What a year it’s been for Fitz and The Tantrums! Labeled one of the hardest working bands in Pop, and just as nice as you would expect they’d be. They’ve racked up some impressive accolades this last year that have even surprised them. Their newest single “The Walker” is that happy tune that Ellen DeGeneres lip-synched in her Oscars trailer this year. Fitz and The Tantrums are easy on the eyes and their energy is infectious so it was no surprise that Ellen DeGeneres would be one of their biggest fans. They were invited to perform on Ellen’s Birthday show as well as Jimmy Kimmel, Good Morning America, Conan, toured with Bruno Mars, and if that wasn’t enough to make any band salivate, they scored a # 1 hit on Billboard’s Alternative Songs Chart with “Out Of My League” off of their sophomore album More Than Just A Dream available on iTunes.
Ages: All Ages to Enter, 21 & Over to Drink
Doors: 8:30 PM | Show: 9:00 PM
I got a fortunate opportunity to catch up with Fitz and The Tantrums drummer, John Wicks, by phone while on tour. Knowing that John was an avid runner, I open my session with him by asking what city he was in today.
John Wicks: Burlington, Vermont. It’s a beautiful day here.
Guerrilla Candy: Did you go running yet?
JW: Dead silence followed by a laugh. How did you know that?
GC: I’ve done my homework. Giggle.
JW: You’re awesome! I guess my reputation is getting around. I found coffee, been on my run, and I’m in love.
GC: So I’m guessing when you go city to city, one of the first things you research are running trails and parks. Would that be correct?
JW: I do! And normally, it coordinates with finding the best coffee! Like today, I’m sitting at the best coffee shop in Burlington, Maglianero Cafe. I found it on my run. Usually a good run coincides with the best coffee. It’s also been a cool way to see every town as well.
GC: I think that’s a good business plan for anyone considering opening a coffee shop. Put it on a running path.
JW: That’s a good idea. I’m going to quit this drumming thing and become a consultant. How’s Seattle?
GC: Beautiful day.
JW: I’m originally from Bainbridge Island, and I also lived on both hills Cap “and” Queen Anne. I now live with my wife in Missoula, MT after living 8 ½ years in LA doing session work. I did Bruno Mars 1st record and Cee Lo’s “Lady Killer” record and as a result of doing those, I was getting more and more work and right about that time I met Fitz. I certainly had no intentions on being in a band because I really enjoyed studio work but the band just blew up so quick. Before I knew it, I was on the road more than I was home and around that same time, my wife and I found out we were having twins. My wife is from Missoula and we planned to end up there someday anyway so we decided to do it sooner than later. It doesn’t really matter where you live when you’re on the road so much. Our family help with the twins and it’s so beautiful there, I’m in heaven when I’m home.
GC: MT is a great place to raise a family and go home to.
JW: Yes. The rest of the band is still in LA. It takes me 3 days to get the bus engine noise out of my head when I go home. (laughs)
GC: You have had a really big year with a #1 hit on Billboard, Conan, Kimmel, GMA, touring with Bruno, and appearing on Ellen’s Birthday Show and her using your song for the Oscars. It’s crazy!
JW: Actually, it just hit me having you list those things how that’s really a trippy feeling. You just kind of get into a work mode and it just occurred to me that you don’t fully appreciate it because you’re just doing your job and you’re going out there and working and working and hoping that people like it and it’s interesting how you become desensitized, having you just say that back to me, it’s kind of crazy. It’s been pretty nuts the last 2 years, pretty surreal.
GC: I saw you two years ago at Key Arena at Bumbershoot. I was so impressed. Your labeled as one of the hardest working bands and I so saw that! I remember Fitz saying to the crowd, “come by the merch booth and say hi.” I walked by the area to see if he really meant it and there you all were, signing, taking photos, chatting with fans. A lot of bands don’t go back to their merch table and have the fan interaction which I feel is a big mistake.
JW: Funny you should say that because that show was a big one for me personally because it was like coming home. Playing Key Arena with Daryl Hall and John Oates was an honor and kind of “I have arrived” moment. I lived 50 yds across the street at one time so to play Key was so surreal and to play it with Daryl Hall, that guy has been so good to us, he’s had us on his TV show and the point is, I made a conscious effort to enjoy the moment.
GC: That was such a good show. I really pay attention to that kind of stuff and taking time to go to the merch table and meet the fans, kudos to you! (Bands, take note)
JW: Thank you. That’s one of those things that if I was ever asked to teach a Master Class on the Music Industry or a “How To Make A Living In The Music Industry” these days, the first thing I’d say is go get on a van/bus because today, the only way you make money anymore is touring. Selling records, maybe only 5 artists are making enough to survive on record sales and you need to have a great “live” show your musicianship has to be high, and you have to go to that extra degree to connect with your fans. Like you say, I think what really helped us in looking back, I don’t think it was calculated, we weren’t going out there trying to win people over but it sure did have that affect and we’d definitely tell any artist if you really want to connect with fans, Facebook is not enough. You’re not making a connection by sending your Facebook fans a message, you have to go out and shake their hand and let them know you’re deserving of their dollar and support.
GC: Right, when fans go to the merch table, they don’t want to buy merch from a merch girl/guy, they want to meet the artist, get an autograph, take a selfie, make that fan connection. Those are you are your lifelong fans. When you take time to make that personal connection, those are your lifers!
JW: Yes, you’re absolutely right! I wish we were having that same kind of success over in Europe. It’s been difficult over there. We’re finding it a very humbling experience to go over there. We haven’t cracked the code over there or figured out how to spread the word like we did here in the states. The radio stations are not connected to one another and you would think they would be. Geographically, you would think there would some bleed over but there isn’t. We hit #2 in Italy and then go to Belgium and we couldn’t get arrested.
GC: Wow, I always heard Europe loved and welcomed American bands. That surprises me.
JW: It’s a trip trying to figure that one out.
GC: So many bands I know want to go to the UK thinking they’ll be better received than here, especially if they’re not getting the success here they hoped for.
JW: Yea, it’s a mystery. Then you see bands like Kings of Leon who were huge in the UK & Europe before anyone knew them over here and 5 years of being huge over there before anything happened for them here in their home country. I don’t know what the secret is but were still figuring it out.
GC: Maybe you need to bring them some American product they want.
JW: Like Levi’s?
GC: Yes! There has to be something they want that’s American and when you figure it out, you’re in! Some friends of mine are doing some tour dates with you. A young band called Finish Ticket and Sleeper Agent.
JW: We just played the first show with Sleeper Agent last night. They were great. They killed. We haven’t played the shows with Finish Ticket yet.
GC: So tell me, what advice would you give an up-and-coming band?
JW: The first piece of advice would be like we spoke about earlier, live minimally, don’t spend money on stuff that you don’t have any emotional connection to. Keep travel light. In life in general, what I’m realizing now is I’m finally doing OK. I’m making enough money to buy a house and take care of my family but in looking back, I think I couldn’t done those things quite a bit earlier had I not spend money frivolously. Figure out what you have emotional connection to and throw out the rest. Don’t hold on to stuff, just keep it light. You’re able to save so much more money. Don’t buy stuff for “retail therapy”. I could’ve been more comfortable during those starving years. Actually, I wouldn’t have been starving. Explore every avenue to get the word out and think of every avenue as legitimate as the other. Whether it’s social media, being at the merch table, shaking hands, and don’t forget the power of radio. In the beginning stages of the band, I thought radio was dead and the truth of the matter is, it’s so not! It still pretty much makes or breaks a band and thankfully, we’ve had success at radio and that’s because we’ve taken every opportunity to go in and meet the Program Directors, shake their hands, do in-studios, interviews, whatever they need. Don’t have an ego, just go in and do it and don’t show attitude or think you’re too good or they won’t play your records. It’s like ‘symbolic payola.’ If you go in and show appreciation for the work they do for you, they’ll keep it up. Don’t turn your nose up to any avenue to get the word out.
GC: It’s like a political campaign, you have to kiss a lot of babies.
JW: It’s hard enough to do this stuff without putting obstacles in front of yourself by thinking your selling out or you’re not Indie (whatever that means). Just go out and work, work, work, and don’t expect anything back and then when you do get it, you’re pleasantly surprised and enjoy the process. I think everyone is looking for the secret but really, you were in the right place at the right time and the truth of the matter, you were in the right place on purpose because you knew where to be in the first place. Anyone who was in the right place knew where to be, what time to be there, because they figured it out. Very rarely nowadays does stupid luck happen. It may appear that way but they’ve put the work and time in to make it happen.
GC: I love the song ‘Spark’. Are the lyrics directed at Music Industry heads?
JW: I’m not sure, you’ll have to ask Noelle and Fitz. I try and let people interpret it on their own and not spoil it. All I know it’s one of my favorite songs to play.
GC: I just figured someone was wronged by an Industry person. Like the song ‘You’re So Vain’, it doesn’t call out the person but everyone who has ever wronged you will wonder if it’s about them.
JW: I love that you took that away from listening to it. I’m going to tell the other guys about that.
GC: Who’s music do you listen to on the band bus?
JW: I really like Robyn. Love her! Also Com Truise. Besides the cool name, they have an electric vibe. It’s so addictive. I often go back to what turned me onto playing music in the first place like De La Soul. The truth is when you’re playing this many shows and playing the same over and over and over, the trick is to keep them still fresh and still have fun. I found the trick for me is to revisit the music I was banging out in my parents garage as a child and try to recreate that same enthusiasm that made me want to play drums in the first place and having a blast.
JW: The last interview asked if we were writing any new songs? No, no, no it’s not even in the budget. We still have another single to release and we’ve already been playing these songs for a year now and still probably have another 6 months to a year to go before we add new songs.
GC: You got a lot of traction on the song ‘Walker’ on Ellen. I watched the YouTube video of you on the birthday show. That had to be cool!
JW: I love that woman! You see people on TV and she has this cheery demeanor and you hope to God that she is exactly like that and… she is! She’s exactly what you see on TV. She’s been so great to us and supportive.
GC: Collaborations are huge in the Music Industry right now. If you had a chance to do a collab, who would you choose?
JW: I would love, love, love to do something with David Bowie. Fitz gets a lot of comparisons to him appearance wise and vocal quality wise he gets Daryl Hall quite a bit too. I’d love to take Bowie in a different direction. I sound stuck up but to make it more relevant. I want this generation to know how brilliant he is. I’d also like to work with a Hip/Hop artist. You know who impresses me? Wiz Khalifa. I worked with him at Penn State. I had heard he was a stoner, smoked a lot of weed and I was thinking I wouldn’t like it but he killed. I’m a huge fan of Hip/Hop. There hasn’t been anyone who has knocked me out since The Roots. Wiz Khalifa really turned my head. I’ve got to say, I think I misjudged him.
GC: Maybe he’ll see this article or one of his people will. I believe you have to speak it, and if you do, then sometimes comes to fruition.
JW: You’re right, you have to put it out there.
GC: You need to say it when you’re on Ellen. That will up your chances. (smile) I don’t have that kind of clout. What have you yet to accomplish?
JW: Every goal I’ve ever had I’ve accomplished. I’ve been drumming since the 3rd grade. I have a check list I created and I’ve accomplished most of them. It feels good. Now it’s not so selfish and self-serving for the drums have done so much for me. I want to give back. I want to figure out a way to turn kids onto music. I haven’t figured it out yet.
GC: What’s on the horizon for the band?
JW: Just touring. Our record is pretty great and we’ve hit #1 on the Alternative Charts and we’ll see what the next single, ‘Fools Gold’, does. That just means hitting the road again. Video, Radio, more Radio, and getting on the bus. Fitz had a baby this year so he’s a little more sympathetic now so our touring schedule is about 3 weeks on and 1 week off which is so much better than the 6 week runs we used to do. For me as a Dad, that was tough. But now I think we’ve found a formula that works for all the Daddies in the band. So that’s what’s happening on the horizon, more of getting on the bus.
GC: What do you want Seattle to know about your show tonight?
JW: The main thing is wear something you don’t mind sweating in because you’re going to dance you ass off and if you don’t, we’re going to call you out from the stage. Also, I always try to tell everyone to dance like you’re anonymous. Dance like no one knows who you are or is watching. That’s what I want. No one is going to be talking about you at the water cooler the next morning so go ahead and freak out and have fun! If we can get people to do this . . . mission accomplished.
GC: John, I want to thank you for taking time out of your tour schedule to speak with me. I can’t wait to see the SoDo show.
JW: We all really appreciate the press people, it helps a ton! We’re living proof of that. When you see my new website of running and coffee, I’ll try to make sure I give you credit, my consulting partner.
In my words: It’s refreshing to meet an artist that you perceived would be nice and they are as you expected. The fact this band is successful is evident by the work ethic, no ego or attitude, and making great music. They’re humble, knowing it could go away as fast as it came and don’t take that for granted and are enjoying the moments. Nothing in the Music Industry is given to you, you have to earn it and Fitz and The Tantrums certainly have earned their success. Now, go put on your party clothes for the biggest dance party of the summer!