Interview: Fitz and the Tantrums look to reclaim early success

Soul pop sensation Fitz and the Tantrums bring their upbeat, piano-driven party to the Jefferson on Friday. Publicity photo Soul pop sensation Fitz and the Tantrums bring their upbeat, piano-driven party to the Jefferson on Friday. Publicity photo

Fitz and the Tantrums just seem to have a way of finding the spotlight. Remember that video where they were all on those treadmills?

Oh, that wasn’t them? My bad. But who could forget when they played on that one rooftop that one time? Oh, right. That was every band other than them.

What about when they dressed up in tuxedos with Ellen and danced in the streets to plug the Oscars? Yep. That was them. And that was cool.

So maybe the indie pop band from L.A. doesn’t always find the spotlight. They certainly seemed like they were about to be huge when they released their first album, Pickin’ Up the Pieces, in 2010, but after three years of touring before releasing their latest, More Than Just a Dream, they lost a bit of momentum. Can they pick up where they left off?

In a recent phone interview to promote their gig at the Jefferson on June 13, Jeremy Ruzumna (keyboards) didn’t think it would be a problem.

C-VILLE Weekly: So are you guys always jumping into the air simultaneously, or is that just in publicity photos?

Jeremy Ruzumna: That’s a weird habit we all have. Actually, that’s why we became a band. No, but there is a certain energy there, and we try to bring that same energy whenever we go on stage.

Why did you take so long between LPs?

I don’t know. I think when the first one came out, we worked it as long as we could. It was all a blur because we spent so much time on the road. There was a bit of a delay because we signed to a major label.

How does your major label debut differ from the first record?

We actually wrote and recorded and finished the record before we signed to Elektra. The strength of it was one of the reasons they wanted to sign us. We were on a fantastic small indie label, which put us on the map, but going to an international, major label, they wield a certain power.

Most indie musicians these days say the majors don’t try to change them.

I think there’s something to that. In the old days, you couldn’t record anything other than a demo without a label. The record companies controlled everything. They had to find you, like you, and bring you into the studio, and they shaped you from the ground up. Now anyone can record an album. Our first was recorded in Fitz’s living room. The labels now want you to be fully formed, road tested, and proven.

My guess is that you guys are either working on a new one or about to start.

That’s up in the air. It depends on this album. We’re enjoying a really good ride, seeing success with “The Walker,” and we want to release one or two more singles. We could be out on the road for some time. Our agent took us aside and said, “pack your suitcases for two years.”

Do you ever think about your popularity or getting bigger?

We do think about it. Every musician is lying to you if they say they don’t want people to like them and listen to their music. But we’ve all been in a million bands, and this whole thing is an anomaly. In this business, the odds are against you.

What do you suppose makes you guys successful?

I’ve never worked as hard in any other project I’ve been in. From the beginning, we never said no to anything.

How do you guys write songs?

Fitz and Noelle sing the songs, so no matter what gets written, they have to like it. Fitz is the filter for everything, but when we’re recording, each person in the band tries to put their stamp on it.

Why do you guys rely so heavily on keyboards instead of guitars?

Mostly, there wasn’t a guitar player around when we started. Fitz is a keyboard player and writes from the piano. We said, “How can we make a sound that’s different from other bands? Can we flesh everything out with keyboards?” The whole first album is like that, and we’ve mostly kept with it. It gives the arrangement more room. But at the end of the day, you never want to be a slave to your aesthetic choices if you know it would sound better another way.

Ultimately, the way the song sounds is the most important thing. As a keyboard player, I love it. Admittedly, you feel naked at first when there’s no guitar. Now I thrive off of it.

How are the shows going on the current tour?

We are not going to let you sit down. Bring a second pair of underwear because you will be sweating your ass off. Every show we do is going to be the highest energy we can give. We leave nothing behind.

Your first release was a breakup album. Has it been difficult to move beyond that?

It was at first. The first album was great for me, too, because I was going through a breakup. Whenever Fitz wrote angry breakup lyrics, I was like, “Right on,” because I was in the worst pain. Then when things were going really well, it was like, “What the hell are we going to write about?” We had to open our eyes to what was really going on around us.

You guys have had a lot of success licensing songs. What is it about your music that’s attractive to advertisers and video producers?

Our songs are written to be catchy. It comes down to writing songs that have good melodies and hooks. It doesn’t hurt that before the band started, Fitz was a commercial music producer. Luckily, people like the songs.