By Zachary Swickey
A phone call from an ex-girlfriend was the defining moment that led Michael Fitzpatrick to create the throwback indie pop sounds of Fitz and the Tantrums. Fitz, a dapper young David Bowie lookalike, had already spent years in Los Angeles as a sound engineer for producer Mickey Petralia (Beck’s Midnite Vultures), but had yet to discover the sound that truly defined him personally as an artist. Fitz’s ex explained that her neighbor was moving out in a hurry and had an organ that she thought he’d be interested in.
The same night Fitz brought his new organ home, he wrote the first song that would become the archetype of his new soul-driven sound: “Breakin’ the Chains of Love.” Inspired, Fitz sought to create an original Motown sound, with the saxophone taking place of the lead guitar. The singer recruited saxophonist James King, an old college friend. King suggested sultry singer Noelle Scaggs and drummer John Wicks also join the fold. Rounding out the band, Wicks brought in bassist Ethan Phillips and keyboardist Jeremy Ruzumna, who was previously the musical director for Macy Gray.
In December 2008, the group played their first show ever at the Hotel Café in Hollywood, which Fitz had quietly booked just one week after the group’s inception. The troupe worked the California scene and soon recorded their debut EP, Songs for a Breakup, Vol I, in the singer’s home in Los Angeles. After the EP’s release in August 2009, the band got their first big break when they got to open a stint of shows for Maroon 5. Rapper K’naan had unexpectedly dropped off Maroon’s college campus tour, and ten days later – after a recommendation from lead singer Adam Levine’s tattoo artist – Fitz and the Tantrums found themselves as the new opening act.
The group’s next big step came last year, performing at the band-signing-mecca South by Southwest (SXSW), a music festival targeted toward fans as well as industry insiders. Lo and behold, Fitz and the Tantrums were signed to Dangerbird Records just six weeks after their memorable appearance. Adopting the “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” mentality, the group once again reconvened in Fitz’s LA home to record their full length debut, Pickin’ Up the Pieces.
Fitz and the Tantrums is modern day Motown at its finest. Never has the soul of James Brown been more alive than in the heart of this band. All six impeccably dressed members routinely bust out their dance moves, hand-clappin’ and finger-snappin’, at their live shows, which will make you sweat more than Zumba ever could. And talk about a group that is truly for all ages, Fitz and the Tantrums will have your grandmother singing along just as easily as your five-year-old (the same effect the Sister Act soundtrack had on me as a small child).
Singles “Moneygrabber” and “Breakin’ the Chains of Love” are good places to start getting acquainted with the group’s soulful attitude and spunk. The more serious tone in songs like “Dear Mr. President” and “Tighter” show the group isn’t just some musical one-trick pony. Simply put, the throwback tunes of Fitz and the Tantrums are undeniably catchy and are songs you should be familiar with.