Fitz and The Tantrums singer Michael Fitzpatrick estimates that his band has performed more than a thousand times since 2010, two years after it was formed. Its résumé includes playing at such festivals as Coachella, Bonnaroo, the now-defunct San Diego Street Scene and last September’s debut edition of KAABOO Del Mar.
But among the shows that really stick out in his mind is a 2011 outdoor date at Birch Aquarium in La Jolla.
Fitz and The Tantrums
When: Friday evening after the last race, which begins at 7:30 p.m.
Where: Seaside Stage, Del Mar Racetrack, 2260 Jimmy Durante Blvd., Del Mar
Tickets: Free with race admission prior to start of last race of the day; $20 concert only (must be 18 or older to attend)
Phone: (858) 792-4242
The sellout crowd provided an early indication that - after several years of playing here at the Casbah and such events as the 2010 North Park Oktober Fest - this Los Angeles-bred sextet was poised for broader success with its dance-happy mix of retro-soul, New Wave, synth-pop and indie-rock. But it was the distinctive concert setting, as much as the growing momentum and crowd buzz, that Fitzpatrick vividly recalls.
“I remember that show very well, because the stage was built right over a tide pool!” said the 46-year-old singer, who was born in France and grew up in Los Angeles.
Fitzpatrick, 46, laughed when asked if that memorable aquarium gig inspired him to consider taking advantage of a unique opportunity to bring new meaning to the art of stage diving.
“I suffer from a little vertigo,” he said, “so in a a scenario like that, which was such a weird situation, I felt like I almost had to jump.”
Fitzpatrick wisely refrained from doing so, since bodily injury - human and crustacean - would have been likely. But he is no stranger to bodies of water in San Diego.
“My wife’s family has a boat at the SeaWorld Marina,” he said. “And almost all of us in the band are native Los Angelenos. So, growing up in L.A., we’d come down to San Diego all the time.
“When we were a very young band, we couldn’t afford to do much traveling to perform. But we could make it down to San Diego and play the Casbah. In our early days, we did a lot of shows at the Casbah. And, little by little, things grew for us down there.”
Starting, in fact, just two months later in 2011, when Fitz and The Tantrums made their debut appearance at the Del Mar Racetrack’s annual summer concert series.
The one-woman, five-man band returns Friday night for its third racetrack series performance. The show is part of the band’s extensive North American tour, which continues through late November, in support of its sleek, dance-pop-fueled third album “Fitz and The Tantrums,” which came out in June.
The album’s first single, the infectiously lusty “Handclap,” has become one of the most played songs of the summer, thanks to YouTube views and airplay on a number of radio formats. But the song is more significant to Fitzpatrick for another reason: It marked a major breakthrough after an acute case of writer’s block.
“We wrote our previous album, (2013’s) ‘More Than Just a Dream,’ very quickly. We wrote 35 songs in 40 days, and - boom! -it was done. Then, we went back on tour,” Fitzpatrick recalled.
“So, with this album, we thought it would be the same or even easier, since we’ve been on the road for a couple more years. But it was more arduous and very hard, slogging through and trying to find inspiration. It wasn’t until the fourth or fifth month (of work) that ‘Handclap’ came, and it was like a bolt of lightning.
“You could just feel it, this kinetic energy, and there was that spirit of a summer hit happening. I mean, if people haven’t seen us live, we’re extremely high-energy. We want the audience to be the seventh member of the band. So to have a song telling people to clap their hands makes total sense for us.”
What caused the writer’s block?
Fitzpatrick cites a number of factors, in particular the fatigue and sense of detachment that resulted from the constant touring his 8-year-old band has done since its debut album, “Pickin’ Up the Pieces,” was released in 2010.
The song “Handclap” proved cathartic, he noted, thanks to its primal tone and the fact that it was written and recorded quickly, rather than subjected to lengthy rethinking and aural tweaking. After that, the rest of the album flowed, including “Burn It Down,” which - like some other current and past Tantrums songs - mixes mostly snappy music with introspective, sometimes pensive lyrics.
“I feel there’s an interesting tension when the music is happy or upbeat and the lyrics have an edge,” Fitzpatrick noted. “That (kind of juxtaposition) has been a calling card for us on all of our records. And it wasn’t something, especially on our first record, that we were conscious of. Actually, that’s not true. Halfway through writing the first record, I found I loved writing darker or sadder lyrics, or even angry lyrics of scorned love, over music that was happy and upbeat. That’s because, one, I love to dance, and, two, I love that contrast.
“‘Burn It Down’ is a love letter to my now-wife about my desire not to let my own demons and personal issues destroy our relationship. You can be married to somebody and have a child. And, yet, you can sit next to them and be a million miles apart, because you carry this pain and these dark emotions from your past. So this song is, literally, a love letter to her that I didn’t want to destroy this beautiful relationship.”
While nothing in Fitz and The Tantrums’ music will evoke an aria, the dramatic intensity of opera is a quality with which Fitzpatrick is quite well-versed.
“My father was an opera and classical music freak, so I grew up with that blasting at home,” he recalled. “It was a really interesting, intense thing - my mom making dinner every night, while these intense, dark operas flowed through our house!
“Then, one of the first things I latched on to was tuning in an oldies station that played all this Motown music, which had so much melody and tons of background vocals you could sing along with. Pretty quickly, I started doing musical theater. Then I got into a performing arts high school, and it was amazing to be able to study music and sing on a daily basis.
“I was fortunate that my parents were very musical and very arts-oriented, so they always let me pursue those kind of things.”