Fitz and the Tantrums’ Joe Karnes: Audience takes the band higher

Fitz and the Tantrums will perform at this year’s Movin’ On music festival at Penn State.
Fitz and the Tantrums will perform at this year’s Movin’ On music festival at Penn State. Photo provided

When the Los Angeles-based kings of nostalgia Fitz and the Tantrums take the stage at this year’s Movin’ On, they’ll bring with them a solid five years’ worth of buzz. From their launch in 2009, this self-conscious neo-soul sextet has simply oozed cool. While this sort of hype has certainly been seen before, Fitz and the Tantrums actually had the chops to back it up. “Money Grabber” their infectious single from 2010’s “Pickin’ Up the Pieces,” was seemingly everywhere: late night with Conan, Kimmel and Leno and on HBO and “This Week in Baseball.”

In anticipation of their stop in State College, longtime musician and bassist for the Tantrums, Joe Karnes checked in to discuss the band’s varied musical influences, their sonic evolution, and what makes their live show such a sight to be seen.

Weekender: How has your extensive musical background added to the eclectic sound of Fitz and the Tantrums?

Karnes: Everyone brings something to the table, and as much as we’re all steeped in soul and ’80s music and all of those things that are at the forefront of our sound, everyone has something different. You just want to have the music naturally come out; you practice as much as you can and then you try to forget it and let something organic happen. We all have such a diverse musical palette, and that really helps create the sound that defines us.

Weekender: How has your sound evolved over the years, and where do you think it currently resides?

Karnes: It’s really hard to quantify our sound because we are so eclectic, but the best way that people have described us is as “soul indie pop.” Our first record, “Pickin’ Up the Pieces,” was very influenced by Motown and Philly Soul right there at the top, that was the driving beast. With our latest record, “More Than Just a Dream,” we wanted to add some more colors to it, synthesizers and stuff like that. We wanted the song to dictate what it needed rather than trying to back ourselves into a corner and sound just like the first record. On this new record, the ’80s influences are a little bit more in the foreground and the ’60s influences are more in the background.

Weekender: How does the band capture the energy of their records and translate it to their live performances?

Karnes: We really cut our teeth and developed our fan base by hitting the road really hard early on, and we give everything that we got when we’re on stage from the moment that we step on until we leave. The audience is basically the seventh member of the band, and without them and the energy they bring, we can only go so high. We really want to get everyone involved in creating an experience that transcends the six of us and the audience separately, something that we can only create together.