Michael, you’ve said the genesis of the band started with an old electric organ you bought for fifty bucks from an ex-girlfriend. Do you consider that organ lucky?
Michael: Yes. The day I got the organ, I had these crazy Russian movers move it into my house and as soon as I turned it on, it had a spirit and an energy to it. For me, it was a whole new vocabulary. As soon as I started playing around with it in my little home studio, it inspired all these new ideas and a new palette to draw from. That night, I sat down and had one of those blessed moments where a song sort of writes itself from start to finish. That song is called “Breaking the Chains of Love” and it was in that moment that I found my voice as a singer. That night was the start and the snowball. Everything else about Fitz and the Tantrums sort of landed from there on out.
Noelle: I remember, I listened to the songs shortly thereafter and they were great. There was something really magical about them, particularly “Darkest Street”. A few days later, I walked into the rehearsal room and ended up knowing half the guys there. It was all very serendipitous.
Where was that house with the organ?
M: In Silver Lake, where I’ve lived for a very, very long time. It’s a neighborhood that, when I first moved in, was one of the few un-fran chised parts of Los Angeles left. There was a lot of brick and mortar, mom-and-pop shops, and some cooler architecture. Not everything had been torn down. The whole area between Silver Lake, Echo Park and Atwater Village is just filled with creativity. I absolutely love it over there.
Is that where you recorded the first album?
M: Yes, we did the lion’s share of the pre-production, song writing, lyrics and melodies on that album, day after day sitting there. I love the energy of being in a home so you don’t have the pressure of money. When you want to take a break, you go to the kitchen, make a latte, make a sandwich, sit on the porch.
Speaking of serendipity and Los Angeles, what does it mean to you to be playing in this old Chaplin Theater with Artist’s Den?
M: We both grew up in the city. We’ve been to almost every venue there is. There’s not too many that you can go to that you haven’t been to before. This place has so much history. To see it have another life decades after it was forgotten, restored and brought back to life with all of its beautiful, ornate moldings is really amazing.
N: It’s simply phenomenal.
Performance and audience engagement are so central to the band. What’s the weirdest or most surprising moment you’ve had with an audience?
M: On the first record we were touring heavily in the dead of winter on a backbreaking schedule. It was cold. Snowmeggedon was happening. And Noelle had a bout of laryngitis. It makes me emotional even now to think of it because, as a singer, there’s something so intense about your instrument living inside your body. When you cannot perform, it’s heartbreaking. Noelle was backstage, devastated, truly in tears. I said, “It’s ok, just do your thing. You do so many other things besides sing. Your joy, your tambourine skills, you’re an amazing player. Let’s just go out there and make the best of it.” So we go out and we started the set in Boston and we said, “Noelle has no voice tonight.” The audience sang every single one of her notes… loud… and that was at a point when we were still a no name band. It was a magical, humbling and touching experience and it was a great show even though we were missing one of the key ingredients to what makes us, us.
Favorite thing to wear onstage?
M: From the beginning this band has been hyper-fashion conscious. You’re talking to two seriously addicted clothes whores here!
N: From the first record, I made it a rule that I would never be caught in pants. Ever. I was always in a dress. So, I was literally collecting all these vintage dress numbers. Everything from beaded blouses that I would wear with a pencil skirt to dresses I had made. I had them retailored and reconfigured to suit me because I kept losing so much weight after every single tour. I literally have garment bags full of dresses that I wore over a period of two and a half years of touring on the first record. Then I wanted to change my hair. So I changed my hair and now it’s blonde and buzz cut. That took away the dress factor for me. I was like, ‘Oh, I gotta figure out something else.’ I move onstage so much that I have to make sure that the clothing I’m wearing is non-restrictive so I’m into sneakers now. I have these studded sneakers that I wear because they’re slightly casual but they bring out that rock star appeal as well.
M: On the first record, we started out wearing suits exclusively. The problem with wearing suits onstage is that you destroy them. I will soak myself. I would basically ruin a suit after two performances. And I like nice suits, I don’t like cheap suits. So it became a very expensive habit and trying to find unusual men’s clothing is a challenge. Then, the summer festival circuit came around and I had to change things up because I needed to be able to move a little bit more. Now, I, too have a thing for interesting sneakers.
N: Beyoncé is a huge one for me. I can’t say it’s just Beyoncé. It’s her stylist, too. Beyoncé’s stylist is killing it right now.
M: David Bowie. David Burn. All the Davids.