Q+A: Fitz & The Tantrums talk new album and sound — and why they’re working harder than ever

John Wicks, Joseph Karnes, Michael Fitzpatrick, Noelle Scaggs, Jeremy Ruzumna and James King of Fitz & The Tantrums dine at Social House during Fashion’s Night Out at Crystals in CityCenter on Friday, Sept. 8, 2011.
Photo: Denise Truscello/WireImage/DeniseTruscello.net

Neo-soul sextet Fitz & The Tantrums return to Las Vegas on Thursday night, bringing their hook-laden pop to Boulevard Pool at the Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas. The L.A.-based outfit has toured relentlessly since the release of their sophomore effort More Than Just a Dream in May, breaking from their retro-pop mold with a fresh, diverse slate of tunes to enhance their acclaimed live show.

We spoke with keyboardist Jeremy Ruzumna about the record, their new sound and the band’s workhorse reputation:

Why was there such a focus on moving beyond the band’s “retro” label for this album?

The retro thing was cool, and we love all kinds of music, but that’s the thing — we love all kinds of music, and we didn’t really want to be pigeonholed into one thing. I wouldn’t say that we made a concerted effort necessarily to sound more contemporary as much as we just wanted to blow the doors off the idea of what we sound like and go for everything that we thought sounded cool to us. We hoped that it would just translate — if we think it sounds cool, hopefully you guys will think it sounds cool.

Specifically, what did you guys do to make that happen, to push forward in that way?

The sound of the first album is mostly the now-legendary large old organ that Fitz has in his house, as well as his old upright piano. And those two keyboards in a lot of ways, plus, the walls of saxophone, defined the sound of the first album. And on this next album, we basically instead of using keyboards from one era, we used instruments from all the eras. I mean we used keyboards, synthesizers, organs from the ’60s, ’70s, ’80s, ’90s and even laptop synthesizers. And our producer Tony Hopper is sort of a genius and was able to bring out the performances and sounds from the different band members.

What did the process exploring that new stylistic territory entail?

The interesting thing about the process is that there was no process. We did it all kinds of different ways. The one rule was just let’s not put any limits on anything. Just because we’ve never had a synthesizer on our music before, for example, let’s not limit ourselves. Let’s just throw everything out there that sounds good to us in the moment, and then we’ll pick through it later and make it work for the songs. So sometimes we were in a room together, just all of us jamming, sometimes Fitz and Noelle would bring in a song. Sometimes one of the band members would bring in a song. They would come from all different directions. The one rule was there are no rules. Kind of like in the movie “Grease.” [laughs]

How has that change influenced the band’s live performance?

I don’t if I’d say it’s influenced it, but it’s more like how do we translate it live? For me, it’s great because I get to play all kinds of different styles of keyboard. I can sometimes be the ’80s new wave keyboard player, I get to be the ’60s, ’70s soul keyboard player and everything in between. Also, we’ve had to expand. Our sax player James King is now playing saxophone and keyboard and guitar and pennywhistle and percussion. We’ve sort of been forced to expand our roles in the band live, and it’s great. It’s a challenge and it’s fun, and it makes the show really interesting.

You have a reputation for being a hugely hard-working band that’s relentlessly touring. But now that you’re at a new level of success and have two albums under your belt, do you feel like you can relax a little bit more, or is there still pressure to hustle?

No, no. That’s the ironic thing about it — the more you have some cool successful things happen, actually, the more you end up working. The more you end up touring, the more promo you end up doing, the more meet-and-greets, all that kind of stuff. Phoner interviews. We’ve all been in bands since we were teenagers, and I can say for myself and probably everybody else in the band, too, that I don’t think anyone in this band has worked as hard in their life as we have in this band. And, no, there’s definitely no letting up the steam. Now that the record is actually catching a bit, we’re actually even more in full-force work mode.

Why is that?

I thought that with the first record, we’d do tons of promo, all the really hard work, then this record would come, and we’d be able to sail along a little bit more. In reality, it never lets up. It’s always relentless. I think especially in today’s music industry, it’s more than ever. You really can’t rely on the record labels to push you out there and do things. They definitely can do certain things to help you, and our label has been great in helping us, but at the end of the day, especially nowadays, it’s really about live shows and the physical labor of the band. You get out of it what you put into it, and we just go a hundred percent all the time.

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