Michael “Fitz” Fitzpatrick is hard on himself. Even after three successful albums with his band Fitz and the Tantrums, the indie pop singer finds the writing process challenging. “This is our fourth one, so it’s not my first time,” he says. “But it doesn’t get any easier, the journey you have to take.”
Part of the struggle has been trying to top himself — “Handclap,” the high-spirited single from the band’s 2016 self-titled album, was their biggest song yet. “It’s hard to not be crushed or suffocated by that,” he admits. Nevertheless, Fitz spent a year in the studio, writing 80 songs for the band’s upcoming album. Out of the fifteen or so that made the cut, “123456” became the lead single—an upbeat, poppy track to marks the band’s energetic return.
Fitz called RS from Los Angeles to discuss the making of the single, how he overcame his struggle and what he hopes the song will achieve.
What’s the inspiration behind “123456”?
Fitz: I’ve known K.Flay [the Interscope-signed singer who recently opened for Imagine Dragons on tour] for five or six years. I saw her one day and asked if she’d be into trying to write a song with me. And of course she was gracious enough to say yes. It was a really amazing experience, because I was at the low point of making this record.
I’ve always found that the songs that write themselves the fastest are always the best ones. You have this divine moment of musical inspiration, the stars align. But that’s a fleeting moment. Working with K.Flay was really great because it’s one artist to the other, just somebody that really understands how hard it is to be on that journey of writing. We were working with Tommy English and we just came up with this track … we were all dancing around the room. I could finally see the light at the end of the tunnel.
How do you think it differs from “Handclap” ?
Fitz: It’s tough. Every song has sort of a life of its own. I just tried to really put all my external expectations of what people expected from us out the door. For every song we do, it’s gotta make you wanna move and dance. I would say what differs is that there’s just a really joyful, positive message. There’s a line, “I’m sick of feeling the lows / I just wanna roll with the highs.” I just want to live in this moment that I’m feeling right now in the creation of this song.
Was the pressure of topping “Handclap” weighing on you?
Fitz: A hundred percent. What I learned is you really gotta do your best to put all that aside because if that’s ever in your consciousness, it robs you of the moment of letting a song have a life and have oxygen in the room. I wasn’t trying to write “Handclap” when we wrote “Handclap.” And that was coming off of two number ones on the record before that on alternative radio. An hour into writing the song, Tommy, K.Flay and I were like, “I don’t know what this is. It’s fun, it’s energetic, it’s kind of untraditional in the way that the chorus is, but who gives a shit. It feels good, and that’s what matters.”
Do you feel like that’s what made you choose it as the lead single?
Fitz: To me, it feels a little risky. It’s not a traditional, “Here’s your chorus!” It’s dense, it’s got a lot of lyrics. But it felt right and it kept feeling right as I sat with it for the month afterwards. I said, “I feel like this is the song that I want to present to the world.” Will you be releasing any other songs soon? Fitz: The cool thing on the flip side is that coming right on the heels of this, we’re gonna be releasing a second song called “Don’t Ever Let ‘Em.” It’s a very simple song, not up-tempo. It’s wildly different. I just really wanted to also show people the spectrum sonically, but also emotionally of what this record’s gonna encompass.
How long did it take to write “123456”?
Fitz: Maybe an hour. That thing that you’re always searching for…I’m lucky if I get it one time every record, and the other songs you kind of have to bleed for. The music gods always kind of give it to you once, but you gotta work at it. I love alternative music, I love pop music, I love a song that gets stuck in your head from one listen. But at the same time I wanted to really push for this album to have more truth and honesty to it. There’s a lot of factors of trying to land a spaceship on a little landing dock on a moving star.
Aside from touring in the last couple of years, what have you been up to?
Fitz: This last year I just hunkered down. I just carved out this whole last year to lock myself in the studio day in, day out. Towards the end of it, I could really see the vision for the whole record. As soon as I was done with that, we jumped into seven to eight weeks of recording with the band. We just finished the record a few weeks ago. Now the song’s coming out so the timeline has accelerated really fast. This last year and a half has been solely focused on this. Any free second I have, I’ve got two little boys, so it’s trying to find that work-life balance of still being a halfway awesome dad.
Were there any musicians or bands that inspired you while you wrote “123456”?
Fitz: I truly am inspired by K. Flay and everything she does. There’s this kid Oliver Tree that I was actually able to work with a couple times. He’s a total freakazoid and I really love the music he does. This last year, I did A&R and produced this kid on Atlantic called Max Frost. Being able to have a little bit of a part and shaping that with him was a really rewarding experience for me.
What do you hope this single will achieve?
Fitz: You write songs for people to hear, so obviously I want people to have a connection to the song. I’d be a liar if I didn’t say that I didn’t want this song to be a fucking huge smash success. I think any artist would be a liar if they said otherwise. But at the end of the day, no matter what happens, I am more proud of this record than any other one we’ve made. I’ve put my heart and soul into it and I just hope that people can feel that when they listen.