Noelle Scaggs has already heard some people calling the new self-titled album from her band, Fitz and the Tantrums, a sell-out album.
There are reasons why that conclusion might seem logical.
“Fitz and the Tantrums” is more top 40 pop oriented than the group’s first two outings, with plenty of songs bouncy tunes (the top 5 alternative rock single “HandClap,” “Complicated” and “Tricky”) that feel tailored to the breezy/dancy sound of mainstream pop radio.
The album also marks the first time the group has worked with outside songwriters — and these collaborators include Sam Hollander, Wallpaper’s Ricky Reed, Jesse Shatkin and Joel Little, writers with track records of writing pop radio hits.
Such collaborations commonly happen at the urging of a band’s record label. Many label executives believe the best path to creating hit songs is to pair their acts with songwriters that have already proven they can write hits.
But far from viewing the new album as an attempt to elevate Fitz and the Tantrums to the level of bona fide pop stars, Scaggs sees the third album as a key step in elevating the group’s artistry and an album that digs deeper lyrically than the first two albums.
“This entire new album, for me, with writing with the different writers, getting a perspective on yourself, telling the truth about who you are and being conscious about it, this is for me our growth record as a band,” she said in a recent phone interview.
A lot has happened in a fairly short time to bring Fitz and the Tantrums to this stage. The group’s debut EP, 2009’s “Songs for a Breakup, Vol. 1,” and first full-length album, the 2010 release “Pickin’ Up The Pieces,” got the band labeled as retro-soul act for a sound that mixed elements of vintage soul and Motown with upbeat pop and rock.
Not wanting to be stuck in a retro-soul box, the group broadened their sound considerably on the 2013 album, “More Then Just a Dream.” The soul/Motown elements remained, but the sound was more modern, and leaned more toward alternative rock and modern pop.
The stylistic shift worked well on a musical level and also gave Fitz and the Tantrums a commercial breakthrough. The singles “Out of My League” and “The Walker” both topped “Billboard” magazine’s Alternative Songs chart, and positioned the band for a major stardom.
But making the self-titled album came with some challenges for singer/chief songwriter Mike “Fitz” Fitzpatrick, singer/songwriter Scaggs and the other members of Fitz and the Tantrums (sax player James king, keyboardist Jeremy Ruzumna, drummer John Wicks and bassist Joseph Karnes) headed into the project.
After finishing touring behind “More Than Just a Dream,” the group members took their first real break from the band. After a couple of months, Fitzpatrick and Scaggs attempted to start writing songs for the new album.
But the creative juices weren’t flowing, and that’s when thoughts of looking outside of the band to help move along the process came into play.
“Fitz and I were still, he had severe writer’s block,” Scaggs said. “I was on the verge of it. I was just like coming up with all of these ideas, and I’d like them one minute and the next they’re just not working…Fitz and I decided, I was like ‘You need to go into the studio with some other people. I need to go visit with my life. I’m going to write while I’m away.’ And that’s basically how the process of work really started.”
Ironically, bringing outside songwriters into the project helped bring a more personal slant to the album, with “Burn It Down” and “Walking Target” being two songs that particularly fit that mold.
“What was beautiful about making these (song) arrangements and writing with different people is it gave us a mirror into not being so heavily involved in the over-thinking process,” she said. “It gave us a direction. What are you thinking about right now? What are you feeling right now? This is going to be what this song is going to be about. It’s based on what you’re feeling…This is all coming from you now. So it was a learning experience.”
Scaggs said she is curious how the new songs, with their somewhat deeper themes, will connect live. So far, she thinks they mesh with the older songs and Fitz and the Tantrums have been able to retain the spirited and fun vibe of their live shows.
“The story line being a lot more personal on this record than the others records than we’ve had, just a lot of personal stories of love and drive and desire and things like that really cutting through on the songs on this new album, I think us trying to track with that into the live show is going to be a really cool challenge for us,” she said. “At this point, I think we can just hope for people connecting to that level with what we’re looking to do on this.”