Taking the long view7/23/2014
The evolution of Fitz & The Tantrums can be viewed in microcosm in their music. One song, specifically: 2013’s “Out of My League.”
“Out of My League” was a song the band had always believed in. When it was initially released last year, the single was a middling success, but nothing special. But then it kept climbing. And climbing. As it rose up the charts, it got more radio play, and even more people became fans. Slowly, “Out of My League” turned people into believers and, 33 weeks after it debuted on Billboard’s Alt Chart, the song hit No. 1, setting a record for slowest climb to the top.
“We were all watching the charts,” said saxophonist James King. “There’s a feeling of gratitude in the band. The fact that it was a slow climb is way more comforting for me, in that our success is reflected in how hard we work.”
Just like the single, Fitz & The Tantrums didn’t burst upon the scene like a colossus. There was no viral YouTube video that catapulted them to a fame they weren’t ready for, nor did any reality show springboard the Los Angeles six-piece to instant success. Instead, the band traveled the same weary road that all really, honestly good bands before them have traveled. They started in local venues, winning fans one at a time. And before The Tantrums were even a thing, its component members were working in other projects and playing as session musicians.
“The climb of ‘Out of My League’ is kind of a mirror of our own trajectory,” King explained. “We slogged it out in little clubs in L.A. for a long time before we got our break. We’ve always had the long view.”
That long view is paying off in spades. The sextet now has two No. 1 singles under its belt — “Out of My League” was joined by “The Walker” — and they’ve gone from opening for acts like Maroon 5 to being the name at the top of the bill. It’s a little bit of vindication for a band whose Motown-throwback sound wasn’t ever guaranteed success.
“There was a time when we were really taking a financial hit to be in the band,” King admitted. “Other opportunities were available, and we really had to talk about how long we’d work at it. I can’t say we had put a time stamp on it, but there was some struggling in the beginning while other projects were knocking on our doors. I’m glad we were able to see it through.”
But holding on to that long view means that two No. 1 singles aren’t making the band comfortable. There’s always more to be reached for; there’s always more to do.
“The Queen song isn’t playing in my head yet,” King said. “It’s not like, ‘We’ve made it. Roll credits.’ We’ve got another single in the chamber now called ‘Fool’s Gold.’ Then we’ll be back in the studio maybe next year.”
The band is always doing something. When they’re touring, which has been pretty much constantly this past year, they have a hard time making room for anything else, including writing new material. But as soon as the bus parks, that itch will strike, and they’ll head back out to the woodshed. Because no matter how many singles wind up topping the charts, Fitz & The Tantrums aren’t about to forget what got them here.
“We pride ourselves on having more of a blue collar approach,” King agreed.
Because instant success is nice. But it is the slow climbs that often wind up lasting. CV