Antiquiet recently caught up with our favorite neo-soul juggernauts Fitz and the Tantrums at New Orleans’ Voodoo Experience this year (check out our review). Singer Noelle Scaggs, saxophonist James King, and drummer John Wicks, on an endless touring run in support of their excellent Pickin’ Up The Pieces LP, got personal with our very own April Siese.
What was it like being back at Voodoo Experience, being asked back for your second year?
John Wicks: This year’s a big change from last year. Last year we were not really known and we had an early timeslot and it was kind of rough to be honest and we had a small but enthusiastic crowd. It’s a lot different. Now we have wind in our sails this year.
I actually caught you at Austin City Limits and was blown away by your set, especially when you got the crowd to crouch down for Moneygrabber.
Noelle Scaggs: Thank you!
James King: When you can do that to that many people you wield some power. It goes to your head.
What’s it been like on the road? What’s been your favorite festival to play?
Noelle Scaggs: We’ve done Lollapalooza; we did the Southern Music Festival with Zach Brown Band in Charleston, South Carolina when we started this tour. We did pretty much all of the festival that you really want to do
John Wicks: ACL. ACL was great.
Noelle Scaggs: It’s always really fun to go to Austin for us because it’s kind of like our roots. That’s where we obtained our record deal and got the attention that we were really hoping to get in the business end of it. Taking that leap and really doing what we’ve done manifested in a lot of the things that we hoped would’ve happened, so every time we go to Austin it’s really special to perform in front of that crowd.
I’ve noticed it’s not as much about the suit and ties anymore and you’re having a bit more fun with your fashion. What’s inspiring your look?
Noelle Scaggs: It’s really just your own individual thing. We all got to the point where we were like, “We don’t want to be in uniform. I don’t want to always be in a dress.” It’s not always comfortable, especially when you’re doing festivals and you’re walking around in ballet flats and it’s been raining the whole day and it’s muddy and soppy. You need to be comfortable; you need to feel like yourself and all of these guys have really great style. It’s just a matter of just jumping on it.
James King: I think the festival thing really settled it for us when were just slogging along in 100 degree heat outdoors and wearing suits.
Noelle Scaggs: It was such a drag.
John Wicks: It was really about sweat. You know, sweat is such a killer when it comes to suits and traveling.
James King: Those things get nasty in the back of the bus; they get all moldy. I mean, we’re trying to keep an air of formality. A couple of us are still wearing ties. We’re trying to mix it up a bit though, too.
Noelle Scaggs: We still know how to look good though without necessarily being in that type of clothing. We still dress really nice but now you can really see us as individuals and our taste and what we like; even the photos are different. It’s just really great.
James King: I think part of that too is that the direction of our vision artistically is also reflected in that. I mean, we started out in skinny ties and black suits and we were putting forward kind of a vintage thing. That’s what people latched onto: that we were part of this cadre of revival Motown soul acts & we accepted that graciously and still do but I think part of the thing is that we like to push it forward and we don’t want to get stuck in a nostalgia trip and just be associated with just another soul revival act. We’re trying to throw a modern influence into it; some of what we grew up with, throw our own musical experience into the mix and make it our own thing and I think that’s what’s made us stand out a little bit. To come full circle to your question about clothing, our fashion and music has followed that. We’ve still got one foot firmly planted in the soul foundation and definitely the 60’s influence.
Where do you feel like you’re headed musically? What influences have you been digging lately?
James King: We’re just branching out really. It’s like, we’ve got our fingers all kinds of different styles right now and it’s kind of refreshing. The groove element is still there and John’s laying down the foundation of everything that we do and giving that essential element of soul and funk that we need.
Noelle Scaggs: We’re still focused on writing really good songs at the end of the day and whatever it is we’re inspired by, we’re gonna write 40 songs before this next record is due and we’ll figure out the story from there. A lot of songs are probably going to be written on this tour. The guys went into the studio for 3 days while we were still at home and just cranked out idea after idea so we’ll be playing with a lot of different types of sounds and just going from there.
John Wicks: From a drumming standpoint, I’m just as influenced by krautrock and drum programming as I am by Al Jackson and all those drummers from the soul era.
James King: I play an instrument – saxophone— that a lot of people just associate with old, and it doesn’t necessarily have to be that way. I’ve got influences from every possible genre that’s out there and I’m trying to throw that into what I do, in my own way.
What have you been bumping lately? What’s you’re favorite record right now?
John Wicks: Major Lazer
Noelle Scaggs: (laughs) He still loves Major Lazer. I’ve been diving deep into our Spotify account and creating this radio playlist for us and just discovering all these new different bands. The M83 record just came out and I really, really love that record. Metronomy is another great record that James put me on to that I’ve been listening to as well; Fleet Foxes is still one of my favorite bands, YACHT, the Kooks… there are so many amazing bands out there right now. Our opening band called Walk The Moon is really, really good. I think they just signed with Warner Brothers actually; really great record, great live; they’re talented kids.
James King: I really love Metronomy and I actually play on two songs on that M83 record. I can’t wait to hear it. Last year I wore out that Deerhunter record to the point that I was hearing it in my head.
What’s it been like hitting the talk show circuit? You’ve been on everything!
Noelle Scaggs: It’s really fun. Just even being invited is really an honor for us being a band that is fairly young in the game and to be asked to go on Leno twice, which never happens in the same year, has been great. It’s funny because when you actually do those shows there’s a lot of waiting around and three minutes of fame. It’s a great experience though, being up there and having all these celebrities being exposed to your music and people hearing about you and getting whatever fanbase you can. I still say to this day that the biggest show we ever did was Daryl Hall’s “Live From Daryl’s House”. To this day we have people coming up to us at shows who’ve seen us on it because it just got syndicated and they’re like, “I was watching TV and I saw you on ‘Live From Daryl’s House’ and it was amazing”. People are very stoked about that and it’s an honor and a blessing to just even be invited on any of these shows.
I’m sure you’ve also seen a lot of celebrities at shows. I’m pretty sure I saw Christian Bale at your side stage (for Austin City Limits). Do you know him?
Noelle Scaggs: He was there filming for a film project that he’s working on right now and they were filming a few bands and we were one of the bands they wanted to film during our set. It was weird just looking down and seeing Batman in the corner.
John Wicks: He was definitely a character too. He just had this vacant look about him. It was actually a little bit intimidating.
Who has been your most surprising celebrity fan to have?
James King: Jack McBrayer.
John Wicks: Jack McBrayer is really a rabid fan and he’s super, super cool.
Noelle Scaggs: Fred Savage, I just found out, is a really big fan of ours. A friend of mine works on a show he does and he was really excited when he found out he knew us.
John Wicks: Kat Von D is also a fan.
John Wicks: Our big break was really Adam Levine taking us out on tour.
James King: That really opened so many doors for us, going out on tour with them.
John Wicks: Just being exposed to those huge crowds. We were on a college tour with them.
What would you say was the rowdiest college campus then?
James King: The rowdiest? Probably Cornell.
John Wicks: Definitely. They were crazy.
Where are you headed after this?
Noelle Scaggs: We go to Atlanta. We’re actually headed there tonight, driving over there. We’ll be playing this venue Center Stage there so that should be really fun and then from there we head on to Florida and then Athens, Georgia, North Carolina, and the east coast. We’re everywhere.
And where does that leave recording?
Noelle Scaggs: We’re not going to be recording until after this tour. The actual physical, heavy writing isn’t going to start until afterwards.
Keep up with Fitz and The Tantrums at their official site.