Feature: Fitz and the Tantrums

  • Chapham Baehler photo
By Columbus Alive
From the June 14, 2012 edition

When he called from Atlanta last week, Michael Fitzpatrick was on his way to Bonnaroo, “a true music festival” with generous time slots and lots of amazing bands. But he sounded just as excited about his band’s impending stop at LC Pavilion this Friday.

“We have such a history now with Columbus that it’s become a really special place for us to come play,” said Fitzpatrick, the colorfully coifed mastermind behind indie-pop soul revivalists Fitz and the Tantrums.

The band has a frequent presence and increasingly expansive fan base in this town thanks in no small part to alternative radio station CD102.5 (formerly CD101), which took Fitz and the Tantrums under its wing with lots of airplay and concert promotion.

“We got really, really lucky,” Fitzpatrick said. “We owe such a debt of gratitude to CD101 because, you know, our music is not that radical, but it doesn’t always fit into the nice little boxes of radio formats.”

He’s right across the board. No, Fitz and the Tantrums’ music is not radical. This is pure pop, pulling off the time-tested trick of flipping emotional struggle into rapturously fun music. But the music on debut “Pickin’ Up the Pieces” bucks easy categorization by design; Fitzpatrick regularly asserts that when he bought a used organ in 2008 and started cranking out echoes of the Motown and Stax catalogs, he wanted to put a new spin on old-school soul.

“We didn’t just want to make a pastiche, because if that was the case, just go back and listen to the original,” Fitzpatrick said. “We tried to on the record bring in a hip-hop aspect in some of the beats. Some of the melodies and songwriting are equally influenced by the ’80s British invasion rock bands. A little bit of Talking Heads. A little bit of DIY, just because when we made the record we had no money and we made it in our living room.”

That last aspect, the low-budget recording, actually provides a link back to the old soul singles that captured Fitzpatrick’s imagination.

“These things were done in bathrooms and basements,” he said. “They’re technically so wrong, but they sound so, so right.”

He kept that in mind when it came time to record the follow-up to “Pickin’ Up the Pieces.” Although they’ve since brought producer Tony Hoffer (Beck, Phoenix, M83) into the fold, they laid the foundation back in the place where it all started.

“We definitely did a lot of the basic tracking at my house just because that’s where the magic was,” Fitzpatrick said.

Though the album is still untitled and unfinished, it’s coming out Oct. 9, which means the Tantrums will be trotting out new material for the Columbus faithful Friday night. It’s just different enough to have Fitzpatrick antsy about how people will receive it: “Hopefully people won’t hate us for the chances we’ve taken.”