Backdrop Exculsive: Fitz and The Tantrums Interview
By Kyle Ellis | Photo by
On Weds., Nov. 13, Templeton Blackburn Memorial Auditorium will come alive with the unique sound of Fitz and The Tantrums. The Los Angles band is on tour across the US and Europe promoting their latest studio effort, More Than Just A Dream, with opening act, Capital Cities. After their stop in Athens, the bands will continue on across the Midwest, finishing up the States leg in Austin, TX, before heading to Ireland to begin the European section of the tour.

Backdrop spoke with Tantrums instrumental specialist James King in an exclusive interview. King helps produce the well rounded, instrument-heavy sound FATT are known for. He plays saxophone, flute, keyboard, guitar, and occasional percussion, backing up lead vocalists Michael Fitzpatrick and Noelle Scaggs. Here is what King had to say on behalf of his band mates.

Backdrop: You recorded your first EP in Michael’s house. That produced a pretty unique sound for you. Any chance of that kind of back to basics recording approach in the future?

James King: Nothing's off the table and of course we'd consider it. However, it was a huge advantage on this last record to have a renowned studio (Sound Factory in LA) at our disposal and a savvy producer (Tony Hoffer) to guide the way. His ears and opinions were crucial in making More Than Just a Dream. That being said, we all have home recording chops in this band and we would never hesitate to use them should inspiration strike.

BD: Your sound was initially classified as neo-soul. Do you plan to return to your neo-soul roots in future projects, or are you focusing on moving on to alternative sounds?

JK: We plan on integrating all the influences that strike our fancy at any given time. The soul sound of the first record came out of Fitz's personal relationship experiences and needing to sing in that style, and the so-called alternative direction of this record was borne out of a mutual love for early 80s-era production and songwriting. But one doesn't necessarily preclude the other.

We have added some more soulful acoustic elements to the live show on the newer electronic songs, and conversely some of the more Motown-referencing tracks from the first record now sound a lot more modern when we do them live. We consider it all one big palette to draw from.

BD: It would appear to the untrained eye that you as a group have made all the right moves in your journey from a bunch of friends to an internationally known act. Were there any missteps along the way that people may not be aware of?

JK: Maybe we tend to get a little too wordy in interviews...other than that I think we've been pretty smart about directional choices. It's a shrinking business, the music industry, and you have to think surgically about where to throw your energy and resources. Knock on wood, but no major missteps I can think of.

BD: What artist do you see becoming the next big thing in music? Who have you been listening to that the rest of us should be too?

JK: Well, she already IS the next biggest thing, so no secret here; but I have to give props to Janelle Monae for making a record that's both artistically true to her vision and commercially successful. She's a brilliant voice in music right now. As for lesser known bands, people should check out Touché (consisting of Alex Lilly and Bram Inscore), and also indie artists Juliette Commagere and Mason Summit.

BD: You’ve been described as the hardest working band on tour. What drives you guys to get up on stage and kill it night after night?

JK: Minimal partying, fresh juice, lots of exercise, and a pre-show boom box backstage that's either playing Michael Jackson, El DeBarge, Talking Heads, The Clash, or Public Enemy depending on who's DJing.

BD: Describe the feeling of jamming with Daryl Hall, in his home.

JK: I've been honored to perform with several legendary masters; Daryl Hall and his band, Tony Bennett, Francisco Aguabella, Al Jarreau, Joe Bataan, Slick Rick, Rakim...the thing that happens while playing with these guys, once you get past the initial star-struck feeling of, "Whoa, I'm on stage with..." is when you feel completely at home and supported in whatever you play. Of course we were literally in Daryl's home, which added a whole other level of musical intimacy. There's a reason Daryl is at the top of his craft; it's that indescribable 'thing' that comes with genius mixed with years of experience that you just can't fake. I learned a lot just watching him play our songs and hanging out with his sax player Charles DeChant, whom I listened to a lot when I was growing up. It was a great feeling and I can only hope that our band still inspires people decades from now as Hall & Oates does today.

BD: What’s next in the pipeline for Fitz & the Tantrums? Individual projects or a new album?

JK: Our heads are all in the game of promoting More Than Just A Dream now. But we always have individual things cooking, so be on the lookout for both FATT and non-FATT treats.

Special thanks to Shannon Cosgrove of BB Gun Press for facilitating the interview between Backdrop and Fitz and The Tantrums