Clapping All the Way
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We live in strange times.
Many once-ubiquitous pop acts that had their heydays prior to the year 2000 have trouble getting record deals while younger acts that pay tribute to those older acts can do quite well.
Into the latter camp fall Fitz and the Tantrums.
The band performs at the Clyde Theatre on June 12.
Fitz and the Tantrums started out in 2011 as a soul revival act a la Sharon and the Dap-Kings.
They revisited several musical tropes from the 1980s on their sophomore release, More Than Just a Dream.
The band’s last album was a collection of slick contemporary pop songs that surely didn’t alienate fans of Maroon 5 or Smash Mouth, just to cite a pair of random examples.
Lead singer Michael Fitzpatrick described the songwriting period for the third album as “dark days.”
“We were exhausted [and uninspired] by other music we were hearing out in the world,” he told Bullett Magazine. “We found ourselves in a real writer’s block moment – the first real writer’s block moment this band has ever had. ”
Fitzpatrick told the Los Angeles Times that he cried himself to sleep every night.
“We’d had success with the last record,” he said, “and no matter how good a songwriter you are, you’re lucky if you strike gold one out of five times. But it was total writer’s block.”
Fitzpatrick told Reverb.com that he thinks a heavy touring schedule had estranged the band from the creative tools needed to make new music.
“The nature of touring is such a weird thing,” he said, “where you’re in a different city every 18 hours. That can be a really de-centering sort of thing. In that first couple months of writing, I just was not excited by anything I was coming up with. I was wanting to evolve but didn’t know how that was going to take shape or what it would sound like.”
The band had no choice but to call in the musical cavalry, Fitzpatrick said.
“It wasn’t really until we opened up to working with outside producers, collaborators and songwriters that we broke through,” he said.
The decision to recruit outside help was a difficult one, said singer Noelle Scaggs.
“It was especially hard being the unit that we are, where we have pretty much done everything ourselves,” she said. “There’s this pride that hits, and then it’s kind of like, ‘Well, what will people think when they see another writer on there? Will they think we can’t do this or that we’re phony?’ You have all these different fears that are wrapping into your project before you even really start it.”
Scaggs told the Ohio State Journal that working with outside songwriters gave the band a mirror to look into.
“It gave us a direction. ‘What are you thinking about right now? What are you feeling right now? This is going to be what this song is going to be about. It’s based on what you’re feeling … This is all coming from you now.’ So it was a learning experience.
“I think it (bringing in outside collaborators) really worked in our favor because I think had we not done that, there would be no ‘HandClap,'” she said. “I don’t even know if the [self-titled] record would be done yet.”
The big hit single from that third album, “HandClap,” was the battering ram that broke the block for good, Fitzpatrick said.
“It came very quickly, with a visceral energy,” he said. “I didn’t care what anyone said – this was the single, I could feel it in my bones, and it changed the whole process.”
“I was feeling this massive wave of relief after so many months of hitting a wall,” Fitzpatrick told Asia One. “Every time I tried to recut the vocals, they never had that kind of raw excitement.”
The song was enormously popular with listeners. But not all music critics were fond of the band’s new direction.
Rolling Stone went so far as to say that the band “have lost their soul – literally.”
Fitzpatrick said it was mistake for anyone to tie the band to a particular genre.
“For me, pop has always been a huge part of our vocabulary, and pop to me just means a real eye and focus on great melodies that are infectious,” he said.
Regardless of how any of the band’s songs sound on the radio, they’re likely to acquire fresh spins on stage, Fitzpatrick told the Chicago Tribune.
“We hit the road pretty hard,” he said. “The live show for us has been such a huge part of our success. It’s how we built the band’s great fanbase. We put on the hottest, sweatiest, knockdown show every time and built a rep for it. People tell other people ‘You have to see this band — they kill it live.’
“What I try to do is every night on stage, as cardio-heavy and intense of a moment as every show is, I try to stand still and really appreciate what has happened to us,” Fitzpatrick told the Phoenix New Times. “It’s still shocking to this day that we can go play a show and 2,000 people will come see us. It’s centering to live in the gratitude of what happens instead of chasing the dragon.”