Interview: Fitz and the Tantrums
Sometimes all you need is a bit of infectious indie pop to make your hands clap. Fitz and the Tantrums charmed the world in 2013 with their smash hit singles, "Out of My League," and "The Walker." In 2016, they dropped yet another hit, "HandClap," which has recently gone double platinum in Canada. I sat down with Jeremy Ruzumna (keyboards) to talk about their latest album, touring with OneRepublic, and how the band is constantly evolving and staying relevant.
You guys are opening for OneRepublic on the 15th Honda Civic Tour. How has the tour been so far?
The tour has been going great. OneRepublic is a great band to tour with, and James Arthur is opening up for us and he and his whole band are great. All of us in the band have been doing this for over 20 years, and this is the longest run that any of us have ever been on. For me, it’s flying by. We’ve had our families out - each band member has been able to have their family out at least two times. That’s definitely been making the time go by a lot quicker, and it’s been nice.
Have there been any standout shows so far?
Quebec City was great. We always love going to Toronto, and we’re about to go to Vancouver which we’re very excited about. We even get a day off in Vancouver.
“HandClap” recently went double platinum here in Canada, which I think is definitely a testament to your popularity here. What do you enjoy most about touring in Canada?
Being from Los Angeles I can say that the people in Canada are just super nice, and I say that as a compliment. It’s a refreshing thing. Where we come from, there’s a lot of attitude and a lot of passive aggressiveness. I’ve known a lot of musicians from Canada, and everyone from here is really sincere and nice, and I relate to that a lot.
There was a 3-year gap between the release of More Than Just a Dream and your most recent self-titled LP. What were some of the differences in recording both albums?
We had a different producer [Tony Hoffer] on More Than Just A Dream, and we had a few different guys on this album. The biggest difference is the same difference with every album we’ve done, which is that on every album we’re trying to change up the sound a little bit, and stretch the sound, and go to territory that we haven’t necessarily been to before. We’re always shooting for good songs that we like, but that could also be popular and that other people will like. In terms of production, we just refined the sound even more. We did more experimenting with the synthesizers and stuff like that. We’ve just been trying to change it up on every record.
Do you ever worry about making the same record twice?
No, because we’ve never made the same record twice! The biggest worry actually isn’t so much that, it’s that when you change up your sound a bit, people sometimes get angry. Our approach has always been what we think feels cool, and hopefully, other people will think it’s cool as well. All you can really do when you’re an artist when you want to be sincere and real, is just to be true to yourself. Everything else follows, the people that are meant to follow will follow it. All you can do is what you think sounds cool in that moment. A lot of times people expect musicians to stay in one space forever, but we’re not. We’re people, we’re always evolving and listening to new music and that’s always getting into our DNA. It’s always different from year to year, you progress and change, and we’ve just decided to allow that change to show itself on our albums.
How do you deal with obstacles of being an artist, such as writer’s block, etc?
Sometimes you just have to wallow in it, and sometimes it takes banging your head against the wall a bunch of times until you break through that wall. Sometimes you just have to step away. Sometimes you’ll have an idea that you think is crap, but you’ll step away for a couple weeks and come back and you listen to it and go, “wait a minute, that was pretty good!” You have a fresh perspective, and sometimes you call in outside people that have a different perspective that can lend a little inspiration as well. We’re like children, sometimes we have to have our hands held, sometimes we have to just run by ourselves, and sometimes we just have to be put into a stroller.
Last time you were in Calgary was in 2016, and you played at MacEwan Hall at the University of Calgary which is quite a small venue. You guys have an energetic and crowd interactive live show, so how are you translating that now that on this tour you’re playing in less intimate venues like arenas and amphitheaters?
They are less intimate, but it’s still people, and it’s still a crowd. When we started out playing in front of 20 people to now when we’re playing for 10,000 people on these shows - no matter what the size of the crowd is, we’ve put an equal amount of effort into engaging everybody. I’ve been spoiled because I’ve seen other bands not doing that, and I’m disappointed, but then I realize it’s just because I’m used to it because that’s what we do. Intimate or not, there are still ways to reach the crowd. Fitz is out there getting in their faces, and we’re just out there playing our hearts out and just doing everything we can - and it’s working!
You guys have been a band for nearly 10 years. How have the relationships in the band been nurtured and maintained?
First of all, you have to be conscious, and you have to be open with each other. It’s all basic things of any friendship or family, you have to be considerate of other people’s feelings. There are all kinds of dynamics, we all know each other so well. When we all met, none of us had kids, and now almost everyone in the band has at least one kid if not two. We’ve seen each other become parents. Then, of course, to get on a bus for this long, you just know every detail - you know if somebody changed their underwear. If somebody buys a new belt or has a new pair of socks you’ll be aware of it, it’s pretty funny. You know every little detail about each other, you know each other’s moods and mood swings. It’s just all one big Real World episode.
The music industry, in general, is insanely competitive, and especially in your genre. How do you stay relevant in the music you create?
It’s a two fold thing because on one hand, you have to make music that you like, that you think sounds cool, and it just has to come from within. But at the same time, if you’re around the scene and you’re listening to current music, it’s not that you want to follow trends or anything like that, but it’s important to be aware of what’s current. Just trying to immerse yourself and then try and set yourself apart to some degree. It is a weird industry, it’s competitive and it is strange. It’s a weird mojo, you just have to find away to hold on to the mojo for as long as you can.
You kind of just have to have your core group of fans, and just run with it, and hope that as you progress you’ll attract some new fans but keep some of the same old fans.
Exactly. With each album, we’ve changed the sound up to some degree and in some cases to a large degree, and all you can do is hope that your fans come with you. That’s why you have to make something that you think is good, that you like. We have to make music that we have to play every night on stage as well, so you have to enjoy playing it and enjoy hearing it because you have to hear it every night. All you can do is put it out there and hope it translates to the fans, which so far it has.
What’s next for Fitz and the Tantrums?
We’ve got the new single out, and the new deluxe album came out. It’s gonna be an interesting trip, and so far it’s been going well. After that, the world is our oyster - and hopefully, there will be the world to have an oyster.