Since forming in 2008, Fitz and the Tantrums have always been a band hell-bent on evolving. Having made a splash with the soulful R&B-revival sound of their debut album, 2010’s Pickin’ Up The Pieces (released on Dangerbird Records), the band offered up a New Wave-influenced dance-pop sound with its Elektra Records debut, 2013’s Heatseekers No. 1 More Than Just A Dream, which featured the gold-certified singles “The Walker” and “Out of My League.” The album’s success sent Fitz and the Tantrums on a two-year touring odyssey, which enabled the Los Angeles-based sextet — known for its explosive, no-holds barred live shows — to cement themselves as one of the country’s hottest live acts.
“We felt incredibly validated by the reception to More Than Just A Dream,” says the band’s co-vocalist Michael “Fitz” Fitzpatrick. “We knew we could pull from many different styles and create a truly hybrid form of music, and do it in a way that felt authentic. At that point, we felt even more empowered to do whatever we wanted creatively.” But when it came time to write the songs for Fitz and the Tantrums’ third album, it became clear to Fitz and his co-vocalist Noelle Scaggs, that they were suffering from a classic case of writer’s block.
It was January 2015 and the band, which also includes James King (saxophone, flute), Jeremy Ruzumna (keyboards), Joseph Karnes (bass), and John Wicks (drums, percussion), had barely been home since the release of More Than Just A Dream two years prior. Cooped up with each other in an insular environment on tour had taken its toll. “The last album was made super fast and in something of a bubble,” Fitz says. “This time there was a lot of massive change happening for all of us personally, so once we put our roots back in the ground at home, I needed someone to hold up a mirror and say, ‘Where are you right now, as a human being? What do you care about? What do you want to say to the world?’”
To hold up that mirror, the band turned to outside collaborators for the first time — the songwriters and producers Sam Hollander (Panic! At The Disco), Wallpaper’s Ricky Reed (Twenty-One Pilots), Jesse Shatkin (Sia), and Joel Little (Lorde), which gave Fitz and Scaggs an opportunity to answer some tough questions. “We relinquished control of ourselves,” Scaggs says, “and that enabled us to tell our story in a completely truthful manner.”
The result is Fitz and the Tantrums’ most emotionally connected record yet and one that centers on the theme of desire. “I wanted to explore this idea of desire in all of its forms,” Fitz says, “from primal, sexual desire on a song like ‘HandClap’ to the desire or need to belong on a song like ‘A Place for Us.’ Desire is one of those emotions that really forces you to turn your brain off and just feel. That’s just the nature of it. And that lends itself really well to us making a record that provides a soundtrack for people to access that emotion no matter where they are. If you’re getting ready for work in the morning and you’re thinking, ‘Ugh, I hate my boss,’ you have access to this music anytime that just changes the molecular structure in the room. It changes the energy.”
That transformative experience — further bolstered by the album’s diverse palette of musical influences including hip-hop, trap music, reggae, and world music rhythms played on 808s — is something Fitz and the Tantrums have always strived to deliver. “To me, the songs on this album offer a release from whatever is going on,” Scaggs says. “They help the listener shift their mood in that moment. Our goal was to make a record that makes anyone listening feel something from the heart and feel like they are a part this community we’ve created.”
One of the first songs written was the first single “HandClap,” which garnered over a million streams on Spotify its first week out. A tale of lust and animal desire, contrasted with the desire to not be alone, “HandClap” set the tone of the album right away: “I was searching for something that felt visceral and edgy,” Fitz says. “As soon as that moment happened, I was relieved. It felt like the compass — that theme of letting go and losing control — had been set. And it found its way into the rest of the album.” “Complicated” is a story about the most basic form of desire: “It’s when you have no willpower against the pure sexual chemistry you have with someone you know is going to hurt you,” Fitz says. “Burn It Down” is about the desire to break down the protective mechanisms that one has in place but that are keeping you from being present in a relationship. “That comes from a very personal place for me,” Fitz says. “I carried the twisted family dynamics I saw as a kid into my adult relationships and found them to be a massive hindrance. So the question became, ‘Am I going to burn down this relationship with this baggage I’ve carried my entire life?’”
And finally, “A Place For Us” is about the desire to belong. “Whether you’re the jock in school, or you’re the Freaks & Geeks guy in the corner, I think everybody has, to some degree, this sense of not being accepted,” Fitz says. “And that is a super powerful message.” Adds Scaggs: “To me, the song is about building community. We’re all connected and once people realize that, it’s going to change the world works.”
In this way, “A Place For Us” continues to uphold Fitz and the Tantrums’ long-held worldview. With their lively sonic mix of ’80s New Wave, blue-eyed soul, disco, and dance-pop, the band has always used celebratory music as a way to break down social barriers and bring people together. Fitz, a longtime studio engineer and aspiring musician, formed the group in 2008, driven simply by “a need to be creative and not lose my mind over a breakup.” He found worthy musical partners in his bandmates, with King, Ruzumna, Karnes, and Wicks all being top-notch players, and the fierce, elegant Scaggs supplying the feminine emotional counterpoint to Fitz’s physical, masculine id.
“From the first second, we just connected,” Fitz says of Scaggs. “Our voices naturally blended together. And then, because so much of what we write about is the dynamic between a man and a woman, we started to sing toward each other onstage. And that energy just grew. Then we’d sing out to the audience and encourage them to not just be passive listeners, but to be participants, an actual rhythmical part of the music. And that became a huge part of our identity. Our live show became our calling card everywhere we went.” And with their third full-length release, Fitz and the Tantrums have made an album that captures that jubilant, enraptured spirit. “We wanted to give people permission to lose control,” Fitz says. “We want the album to be a call to arms and for people to come to the church of the song.”