solo thing, or
maybe not even do music for awhile to focus on other things. I ended up doing
the rehearsal and that pretty much solidified it for me.
So even though
you knew most of the musicians in the room, it was almost a love at first sight
type of situation in reference to the sound?
It was like I
was walking into a room with a bunch of friends. It was actually my
meeting Fitz, and that was also the case for everyone in the band other
than [saxophonist] James King. James was pretty much our connection, and
I had enjoyed playing with
him over the years, so I really knew the caliber of musicians I was
going to be
involved with. After we did the first show the feedback from people made
want to continue. We really just loved playing music and performing with
other. That is how it all began.
Did you have a
feeling that the band would ever be at the point you are now?
No, we had no
idea. I was really just going for it and because it was so easy vibe-wise, and
creatively we were all on the same page, so that made it even easier to
continue doing it. Even when things got harder for us financially we still
decided to see it through because we knew there was something special here that
we had not felt with other projects. Everything seemed to align itself and we
realize the serendipity of every moment, like being asked to go on tour with
Flogging Molly after only six months of playing, and getting a deal with
Dangerbird Records when were on our last leg financially. From there we have just
been trying to gain as many fans and make as much noise as we can.
Much like how
the band came together for the first rehearsal and then played your first gig a
week later, you guys have been gaining lots of momentum in a very short amount
of time. With all the hard work, how do you balance that out?
If you are
trying to maintain some sense of a regular life you have to stay connected to
home as much as you can. Because we are all friends, it makes it a lot easier
for us when touring life becomes difficult. I don't think anyone in the band
expected us to be gone as long as we have been. We had no idea we were going to
end up touring for the last 14 months, so it becomes important to have an
environment where we can communicate. That has been a key element of making it
through this experience as a band. The consolation is that it is a tough life
to live but it is also really fun and inspiring. Every day I get joy from
performing live and watching our fans feel inspired enough to just let go for
an hour or two. That is moving.
Have you had one
of those moments where you stepped back and realized you have made it to this
happen every day (laughs). The biggest thing for me was going to Holland and
playing in front of sold out crowds the first time we had ever gone there. We
also went to Italy and came back a week later and found out we were in the top
10 of all Italian radio. When we came back from there we played Lollapalooza to
a crowd of 30,000 people. Everyone there was singing and really into
the music from song one. That moment for me, stepping on that stage, and seeing
their reaction was a beautiful thing. At that point everyone in the band realized
all of the work we had put in the last two years was really flowering.
Fitz and the
Tantrums are reminiscent of classic genres, but with a fresh approach, what was
the initial inspiration for tackling that sound in particular?
When Fitz wrote
"Breaking the Chains of Love," and then collaborated with James King, I think
they were building off the concept of things they had listened to growing up.
That also built on top of what Fitz had created in those first 20 minutes
it took him to write that song. Looking at the '60s as one of the best periods
of song writing, with songs that still stand the test of time, when we started
recording the full record we wanted to focus on balancing simplicity with the
complex nature of what we were doing. We didn't want to be a carbon copy of
anything we were inspired by. We started playing together early on it so it made
it that much easier to develop strong songs that could really stand on their
your music beyond music itself?
A lot of the
things that come out of me lyrically adhere to my relationships in subjects
like love. Love, or the lack of, plays a big part. That isn't just romantic
love, but also love that you might get from talking to a child. A lot of joy
and inspiration for me comes out of something like speaking to my seven-year-old niece. For me in general it is about focusing on the little moments in life
that happen. That way people can identify with them. I am in turn inspired
by individuals and I think that comes out in my music.
Any new material
on the horizon from you guys?
We were actually
in the studio last week cranking out some ideas. While we are on tour, and when
we get back, we will probably do a lot of writing as well.
Fitz & the
Tantrums are finally coming down to Florida. How do you feel about tackling a new
We are really
trying to get the word out down there. I have a lot of friends in Orlando, Fort
Lauderdale and Miami so they are all excited that we are coming. We are excited
about coming. I hope we are well-received.
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