By MIKE CHAIKEN
Call Marty McFly. Fitz and the Tantrums are back to the future.
When we first met the California-based band on its debut, “Pickin’ Up The Pieces,” the group—which is Fitz (vocals), Noelle Scaggs (vocals/tambourine), James King (saxophone), Jeremy Ruzumna (keyboards), John Wicks (drums) and Joseph Karnes (bass)—was mining a retro-soul sound with honking sax and Hammond organ.
On the follow-up, “More Than Just A Dream,” Fitz and the Tantrums transformed their sound to neo-80s with keyboard sounds and drums that would make Duran Duran and Depeche Mode proud.
And this time, explained Ruzumna in a phone call from Santa Monica, Calif., the group is looking at what the near future of pop music might sound like. Their self-titled third album offers music that the group feels will be contemporary for the year 2017, said Ruzumna.
Although the group has mined soul music and 1980s-new wave (although not intentionally), Ruzumna said there is a running theme through whatever their sound is.
“We like pop music,” said Ruzumna.
With “Fitz and the Tantrums” more contemporary sound, Ruzumna’s keys are front and center as he plays a larger role in the group’s sound. But Ruzumna said he is not alone in tickling the keys on the new album. Everyone in the band contributes on record and on stage. King, the group’s sax player, was recruited to play keys (on record and the tour). And everyone else plays keyboards— even if just a little bit.
It’s clear from the group’s three albums that Fitz and the Tantrums aren’t afraid of changing their sound and evolving.
“It’s a funny thing, people want to put their favorite band in a box,” said Ruzumna. They want the band to be only retro-soul. They want the band to be only neo-1980s band.
“For better or worse, we don’t want to be pinned down,” said Ruzumna. “We want to make the type of music where we want to make it.”
“Sometimes we feel like electro, sometimes we want to go to the future,” said Ruzumna. “It keeps us from being bored.”
Fitz and the Tantrums have established themselves as the royal family of earworms. On “More Than Just a Dream,” their hit, “The Walker” —with its catchy whistle riff— hooked listeners in and didn’t let go.
This past summer’s track from the new album, “Handclap,” did the same thing. The group crafted a hook that echoed in your head long after the final notes sounds.
“We like music that is catchy,” said Ruzumna. “That’s why pop music is pop music.”
And humans in general loves songs that have a hook. “We crave having something to latch onto,” said Ruzumna.
As successful as Fitz and the Tantrums have been in the studio, the band is right at home and then some on stage.
“That’s how we made our career in the first place,” said Ruzumna of the group’s live shows. And live performances helped set the stage for their recording success.
And as the music industry changes through technology-with fewer and fewer people buying an album, Ruzumna said, live performances are something that will survive.
Standing on stage, performing in front of an audience, said Ruzumna, “is a very precious thing. Albums are just a starting point.”
Fitz and the Tantrums—although based on the West Coast—are regularly on the east coast when they tour.
“They appreciate bands coming out,” said Ruzumna of northeast audiences. “You have a healthy appreciation (of music)… There is a genuineness in the audiences (on in the northeast) and that’s appealing.”
Beyond the current tour is more touring, said Ruzumna. The band is likely to be on the road well into next summer, he said.
The group just released the second single, “Roll Out,” from “Fitz and the Tantrums,” said Ruzumna and there’s still a lot of life left in the new album before a follow-up is needed.
Fitz and the Tantrums play The Dome at the Oakdale in Wallingford on Friday, Nov. 11 at 8 p.m. The Dome is general admission and tickets are $25.
For more information, go to Oakdale.com or FitzandtheTantrums.com