For the past four years, the members of the soul-pop group sextet Fitz and the Tantrums have been running a marathon — sprinting, perhaps — caught up in the cycle of recording and touring that’s often a mixed blessing for breakout bands.
“The funny thing is, we haven’t taken a break in about four years,” said keyboard player Jeremy Ruzumna, who spoke by phone from Chicago, where last-minute rehearsals and tour preparations were unfolding. “We just took three weeks off… When we got back, I remember thinking, ‘We really need a rehearsal,’ but then when we started playing it was like second nature.”
From the start, the Tantrums — singers Michael Fitzpatrick and Noelle Scaggs, bassist Joseph Karnes, reedman James King, Ruzumna and drummer John Wicks — hustled to get their live chops together, playing tons of shows before recording Picking Up the Pieces, and then again before recording More Than a Little, their follow-up and Elektra Records debut.
It was always apparent, Ruzumna said, that the chemistry was special. “It was organic,” Ruzumna said. “Fitz had a spark in his mind that he wanted to start a band… [Reed player] James [King] was his point man in finding other people in the music business, but we all ended up knowing each other in one form or another.”
“This band is like a super group,” Ruzumna continued. “When you look at everybody’s credits, it’s pretty crazy.”
On More Than a Dream, Fitz and the Tantrums paired with producer Tony Hoffer, who’s worked with everyone from Beck (on Midnite Vultures and Guero) to Depeche Mode and Belle & Sebastian. Hoffer kept things moving in the studio, managing to capture much of the group’s live energy; drums tracks, in some cases, were left distorted, in a good way. The album updates northern soul by way of fun. and Bruno Mars, leaning simultaneously toward dance-driven synth-pop and retro soul. (Fitzpatrick is often compared to Daryl Hall, whose web program, Live From Daryl’s House, featured the Tantrums in 2010.)
“He knew we wanted to change up our sound,” Ruzumna said. “We had the songs for the most part. He would keep things going extremely smoothly… You didn’t even realize how hard we were working. We were pretty much in the studio from 11 a.m. to 9 at night, but the end of each day we realized we had gotten a lot of stuff done. The most important thing a producer can do is get you unstuck.”
Fitz and the Tantrums plays the Toyota Oakdale Theatre in Wallingford on Oct. 25 at 7:30 p.m., with Capital Cities opening. Tantrum shows are all-out spectacles, with emotional baggage: fans let loose, but also connect with darker themes in Fitz’s subversive, angst-filled lyrics, which occasionally get overshadowed by all the groove and gloss.
“I think it’s an excuse to let go, for sure, and I think for some people it has a lot more meaning than that,” Ruzumna said. “We get e-mails from fans who’ve gotten engaged while listening to one of our songs. We’ve had a couple of people say our album got them through rough times… One of the reasons I connected with Fitz was that he was writing these lyrics about breakups, and I was having my own catharsis.”
At the time of writing this, “Out of My League,” the first single off of More Than a Little, holds the fourth-highest position on the U.S. Billboard Alternative Songs chart. (Last week, it peaked at the top spot.) Which means more work for the group — playing shows, doing television spots and promos, and so on — and also postponing future plans.
“Everything is building,” Ruzumna said. “The momentum is building… We are going to be working that [single] for awhile. It’s definitely daunting and maddening, but in a good way… We’re like sharks. If we ever stop moving, we die.”
Fitz & The Tantrums & Capital Cities: The Bright Futures Tour, Oct. 25, 7:30 p.m., $25, Toyota Oakdale Theatre, 95 South Turnpike Road, Wallingford, (203) 265-1501, oakdale.com