Michael Fitzpatrick is a man of many skills. Singer, songwriter, band leader, booty shaker. He can now add one more to the list. "I am the master swaddler," says Fitzpatrick, a.k.a Fitz, the head man behind retro-soul darlings Fitz and the Tantrums and the father of a three-week-old baby boy. But, not everyone is as impressed with Fitz's swaddling skills, namely his wife. "She thinks I'm a little too rough when I swaddle, but I get a good swaddle going."
While it's too early for fatherhood to impact Fitz's music, one wonders exactly when and how it will. As for now, he and his wife are enjoying the newfound joys and the fears of parenthood. "All of a sudden you're just overwhelmingly stressed by the responsibility. Every time he breathes funny," he says. "Classic second night home with him — he was breathing funny, or so we thought, and we're both looking at him. My mom was staying with us. We woke her up, and the three of us are just staring at the baby all night."
As it stands right now, Fitz is getting plenty of Zzzs thanks to his significant other. He needs it. After all, he and his band are about to hit the road. "She's kind enough to let me sleep enough during the night, so that I can rally during the days, and for me, it's precious days before I go back on tour," he says.
This weekend, Fitz and the Tantrums stroll into town as part of the Southern Ground Music and Food Festival. It'll be the band's second appearance at the Zac Brown fest, and this time Fitz and his cohorts have an even more audience-friendly live show to unveil. In fact, when the Los Angeles-based band was writing it's sophomore album, More Than Just a Dream, the gang kept the stage in mind.
"The choruses on this new album are even bigger than the last one and have more of an anthemic vibe," Fitz says. "We realized in retrospect when we were getting toward the end of the writing process and recording, we looked back and said, 'You know what? We've been writing with our audience in mind.'"
He adds, "So much of our success has been built on the back of our live show, the word of mouth that has come with that, the bar that we have set for ourselves every night which is we don't stop dancing our asses off, singing our hearts out. We give 150 percent. We're always call-and-responsing with the audience, and we get them into a cyclical pattern where the more we give, the more they give, and it just gets going to the point where we have had some shows where everybody in the audience is losing their mind."
When making More Than Just a Dream, Fitz and the Tantrums were keenly aware of one other thing: they didn't want to revisit the retro-R&B feel of their debut, Picking Up the Pieces. They wanted to explore new approaches, and with the new LP, they decided to throw in a dash of '80s pop. "For me, I always viewed that first record as a cross-genre record, and even though first-time listeners may have thought of that record as a sort of purist Motown record, I always viewed it more as a record that was done in the '80s that was inspired by Motown in the vein of ABC, Style Council, all that sort of stuff," Fitz says. "On this record, it would be so easy making Picking Up the Pieces part two. At every turn, just sitting with the idea, it felt safe and not what we wanted to do. All of those'80s influences that are coming through on the new record, to me this is even more of a full realization of all the things that I love in music and just letting everybody's diversity of influences in the band come through even more so. I think we just wanted to shed a little bit of this one-word 'retro' or 'throwback' label."
With the second disc, Fitz also wanted more interplay between him and singer Noelle Scaggs. "We definitely wanted her to be an even bigger part of this second record than on the first, just because we had developed such a rapport and the way we perform live is sort of a real partnership, co-vocalists, and trying to find the right key to the song that we can both sing, and which parts can I sing and which parts can she sing," he says.
But even though Fitz has a great new album under his belt, there is one achievement that he's even more proud of — aside from that newborn baby boy of course — appearing on Live from Daryl's House, the Hall and Oates frontman's killer live jam series. "That was a dream come true for me. One of my idols. One of the best songwriters," Fitz says. "We got on the show and had this totally relaxed and organic experience. We didn't even practice."
He adds, "If you look at the footage, I'm just smiling from ear to ear, because I'm just dying looking over at Daryl singing my songs."
And today, Fitz says he and his band owe a large part of their fanbase to that one single performance. In fact, he says the group's performances on The Tonight Show, Kimmel, Conan, and Jimmy Fallon pale in comparison. "Our success has been success by a thousand paper cuts," he says. "Doing Live from Daryl's House was more important to our career than all of those shows combined," he says. "It's been the gift that still to this day keeps on giving."