It takes most bands years to gain traction with the public. This is not the case for Fitz & the Tantrums. Within a week of meeting, they were playing their first gig. By their 10th show, they were in front of 8,000 people at the legendary Red Rocks Amphitheater. Keyboard player Jeremy Ruzumna tells the story of the band’s fortuitous meeting, its rocket ride to relative stardom, and having the gall to sonically branch off from a debut album that was so successful.
IN: The band clicked as soon as you all got together. Can you talk about the magic in that room at that first rehearsal?
RUZUMNA: Before we even had much of a conversation, we just started playing the songs we knew. There was some jamming. As soon as we started playing, we knew it was going to work. Some of us had played together in other bands, but some of us didn’t know each other at all.
IN: How was it going from that initial rehearsal to your first show in one week’s time?
RUZUMNA: It was exciting. That first show was at a small singer-songwriter-acoustic guitar place in Los Angeles called the Hotel Cafe. We stormed in there with a full band. That video footage is entertaining because it’s this tiny venue and we are blasting it. Even then, I remember having no doubt that we’d be playing larger venues soon.
IN: How did the band deal with getting so much buzz so quickly?
RUZUMNA: It’s odd when you’re in the band. We’re in our little bubble driving around in a van or bus. You hear some of the talk, but you don’t actually see it in action until you’re up there on stage and people know every word of every song. It’s more surreal than anything.
IN: Why was being a live band so important to you guys from the beginning?
RUZUMNA: A lot of people go out and get the record, but when the show rolls around, they bring a couple of their friends who had never heard of us or seen us. The live show keeps them coming back. It’s equally as important as the album and gives us a chance to really amp up the energy of our tracks. I’ve never been in a band where people will come up to me and say it’s literally the best show they’ve ever seen.
IN: What’s the secret to having fun every night when you’re touring non-stop?
RUZUMNA: I try to pretend that it’s the first time playing the songs. I put myself in the audience’s shoes and realize that it could be their first time hearing the songs. Maybe they only see us when we come through their town. We’re all focused on putting 100-percent energy to bring the whole crowd into the show. When you get that audience in tune, it’s impossible not to have fun.
IN: A good chunk of this latest record was written on the road. What’s different about writing on the road versus at home?
RUZUMNA: We recorded a lot of ideas and jams on our phones during sound checks. We probably have a few hundred of those sitting around. The sound is definitely different on this record. The ideas came from all over the place, the entire band. You can hear that in how eclectic the sound is.
IN: The new songs have more of an ‘80s and new wave sound going on to complement the retro soul of the last record. Was that a conscious direction?
RUZUMNA: We didn’t want to make a direct sequel to the first record. I love that first record. It’s a cool experiment that’s very much about the personality of the instruments that were sitting in our lead singer’s living room—an organ and an old, beat-up upright piano. With this record, we allowed ourselves to bring in all of our influences, not just a narrow focus. We’re children of the ‘80s, so it’s no surprise that those influences came through. We aren’t doing an ‘80s retro thing. We actually are children of the ‘80s.
IN: Coming from that generation, it had to have been out of this world to work with Daryl Hall of Hall & Oates for one of the episodes of his TV show, “Live at Daryl’s House.”
RUZUMNA: You watch those guys and forget that every one of their songs was a massive hit. For me, being anywhere near that cabin reminded me how high you have to set the bar with songwriting and production quality. It was a beacon for us.
IN: For you, what’s been the defining moment of the band?
RUZUMNA: One of my big moments was a couple of years ago at Lollapalooza. We were starting to get some buzz. There was a moment there where I got out of my bubble on stage and looked up at how huge the crowd was. It wasn’t an anonymous crowd, either. It was one of those “Is this real life” moments for me.
Photo: Fitz and the Tantrums Official