Theres a reason artists like Marvin Gaye and Curtis Mayfield and their legacies are as vital now, decades after passing to the great beyond, as they were in their respective heydays. Soul never dies, and with many of the biggest songs in recent years like Get Lucky and Happy its as essential an element as it ever was.
Multi-instrumentalist James King of Fitz & the Tantrums understands this all too well. His band has gone from unknown to one of the biggest acts around on the strength of its modern revival of that timeless sound, and hes proud to be one of the torchbearers bringing it back to the forefront of modern American music.
With any music that has real soul in it, whether its at the top of the charts or buried in whatever decade its being made in, people instinctively respond to things that have soul in them, King said. I was surprised to see so many young people checking out our first album, but then again, when things line up and the powers that be let that sort of thing on the radio, invariably, people gravitate towards it.
That debut was Pickin Up the Pieces, released just two years after Fitz & the Tantrums formation by bandleader Michael Fitzpatrick and King (who put Fitzpatrick onto singer Noelle Scaggs and the rest of the crew) in 2008. Fueled by classic Motown and Stax Records, the album was anchored by Moneygrabber, a ubiquitous hit that King knew would open up doors the second it was finished.
[It] was one of those songs, he said. The first time I listened to the finished recorded version of it, its kind of like, if you build it, people will come. We knew people would respond to that song, and they did.
The single and the album that birthed it set a high bar for the 2013 follow-up, More Than Just a Dream one that dictated not only conquering the sophomore slump but also transitioning from smaller indie label Dangerbird Records (Silversun Pickups, Minus the Bear) to Elektra Records (Justice, Metronomy).
Playing it safe and rolling forward in the groove already established might have curbed all that pressure. Why fix what isnt broken? Yet the six-piece went broader in scope, finding a new skin instead of slipping back into the old one.
We knew we wanted to expand our horizons, King said. There were a lot of risks. Wed been categorized as a Motown revival band which, granted, wastruebutwewantedtodoalot more than that. We wanted that to be a springboard into something else.
Fitz & the Tantrums armed themselves with a broader selection of instruments outside of those standard Motown staples. The end result highlighted by omnipresent, commercial-friendly singles Out of My League and The Walker was a synth-laden, pop-heavy and dance-slanted record that matched Pickin Up the Pieces by just about every measure.
It was a conscious decision to allow ourselves to do whatever we thought was cool, King said. We needed to do something that we loved, and fortunately, people have responded to that.
The ceaseless touring including Thursdays show with Foster the People and Soko at OKC Downtown Airpark has kept Fitz on the road for what feels like four straight years with more months still ahead.
Plans and songs for a third record are gestating. Words like high-energy are being thrown around, but King says its largely too early to tell at this point. Though, as always, it will be good for the soul.
Fitz & the Tantrums with Foster the People & Soko
5:30 p.m. ThursdayOKC Downtown Airpark
1701 S. Western Ave.