Fitz & the Tantrums’ Noelle Scaggs on the messages behind their catchy tunes, and changing the complexion of the music industry

"How much more safe do you feel owning a gun, and why? Is it because you can prevent a human being from killing you, but you can kill them first? What kind of logic is that?"

During the past couple of years, Fitz & the Tantrums have probably made your “hand clap” with their feel-good, soulful music. They understand that, and their new single “Sway,” builds on their catchy catalogue.

“It’s super fun,” says Fitz & the Tantrums vocalist Noelle Scaggs. “It’s a fun summer jam, and it’s reminiscent of our earlier work, but with a modern feel. We had a lot of fun recording that song.”

But beneath the veneer of songs that make you want to dance are serious topics that are sung by Scaggs and co-vocalist Michael Fitzpatrick. Their latest album All the Feels, released in 2019, explores topics like gun violence and mental health. 

“There’s a song called ‘I Need Help,’ and it’s one of my favorite songs on the record,” explains Scaggs. “I have always been a person that has dealt with mental health challenges like depression and it’s been a part of my family environment. It’s something that I have been able to live through and move through in a very healthy way. I’m also a person that is very independent, and I need to remind myself to ask for help when I need it, and give myself space.”

The topic of gun violence is explored in All the Feels with the song “Kiss the Sky” and, unfortunately, with recent events in Philadelphia, Tulsa, Texas, and Buffalo, the topic of gun violence is still relevant in 2022.

“At the end of the day, we are looking at a pandemic of violence,” says Scaggs. “And how it’s being handled with the protection of citizens. Looking at an inanimate object and saying that, ‘It’s not the fault of the gun, it’s the person,’ and then we aren’t trying to change the way people are being able to utilize this inanimate object.

“When Fitz and I wrote that song, I wanted to bring a consciousness to this object seen as not taking the blame for its usage,” Scaggs continues. “I needed to bring a human consciousness to this thing that is being used, and how it influences people. How much more safe do you feel owning a gun, and why? Is it because you can prevent a human being from killing you, but you can kill them first? What kind of logic is that? That’s not safety, and it’s based upon fear. It was really important for me to write a song that exposes the consciousness and the nature of humans to be able to utilize a tool that ends life.”

Since the release of All the Feels, Scaggs has been busy with her initiative Diversify the Stage, a project she founded after the murder of George Floyd. Diversify the Stage helps people of color, members of the LGBTQIA+ community, and women find work in the music industry. More often than not Scaggs would be the only person of color and woman on tour, and she decided that there needed to be a change in the music industry.

“I had a lot of time to reflect on my career and experiences, and a combination of what I was observing in the outside world,” says Scaggs. “I wanted to chime in on my experience over the years, and I’m one of the few minorities in a stage that I’m occupying. As an artist with music being a universal language for people it reaches all walks of life including animals. Music isn’t limited, but I felt like my surroundings were limited.

“After a while I started to wonder why is this a normal experience for me? Once George Floyd happened, and people took stock in how they handle their businesses and how they contribute to negativity in society in some way. I really wanted to chime in on parts of the music industry that I didn’t hear a lot from. For me, seeing this benchmark announcement of diversity and how much money a lot of record labels and promotions companies were going to be putting in for social impact causes and diversity kind of bothered me. It just seemed like words to me. You know, as an artist here’s what I am looking at every single day and there are challenges.”

Scaggs did her research, and talked to fellow musicians and production crew members, and she realized that Diversifying the Stage would be the best avenue for her to help change her industry for the better. 

Diversifying the Stage is born into activating new practices and creating better standard practices for hiring and recruiting,” says Scaggs. “We are working with a lot of local touring entities to support a first step measure that everyone can take and do it in a more community-oriented way. I was able to create an apprenticeship program that brings next generation folks to the stage and teach them about the different jobs in the music industry that they wouldn’t otherwise know about. It’s not necessarily taught in schools unless you go to trade school or your friend pulls you in to be a tour manager for their band. There’s no real curriculum to support folks who want to come in on the production side.”

Fitz & the Tantrums will be returning to New Jersey this weekend with a show at the Stone Pony Summer Stage in Asbury Park. Scaggs, who spent a lot of time in Somerset County, is looking forward to playing in the Garden State. In the decade-plus time Fitz & Tantrums have been around, they have played in all regions of the state. Scaggs credits the band’s ability to adapt as to why they have been still kicking after all these years. 

“We have always paid attention to not staying in the same pocket of music,” explains Scaggs. “We have allowed ourselves to grow and change, and challenge ourselves as creatives. We have never limited ourselves creatively, and I think it has resonated with people.  I think with the sound of our music and our ability to play with various types of bands, we aren’t pigeonholed into performing with alternative bands or with soulful acts. We have range, and it exposes us to a larger audience.”

Fitz & the Tantrums along with Seratones + St. Paul and the Broken Bones will be playing at the Stone Pony Summer Stage in Asbury Park on June 11. Ticket information can be found here.