Like many artists before him who felt pressure to follow up a hit song, Michael Fitzpatrick of Fitz and the Tantrums readily admits he struggled with expectations to come up with a song for the band’s next album that could measure up with “HandClap,” the multi-chart hit from the band’s self-titled 2016 album.
“It’s tough because as much as you say, ‘I’m going to put that song out of my head,’ it’s always this quiet little monkey on your back,” Fitzpatrick explains in a phone interview. “And if you try and set that as the benchmark, you’re almost guaranteed failure because it’s just automatically sucking the oxygen out of the room.”
Fitzpatrick was finally able to eject that back-riding monkey when he thought back to how “HandClap” was written in the first place.
“What I had to finally do was come to the realization that we didn’t try and write ‘HandClap’ when we wrote it,” he says. “When I wrote ‘HandClap’ I was frustrated with my own process and I just sort of tried to put my intellect to the side and just come from more of a visceral, primal place, which is how I achieved that (song). So, definitely after a couple of times of that looming over my head, I finally just had to be like, you know what, you didn’t think about it when you were creating it. You just have to put that out of your head.”
Making the follow-up album to the self-titled release was not quick and easy for Fitzpatrick, the band’s singer and main songwriter. It took more than a year, and Fitzpatrick wrote some 80 songs in order to arrive at the selections that are on the album.
Things didn’t really come together for the album — All The Feels, released in September — until past the halfway mark in the writing process when Fitzpatrick got together with fellow singer-songwriter K. Flay and songwriter/producer Tommy English. They came up with the song “123456.” It was released in March as the first advance single from the new album. (Two more songs have since been released, “Don’t Ever Let Em” and “I Need Help.”)
With “123456,” Fitzpatrick started to see a lyrical thread around which he could build the entire album.
“‘123456’ is a very emotional song to me,” Fitzpatrick says. “I’m not sure that everyone gets the depth of the emotion to me, but that was like a song for me that was really about celebrating that moment where you finally gain a little confidence back after kind of a dark period of insecurity and unsuredness. You wake up finally with a little bit of confidence back in your step and you just want to hold onto that as long as possible. For me, that’s directly tied into my process of making an album. So, when I hear that song, it moves me because it was one of the big turning points of my emotional well-being in making a record.
“I really started to see this theme of self-care, of self-love, of just processing all of these emotions, even the process of creation,” he says. “Then that sort of became my filter for everything and what made the cut or not was: Does this make me feel something? Am I talking about something that matters to me? That really became sort of the benchmark.”
If Fitzpatrick explores some weighty topics on the new album, he and his cowriters also continued Fitz and the Tantrums’ tradition of making fun music. That tone was established after Fitzpatrick formed the band in 2008 in Los Angeles with Noelle Scaggs (vocals/percussion), James King (saxophone/multi-instrumentalist), Jeremy Ruzumna (keyboards), John Wicks (drums) and Ethan Phillips (since replaced on bass by Joseph Karnes) and has remained a defining feature of the music as the group has evolved from the retro-soul feel of its first album, 2010’s Pickin’ Up The Pieces through the thoroughly modern Top 40 sound of the self-titled third album and “HandClap,” which went top five on a trio of Billboard magazine charts — Adult Top 40, Alternative Songs and Hot Rock Songs — and took the group’s career to a new level.
The buoyant sound Fitz and the Tantrums have fashioned carries over to the group’s energetic live shows. Now four albums of material in the catalog, Fitzpatrick feels he can put together a strong set list as the band gears up to head out on the road behind All The Feels.
“There’s a smattering of all of the standout songs from all of the last three albums,” he says. “And then it’s always exciting, you’re bringing some of your new babies on stage with you. So we’re going to be playing a bunch of songs from the new record as well, some that are out and some that won’t even come out until the fall. But we’re going to play them anyway for our fans. We’re going to be playing bigger venues. We’ve got a bigger show that’s even more over the top. I’m really excited to get out there.”
ON THE BILL: Fitz and the Tantrums — with The Head & the Heart, Enzi. 6 p.m. Friday, Dec. 6, Mission Ballroom, 4242 Wynkoop St., Denver. Tickets are $55-$99.50, axs.com.