Fitz & the Tantrums' Noelle Scaggs: I'm Inspired by My 7-Year-Old Niece

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Los Angeles' Fitz & the Tantrums offer up a grassroots success story built on unadulterated creativity, elbow grease and and just the right amount of luck. All systems were a go after the practice session in late 2008, and the band played their first gig just a week later. Six months into it, they were on tour with punk powerhouse Flogging Molly. Slots at major U.S. festivals such as Lollapalooza and Telluride Blues & Brews and an itinerary of near 200 live appearances since January has contributed directly to the band's mounting success.

Their sound is pleasantly nostalgic, yet maintains a necessary fresh flare of neo-soul and futuristic lounge. In the live setting, frontman Michael "Fitz" Fitzpatrick executes showmanship reminiscent of James Brown, but with the presentation of Robert Smith and the sincerity of his indie pop counterparts. The rest of the Tantrums' outfit defy their backing band nomenclature and showcase a thematic equal opportunity approach to the universal get down.

Noelle Scaggs, sultry vocalist, tambourine shaker and personification of a new age for soul music, connected with County Grind from her home in L.A. to talk about the band's unique road to success.

County Grind: You guys have been on the road non-stop for the past year it seems. How are things going out in California now that you are getting some time at home?

Noelle Scaggs: Things are good here, nothing too crazy, just getting ready for the first date of the tour in Charleston. This one is going to be a long haul. So other than a couple one off shows around here it has been nice to just be home and catch up on life things.

The band's story is pretty unique in that you rehearsed one time and had a gig the next week. What was the selling point for this music project initially that enticed you enough to see it through from the beginning?

When I first heard the project I was really attracted to the sound. It was something that wasn't really familiar in the spectrum of not being exactly Motown or something from the '80s. It had a really cool mixture and a more modernized feel. I was also really attracted to Fitz's singing voice and the vibe that he was trying to create. When we initially talked about doing the show I was in an in between phase of whether or not I wanted to join another band, do a solo thing, or maybe not even do music for awhile to focus on other things. I ended up doing the rehearsal and that pretty much solidified it for me.

So even though you knew most of the musicians in the room, it was almost a love at first sight type of situation in reference to the sound?

It was like I was walking into a room with a bunch of friends. It was actually my first time meeting Fitz, and that was also the case for everyone in the band other than [saxophonist] James King. James was pretty much our connection, and I had enjoyed playing with him over the years, so I really knew the caliber of musicians I was going to be involved with. After we did the first show the feedback from people made us want to continue. We really just loved playing music and performing with each other. That is how it all began.

Did you have a feeling that the band would ever be at the point you are now?

No, we had no idea. I was really just going for it and because it was so easy vibe-wise, and creatively we were all on the same page, so that made it even easier to continue doing it. Even when things got harder for us financially we still decided to see it through because we knew there was something special here that we had not felt with other projects. Everything seemed to align itself and we realize the serendipity of every moment, like being asked to go on tour with Flogging Molly after only six months of playing, and getting a deal with Dangerbird Records when were on our last leg financially. From there we have just been trying to gain as many fans and make as much noise as we can.

Much like how the band came together for the first rehearsal and then played your first gig a week later, you guys have been gaining lots of momentum in a very short amount of time. With all the hard work, how do you balance that out?

If you are trying to maintain some sense of a regular life you have to stay connected to home as much as you can. Because we are all friends, it makes it a lot easier for us when touring life becomes difficult. I don't think anyone in the band expected us to be gone as long as we have been. We had no idea we were going to end up touring for the last 14 months, so it becomes important to have an environment where we can communicate. That has been a key element of making it through this experience as a band. The consolation is that it is a tough life to live but it is also really fun and inspiring. Every day I get joy from performing live and watching our fans feel inspired enough to just let go for an hour or two. That is moving.

Have you had one of those moments where you stepped back and realized you have made it to this point?

Yeah, they happen every day (laughs). The biggest thing for me was going to Holland and playing in front of sold out crowds the first time we had ever gone there. We also went to Italy and came back a week later and found out we were in the top 10 of all Italian radio. When we came back from there we played Lollapalooza to a crowd of 30,000 people. Everyone there was singing and really into the music from song one. That moment for me, stepping on that stage, and seeing their reaction was a beautiful thing. At that point everyone in the band realized all of the work we had put in the last two years was really flowering.

Fitz and the Tantrums are reminiscent of classic genres, but with a fresh approach, what was the initial inspiration for tackling that sound in particular?

When Fitz wrote "Breaking the Chains of Love," and then collaborated with James King, I think they were building off the concept of things they had listened to growing up. That also built on top of what Fitz had created in those first 20 minutes it took him to write that song. Looking at the '60s as one of the best periods of song writing, with songs that still stand the test of time, when we started recording the full record we wanted to focus on balancing simplicity with the complex nature of what we were doing. We didn't want to be a carbon copy of anything we were inspired by. We started playing together early on it so it made it that much easier to develop strong songs that could really stand on their own.

What inspires your music beyond music itself?

A lot of the things that come out of me lyrically adhere to my relationships in subjects like love. Love, or the lack of, plays a big part. That isn't just romantic love, but also love that you might get from talking to a child. A lot of joy and inspiration for me comes out of something like speaking to my seven-year-old niece. For me in general it is about focusing on the little moments in life that happen. That way people can identify with them. I am in turn inspired by individuals and I think that comes out in my music.

Any new material on the horizon from you guys?

We were actually in the studio last week cranking out some ideas. While we are on tour, and when we get back, we will probably do a lot of writing as well.

Fitz & the Tantrums are finally coming down to Florida. How do you feel about tackling a new territory?

We are really trying to get the word out down there. I have a lot of friends in Orlando, Fort Lauderdale and Miami so they are all excited that we are coming. We are excited about coming. I hope we are well-received.

Fitz and The Tantrums perform at 7:30 PM Tuesday, November 1st at Culture Room 3045 N. Federal Hwy., Fort Lauderdale. Tickets cost $20. Call 954-564-1074, or click here.

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Culture Room

3045 N. Federal Highway, Fort Lauderdale, FL

Category: Music

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2 comments
Traci Fullerton
Traci Fullerton

Noelle, what a great interview!  I liked your expanded responses about collaboration, LOVE and inspiration.  Thanks all of you for being an inspiration to me-getting me to explore some NEW music in a very, very long time!  May greatness (continue to) shine on you all!

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