Q&A with Fitz & The Tantrums

Bass guitarist Joseph Karnes discusses a new record, old-school influences and the importance of performing live.

In 2010, Fitz & The Tantrums burst onto the scene with Pickin’ Up the Pieces, an unconventional twist of pop and soul music with obvious Motown influences. Years later, following widespread acclaim and commercial success, the band plans to release its sophomore effort, More Than Just a Dream, to a much larger crowd. We caught up with bass guitarist Joseph Karnes to talk fame, fortune and a switch to Elektra Records.

[MOVE]: Your new album, More Than Just a Dream, comes out in May. How has the band changed since the first album?

[Joseph Karnes]: We’ve definitely expanded the sound of the band since the first album (Pickin' Up the Pieces). I think sonically it’s different in that we’ve added some extra instruments since the last record, where there were mainly drums, bass, keyboards, organ and some horns.

That’s kind of what we did live for the whole two years that we toured that record. On this new record, there’s definitely more synthesizer and things like that. I think it’s a broader talent of songs on this record as compared to the last record.

[M]: You played at Roots ‘N' Blues here two years ago. How did you like Columbia?

[JK]: I love Columbia! We all love Columbia. I’ve been coming to Columbia for 10 years with different bands, but nothing is as fun as when I go there with Fitz & The Tantrums. The response we get there is amazing; we get a lot of love from the students and just people that live there. It’s definitely one of the places we look forward to coming to on tour.

[M]: On tour, you’ll go from small towns to giant cities within a day or two. Are those hard transitions to make, or is it just part of the rock star lifestyle?

[JK]: It’s just what our life is. Each city has its own unique quality, whether it’s a town or a big city. The places we play are usually theaters like The Blue Note. The thing about smaller towns that’s great is that it’s easier to walk to places than it is in larger cities.

[M]: Live performances have become a big part of what the band is known for. Is there something extra special about the stage?

[JK]: That is a special moment that we all share with the band. We love the process of making a record, because it’s a very introspective process where we really put the microscope on all aspects of the music and try to fine-tune things. When we play live, it’s really about making a connection with the audience for us – being able to share what we’ve created with everyone, get everyone involved and make them really feel it on a physical level. We really want everyone to clap along, sing along and let themselves go.

[M]: What has been your most memorable moment as a band?

[JK]: We played Lollapalooza a couple years ago when we were still up and coming. We had some momentum, so we were planning on people coming to our shows, and we were really enjoying and appreciating that. When we got to Lollapalooza, we set up on the mini stage at 2 o’clock in the afternoon. There were not as many people out there as there could be, so we figured we’d just go out there and have a good time. By the time we actually walked out on stage, there were like 20 or 30 thousand people out there, and it was a huge surprise.

[M]: “Old-fashioned” and “unique” are words commonly used to describe your sound. How would you describe the band’s style?

[JK]: It’s been all over the place. I don’t know, it’s just music! We’re making a version of pop music that has elements of '80s pop and some '60s soul. We’re just trying to make something new with all of these elements that we’ve grown to love.

[M]: Your mainstream success has definitely grown. What plans do you have for the coming years?

[JK]: The goal is just to see how far we can take this. We’re just starting a new album cycle with a record that we’re very proud of. We recently switched labels to Elektra Records, so we went from an indie label to a major label. We’re seeing what that process is like. The next two years are going to be about delivering this record to the people and doing everything we can to get it out to as many people as possible. The task before us is very daunting and all-encompassing, so we just try to think about it one tour at a time.

Fitz & The Tantrums play at The Blue Note8:30 p.m. Wednesday. Tickets are $20.

More Stories