Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky are getting their dance shoes ready for the return of soulful Indie Rock act Fitz and The Tantrums, this Wednesday November 14th at Madison Theater in Covington. Along with Capital Cities and Beat Club, Fitz and The Tantrums are going to bring the heat to a town chilly with the first days of fall. High energy, sincere, and an all-around good time are happening, and we couldn’t be more excited about it.
Drummer John Wicks took some time to answer a few questions about the band, their current tour, and just how crazy the last few years have been for everyone in the Fitz camp. Anyone who has such great things to say about legendary band Hepcat is more than alright by me (just saying…). Sincere thanks to John for answering my questions, which you can find below. Enjoy!
Fitz and The Tantrums has been a band a relatively short amount of time, but has become popular rather quickly. Has it been difficult to make the transition from a band just getting started to one who tours regularly and is so much in the spotlight? Or is it something you just have to go with and enjoy for what it is?
All of the members of the band with the exception of Fitz were full-time professional touring and session musicians prior to the band. So for us it was really not too jarring or surprising. I know the first tour we did opening for Flogging Molly was an eye-opener for Fitz, but he ramped up very quickly to “Road Dog” status. Now, the tough transition lies in the fact that we have three fathers in the band and trying to stay connected to our young children. With long stints like this six week run we are on right now, it can be very difficult.
Since this site is dedicated to musical happenings in Cincinnati, can you talk a bit about your experience(s) here? What have been some of your favorite cities to explore and play for?
There is a select few areas of the U.S. that have been on-board with Fitz & The Tantrums since the very beginning because a few risk taking rebel radio DJ’s and programming directors took a chance and played us. Ohio never ceases to amaze us. For whatever reason, you all have packed every show we’ve played since our first pass through there. We love Ohio. I’m an avid runner and it is my way of exploring the cities we blow through and get more of a feel of them than if I just played show after show and stared at my iPhone all day. In Ohio, I love running in Columbus along the river. Last time I was in Cincinnati I went and ran the Beechwood to Red Oak trail which was beautiful. I love any city that preserves a some nature trails and I can get out and run in some dirt.
As you’re touring on a new record, how have you altered your live performance or stage set up to accommodate the slight change in sound? Do you think that, in a live setting, the new material lines up with material from the first record? How was it trying to make everything jive when putting together the set for this tour?
When writing for this record we had the live show in mind because the high energy set has become our calling card. We also had the lofty goal of playing for much larger audiences, so there really has not been too much alteration of the songs to accommodate the show. It paid off because we ended up playing stadiums as the opener for Bruno Mars and the new songs have crossed over to a broader audience and various radio formats. Looking out at the audience from my seat at the drums, I notice different folks responding to different strokes. We now many more young people at the show that don’t even know the first record at all and just sing along with the new stuff which to me says that our plan is working. About the only thing we alter and tweak is the set list’s song order. We try to take the audience on a journey with escalating tempos and the occasional surprise ballad or cover song.
Your sound touches on so many eras of music, so it’s easy to think that collectively, the band is bringing a lot of love, appreciation, and respect for the past to the table. How does that work itself out in the writing process? How do you land on a style or direction to take a particular song or group of songs?
This new record is a representation of the six personalities that make up this band. Fitz had already set the musical compass of the first record prior to most of us meeting him. But after touring for three years straight, we had become a band and as such every voice needed to be heard. So, I grew up with disco and hip hop, Jeremy is a Prince fanatic, James love indie rock bands, etc.. So all of those come into the fold with this effort. We had a formula that worked for the first record. People loved that Motown sound we we went for so we could’ve just stuck with that but a rolling stone gathers no moss, so to speak.
As a follow-up, do you think that your modern take on classic sounds allows your listeners to attach themselves so quickly to the music you’re making?
I think that the sounds we chose will be familiar to a lot of people on a subconscious level. We tried not to just rip a verbatim Prince synth sound or an exact Roland drum machine sound. More than that though, I think that the quick attachment to the songs can be attributed to good songwriting. Themes that are universal and not just relying on little hooks or ear candy and calling it a song.
One of the best ways for any band to communicate musically is through live performances. What is your favorite type of venue? Small, intimate venues? Arenas, or high capacity rooms? Headlining tours, support tours, music festivals?
I personally prefer smaller, hot, sweaty venues. I love the immediate connection with the audience in a smaller club on a headlining date. I also enjoy the thrill of playing the mainstage at say, Lollapallooza, or Austin City Limits and looking out at a sea of people’s heads bobbing to my drum beats. It’s a total power trip! Support tours can be tough because people are not there to hear you. But we learned a ton from the Bruno Mars tour and from Maroon 5. It’s tough to create an intimate, personal vibe in the basketball stadium holding 17,000 people. But Bruno is able to do that every night and we learned a lot from watching him and his amazing band.
Your music works so well as a bridge between Indie music and mainstream pop. You’ve toured with relatively small acts like Hepcat (one of my all-time favorite bands, actually), as well as globally known bands like Maroon 5. How does this factor in to how you view and take part in such distinct “scenes” within the music scene as a whole?
Taking part in any scene is a mistake. No matter what you do, people will try to pigeonhole you into something that they can get their head around, so why help it or fight it. Just be you. If you create your music to try to belong to a certain clique then you are inevitably going to play that music with a sense of irony, not honesty. Eventually the audience will sense that and will jump ship because at the end of the day, in the long term we call crave honesty. Hepcat is a very good example of this. That band does not play that music to sell records. They don’t play that music to be a part of a certain scene. When you hear them play ska, you can tell that they all have studied that music so much that it is truly a part of them. They are one of my favorite bands and some of my favorite people on earth.
Since the band manages to keep a foot firmly planted in both the independent music scene and the mainstream music scene, who are some smaller, more unknown bands that you think Top 40 Radio fans should check out?
Now that we are on a big major label I don’t know that we can truly say we are indie but I take it as a compliment. The band I think everyone should check out is Beat Club. They are on the road opening for us on this current tour and they are incredible. Great guys as well. I also dig Lorde, Tame Impala, Dam Funk, Azealia Banks, Youth Lagoon, and Frankie Rose.
My wife and friends are big fans of your music as well and wanted to ask some questions!
So my first time hearing FATT was at the 20th Century Theater in Cincinnati. I've never been to a concert where the audience was so engaged...dancing, singing...Fitz flinging sweat from his hair every time he swung his head around. You were clearly exhausted, but loving every second of it. How do you maintain that type of energy night after night?
I run ultra marathons and drink lots of coffee. When I’m not on the road, I live and run in the mountains around Missoula, Montana. I did my first 50 mile race recently and I’ve got a 100 miler on the books for 2014. As the drummer, it’s my job to keep the energy going every night regardless of how Fitz, Noelle or the rest of the band may be feeling. I can’t have an off night because it all stems from the drums when you’re band’s calling card is a high energy dance party. So, I’m a vegan and I run between 70 and 100 miles a week when I’m on the road. I’m not a kid any more so it takes extreme measures in order to appear as though I am, at least energy-wise. I also very rarely drink alcohol any more. My crutch is coffee.
Do you draw on more current situations for inspiration or are the songs/music built around things that have happened in the past?
Great question. I think for the songs to come from a pure, visceral place ideally you would like the inspiration to flow from a current situation that inspired the song to be written. I don’t think that life allows you to sit down and write a song whenever a conflict or a good thing happens, so drawing from the past is probably a more common way to write. I will say that I think what is lacking in a lot of pop songwriting today is a well of literary background to draw from. Nobody reads anything longer than a 140 character tweet these days and even that is shortened with things like LMFAO and BFD, etc.. If people read more books, they would find songwriting a lot easier and of a higher quality.
Thanks so much for your time! Do you have anything else you would like to add or mention?
My hope is that people will come to a Fitz & The Tantrums show and let their guard down and their inhibitions out. Dance like nobody is watching and lose yourself with us for a couple of hours. Thanks a lot!
Thanks again to John for being so gracious with his time and providing such great answers. You can catch Fitz and The Tantrums at the Madison Theater in Covington, KY on Wednesday November 14th with Capital Cities and Beat Club, and you can pick up their latest release, More Than Just A Dream, at any of our fine local record stores.
There is still time to enter to win tickets to the show HERE!