Music & Clubs

Tempo Tantrum

Fitz and the Tantrums' Michael Fitzpatrick talks about how his huge organ started it all
SOUL TRAINED: Fitz and the Tantrums return to the South Bay to play the Blank Club on Tuesday.

THEY'VE BEEN hailed as a band that's destined for stardom. Their songs seemed to pop up in a slew of TV shows and commercials overnight, and they've made the late-night TV rounds, everything from Conan to Kimmel to Leno. But despite all of the sudden attention, for Michael Fitzpatrick of SoCal's Fitz and the Tantrums, it still comes back to one thing: his organ.

After breaking up with a former girlfriend, who instituted a staunch "no-talking" policy, Fitz received a phone call from her. She told him about a neighbor who was moving out and trying to get rid of an old '60s church organ. He bought it for $50 and moved it into his living room, where it took up roughly half the available space.

"Sometimes you get an instrument that's just so full of old ghosts of the past. I mean, it had vibe, spirit and personality. I'm a bit of a keyboard fanatic; I collect them. Really, without getting possession of that instrument I don't know if the band would exist. Because, I got that and wrote 'Breakin' the Chains of Love' that night in about five minutes. Everything just sort of crystallized in one session."

With the bitterness of the break-up still on his breath, Fitz started what was to become Fitz and the Tantrums. "Breakin' the Chains of Love" became the lead track on Songs for a Breakup, Vol. 1, the 2009 EP that got them a record deal. It was rereleased last year, just before their full-length debut Pickin' Up the Pieces, which went to the top of the Billboard Heatseekers chart.

Fitz says his intention was to create music that gives props to the Motown/soul explosion of the mid to late '60s, with a modern pop twist. That he would do so during a revival of interest in soul music is sheer coincidence, but he doesn't mind.

"I don't know if I'm influenced by [the revival], but I like the idea of being part of a movement right now. There's room for everybody, and everybody in that movement has their own little take on it," he says.

Fitz knew right away what his own little take would be. He brought on James King on saxophone, Ethan Philips on bass, Jeremy Ruzumma on keyboards, John Wicks on drums and Noelle Scaggs as his female singing counterpart. In harmony with the sound was the manner of dress: classy suits and ties for the guys and beautiful one-piece dresses for the lady. This started to catch on with audiences, who have been known to get gussied up for the show.

"I like the idea of people making a night of it and putting extra effort into it," he says. "It's become a cool little phenomenon we've noticed when we've been playing shows to see a guy who never dresses up or wears a suit or tie to dress up. You can tell his date really appreciates it."

Besides being a musician, Fitz is also a seasoned studio engineer, having worked with producer Mickey Petralia, who has produced acts such as Beck, Flight of the Conchords, Rage Against the Machine and Linkin Park.

"I've been a singer my whole entire life, so music was never really a choice," he says. "Even from a very young age, it was something I've always been drawn to. Singing has always been in my bones and I've always sat down at the piano and tinkered. I'm the kind of person where if I'm not musical on a daily or weekly basis, I know I would lose my mind." This work ethic has continued since the release of Picking Up the Pieces. The band just got back from a short tour in Europe in support of the record.

"We were there for 12 days. We played twice in London, Paris twice, Brussels, Amsterdam and even did some weird TV shows in Milan. I mean, anytime you do European TV shows, it's going to be weird. First of all, the guy's talking to you in a foreign language and all you hear is, 'Blahblahblahblahblah, Fitz and the Tantrums, blahblahblablahblah!' And it's a weird, colorful set, but it was great."

However, it's always good to return home and play for a familiar audience. Fitz says he had a blast the last time they played the Blank Club.

"People were just in it and into it. You know, you go to some cities and people can sometimes be stiff and stand there. But that just wasn't the case in San Jose. Everyone was just going off and having a good time," he says. "To me, there's just something better about a crowd that just goes crazy."


The Blank Club

Tuesday, May 24, at 8pm; $15.

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