With an opening spot on Bruno Mars' summer tour and a sophomore album filled with '80s-tinged indie pop-soul hits (or at the very least, anthems), one thing is clear: 2013 is going to be Fitz and the Tantrums' year. The L.A.-based six piece has been a NYLON favorite since their 2010 debut Pickin' Up the Pieces, but their follow-up, More Than Just a Dream, might just turn them into a household name. During a recent New York City visit, we invited singers Michael "Fitz" Fitzpatrick and Noelle Scaggs to the office to talk getting over heartbreak, turning to the '80s, and hunting down clean underwear. And because we know that May 7--when their album drops--is a long time away, we've also got the premiere of their new track "Spark." Press play, and then read on!
You've said that the band first came together after you found an organ for $50 on the side of the road. How did that kickstart things for you all?
Michael "Fitz" Fitzpatrick
: It was sort of the thing where you get this new instrument and it's this magic toy that comes into your world and it just inspired a bunch of creativity. That was sort of the kickoff point with the record; it just inspired a ton of songwriting, really.
: We actually ended up linking up because [Fitz] worked with our saxophonist James on the earlier part of the creation of the songs, and wanted to perform live. And James recommended me to be his counterpoint, and then the whole band kind of just fell together; we did the first rehearsal and it just gelled, we kind of looked at each other like, "There is something here." A lot of great synergy happened. I've been doing this a long time, and we all have had our own workings with different bands and projects over the years, and this was the first one where I was like, "Yeah, this could work and be something really cool." And here we are now, four years later.
For someone listening to your music for the first time, what's something that you want them to know going into it?
: Have fun. For us, it's that we want people to be singing along with the songs before it's over. We want them to just really be a part of it--the whole experience--especially when they come to see us live. We want them to be the seventh member of the band. I just would say, dance.
: We have this new record, and it's really just one of those records that you're gonna leave singing the song, and that you'll have in your head--they're great songs.
What was the songwriting process like for this album?
: You just have to write about what you know and what you're experiencing. The first record was a lot about heartbreak because that's a lot of what was going on, and this record has a lot of that in here too, but it's also everything from the loneliness of being on the road, in your hundredth hotel room and you don't know what city you're in, then you're sort of turned around to heartbreak, to then the darker side--almost of obsession and drive--because it takes that much dedication to succeed as a band. So it really just reflected the things that we were going through at that time.
: We made sure that every single song has a story, like, "What is this about?" Let's not just write the love song, let's write about just being in your car, driving down the open road, and having some crazy moment there. Or writing about a signature person in our community who unfortunately died tragically. Just having that moment and taking that upbeat lift with it. So we had a lot of fun just doing that, so there are a lot of stories.
This album is a lot more '80s-esque compared to the first one. What was the inspiration for the new sound?
: The first record had '60s in the foreground, and then the '80s was definitely there as a second layer, but in this record we sort of reversed them. I think there's also just so much diversity in our band. We all have so many influences. For us it's the ultimate hybrid of every sort of different influence, from hip-hop to rock and roll to soul to '80s to dance music. We're just all trying to create our own junctions.
: After being together for four years and playing as many shows as we have together, you can only naturally progress in your own sound. With it being our sophomore record we didn't want to just do the same album, we wanted to take some chances and show that we are not just here for a year. We're not just this one hit wonder kind of project, we're great songwriters, we're all really dedicated and seasoned in what we do, and that was our motto.
: At the end of the day we wanted to take a lot of chances, but I think what we came out with was that we wanted to make a record that turned us on. And if it's excited us then hopefully that'll translate to the people that were listening to it.
The album has a lot of the same high energy that you're known for from your live shows. How do you capture that during the recording process?
: We wrote the first record and then went and played it, and then the live show became this whole other thing. You know what it's about, and I think it was important for all of us to bridge the gap between the recording process and the live show. We wanted this record to have that combustible energy that we have on stage. I feel like we did a pretty good job of capturing that same sort of energy that we bring to the live show.
How has life on the road been treating you?
: You gotta love what you do, that's for sure. You're waking up every day in another town.
: There are all these crazy cities that you've never gone to before, and then the way you're entering into the city is not necessarily as a tourist. You're at the local nightclub parked in the bus and you'll ask the doorman where are the good eats around here? And he points you to the local dive diner. But at the same time it's crazy exhausting, you're separated from your friends and your family, and honestly it's a trip to be in a different city every 18 hours. It's like being a musical nomad. Every day everything changes except for the people in your band and your crew. That's your baseline and everything else is different, and that's really rewarding and totally a crazy mind-fuck all at the same time.
How is it being the only woman in the band?
: It's a balance, but it's fun. I'm used to it as well. I have brothers and I've always been the-girl-in-the-band kind of situation. But it definitely has its moments where it's like, "Ahhh! I just want to talk to a girl, I can't have this conversation with you!"
As we're approaching festival season, how do you like playing festivals versus smaller venues?
: They're different, I mean they're both great. There's something really exciting about being in a hot, sweaty club with a thousand of your fans who are just ready to go from the beginning, just going crazy. And the energy is more contained because of the type of show that we do, we create this energy loop between us and the audience where we get them worked up and then they get us worked up. And with a festival, everything's bigger. You have to be playing to the guy who is standing in the back of the field of, like, 10,000 people. And when we're saying, "Get your hands up in the air," and you see 50,000 people doing that, you're just saying in your mind, "Oh shiiiit." And we're going on the road opening up for Bruno Mars this summer in a bunch of arenas, which is like next level bigness. That'll be fun.
: I'm excited to play with him because I think he's such a talent, and I think we put the same [energy] level on stage. I think it's gonna be really cool.
What's the one thing that you always have with you on the road?
: Clean underwear.
: A change of shoes. Gotta have a change of shoes. Oh, and fresh sheets for the bus. Literally, we'll go out and buy brand new sheets for the tour bus and just leave them there after we're done.