Caffe Vita had the opportunity to head to New York City and get backstage at The Governor’s Ball—you can see the full recap here.
And one of the many advantages of being amongst the many performers is that you get to talk with them, and, sometimes, being fortunate enough to score an impromptu interview with a band following their set.
For us, that band was Fitz and the Tantrums, who, after speaking with them, we came to find out how much we had in common with a few of the members.
In fact, the band’s drummer, John Wicks, was actually one of the first barista’s to work for Vita back in the mid-‘90s, and the group’s frontman, Michael Fitzpatrick (Fitz), is an admitted coffeehead himself.
Fresh off a whirlwind couple of years that have included a critically acclaimed record, chart-topping singles and multiple tour dates, the two guys sat down to talk abouttheir appreciation for making music and, of course, their desire to always have a great cup of coffee to keep them going when on the road.
Can you talk about the energy that the crowd had during your performance at Governor’s Ball.
Fitz: “It’s great. I mean, we love playing our own headliner shows where you’re surrounded by four walls and the energy is combustible, but at the same time, there’s nothing like playing a festival in front of 10, 20, 30,000 people and seeing them go crazy.
Even when it’s full sun and blazing heat, everyone’s in it together, so it’s cool when they see how hard you’re working on stage and they’re getting down with you.
Wicks: “It can go either way.
To be honest, especially in heat like this, and for an audience who have had a few beers, it can be like today where it’s totally crazy, or it can be like lethargic and fans aren’t really into it.
I could tell after the first few notes today that it was going to be a blast, because the people were ready to party. That’s why we came out of the gate at like an 11, so I think it was an easy sell from the get-go.”
As an artist, is that energy something that you can feel while on stage, and do you take a responsibility in making sure fans leave having a good time?
Fitz: “Yeah. I think that we’ve always set that benchmark for ourselves and, yeah, you can tell if the audience doesn’t know you or isn’t familiar with your songs, and that just makes us work harder to win them over. We just want to blow people’s minds and crush it.”
Wicks: “Yeah. It’s a slipper slope, because, sometimes, fans just aren’t responding the way that you want them to, but, as a drummer, I can try to force it, and, as a result, you can kind of sacrifice groove a lot of times because you’re just trying to make it happen.
It can lose some of the vibe when doing that, though, and instead of trying to make it happen, you just have to let it happen. I’ve always found that by the end of the set, we’ve got them.
Sometimes it takes a little longer, but, by the end of the set, we’ve always got them, no matter what.”
What are some of the things you have coming up this summer?
Fitz: “It’s just shows, shows, shows, festivals, festivals and headline shows. We’re releasing our third single in July called “Fools Gold” off the record, as well.
We’ve been very blessed to have two number one’s from the album already, and what’s great is that we see the growth. We see the audiences getting bigger, and it’s great to have an arsenal of more than just one song that people know.
We thrive and excel on the stage, giving 150 percent every night, every day, it’s where we live and do our best work, so this summer it’s just shows, shows, shows.”
Do you prefer to be live as opposed to being in the studio?
Wicks: “I think if you would have asked me that question five years ago, I would have given a different answer, because I was very much a studio player then. That was always my goal, to be a studio session guy and play on different people’s records. That’s where I felt most comfortable.
Now, though, not so much. It’s a different mindset, but I think that it’s actually different physically, too. You wait and you wait and you wait and you wait, and you do all these things to fill up the day, and then you get a couple hours (on stage) to just do it. And then, you’re done, and you take a deep breath and the rush is over before doing it all over again the next day. I think it’s a different mindset and different set of muscles that you use, which, I find, equally rewarding now.
But I didn’t think I wanted to do that five years ago.”
Do you miss being on stage when you’re not doing it, day in, day out, especially when it has been such a big part of your life for so long?
Fitz: “Yeah. People ask us all the time why we decided to pursue music, and for John and I, the answer is the same—it was never a choice. It was always just what had to be and there was no other option. We’re not people who searched for years and years for what their path in life was going to be. It’s like we had to make music to feel centered as a human being; for us, at least. That’s just the way it is.
Being on the road is a crazy thing of highs and lows. When you’re not doing a festival, you can be in an empty parking lot behind the club, and then people file in for the show, you do the show with such high energy and you feel the crowd, and then like 30 minutes or an hour later, you’re walking through empty beer cups at the venue and it’s like a ghost town all over again. There’s a really trippy juxtaposition that happens in all of that, so it’s definitely a heightened, bizarre, kind of lifestyle.
Wicks: “For me personally, from working for Caffe Vita for years and years in Seattle, and then working in other cafes after that, coffee became my ritual. Now, with all the downtime that we do have, coffee is still very much my ritual.
That, honestly, not just chemically, provides me a way to avoid falling too low after a show, because we wake up in a different city every morning, and the first thing I do is seek out the best coffee in the city every single morning. I even have a blog for touring musicians that lists the best coffee that I’ve found throughout the U.S. in every city we’ve been to.
I just got so used to doing that as a barista for 10-15 years, and that’s just what I do every morning. In combination with running a ton—Wicks trains for ultra-marathons—it keeps me out of that low.
I mean, we just got off-stage from playing in front of tons of people, and when you get off stage, you’re in a trailer and it’s just, well, sort of depressing from where you just were. So it’s really easy to fall into a depression, which is why I can see why so many musicians got into drugs, because it was either from sheer boredom or to just keep that high after a show going.
For me, coffee really just helps keeps me stay balanced, sticking with my ritual.
Fitz: “That’s one thing that John and I share is, not just a love of coffee, but a love of good coffee. Sometimes we’ll go a few days when on the road of not having a good cup, and, honestly, we’re just in a bad mood.
The great thing now is that there is this coffee culture now that has exploded where we can find the great coffee place in a certain town that do great pulls of shots.
For us, that’s a cool way to get a little window into the part of the city where we would have never gone to, or to see the cool spots in a town because that’s normally where the good coffee tends to come from.
So, yeah, coffee sort of takes us on these adventures.”
Wicks: “I feel a little bit of kinship and maybe a little bit of snobbery because I was in Seattle at the beginning of all that coffee culture, and working for Vita when it first opened.
All these other roaster’s started opening around that time, too, and all these wonderful spots sort of started this whole, next level coffee scene. For that reason, I kind of feel a little bit of ownership on it and take pride in it. I really do, because I loved that gig (working at Vita). It paid the bills for me for so many years when drums didn’t make it.
I feel the same loyalty and thankfulness to coffee that I do to the drums. I really owe everything to coffee and drums. I’ve been able to support a family on coffee and drums. (laughs) I could go on for days.”
You both mentioned how becoming a musician was never a choice, but that it had to happen. When was the first time you really realized that you were a full-time musician and nothing but that?
Wicks: “For me, personally, almost more recently than I care to admit. It took me moving from Seattle to L.A. to do studio sessions. When I first moved to L.A., man, I didn’t know anyone there and it took over a year for the phone to start to ring for gigs. It was a lean first year on the music side.
Naturally, I turned to coffee, working for Groundworks—which were really the only people doing similar coffee stuff down there. It took about a year before I could take that leap of faith to pursue drums full-time, because you never know how it’s going to go.
Sometimes you’ll have a great week and then the next week will be crickets. I started playing drums in the third grade, and it really didn’t start paying the bills until I was in my thirties. That’s a long wait, man. It’s actually pretty scary.
I take comfort in the fact that, if this ended tomorrow, we consider it a win. We’re playing for thousands of people, have a hit record. Dude, this was the goal. If I had to go back to coffee at this point, I wouldn’t consider that a step down by any stretch of the imagination. I love doing that shit, you know what I mean?
We’ve been hitting just over six years, so it was really only nine years ago when I was able to make my mortgage and buy a house in L.A. just from music.
Fitz: “I’ve been a singer and musician my whole life, but it was only with this band that it was like, ‘this is really happening, I’m not just making music for no one in the world hearing or caring about it, but now we have people show up to shows, knowing the songs and singing the words with you.’
I had a good 15 bands before this where that wasn’t the case, so I switched into other parts of music to make a living, but it wasn’t my dream or true passion, I was just doing a modified version to keep me in the musical world to pay the bills.
And that’s the trippy thing, man, my dream came true. My dream came true one-thousand percent. So it also takes me to a moment where I don’t get to be that cynical, snarky, jaded bastard in the corner anymore because, well, I got mine. I got everything I wanted.
It’s a trip because, when you’re on the other side of that and you’re busting your ass and just getting kicked around and not getting any respect, you get that chip on your shoulder and that mentality and attitude that can become who you are, and when something like this happens, you’re forced to re shift that whole energy level because you can’t be that martyr or bitter critter in the corner.
We know a lot of people who work just as hard and are even more talented, but can’t rub two pennies together in doing what they love. But, for some reason, we all get to pay our bills, support our families and play in front of thousands of people every night, so, like John said, we’ve won.
It’s truly being in the now and the present and appreciating what it already is, and not worrying about the past.”
What’s next for Fitz and the Tantrums over the next six months to a year?
Fitz: “We’re moving onto the third single off our record, so if we’re lucky enough to keep going with that, than who knows? The crazy thing is that, you think that you’ve expired a ton of energy off one record or that people know about it, but we still see people catching onto our music, winning one, five, ten, 100 fans at a time, and we just keep going and going.
When we do see the light at the end of the tunnel for this record, realistically, sometime in 2015, we’ll carve out time to go write another one. Get back on the horse and do it all over again.”
Wicks: “We’ve reached a lot of our goals and, for me personally, there was a physical checklist that each thing has literally been checked off at this point. It’s really awesome.
Now it’s gotten to the point where I ask, ‘How can I give back?’
For me, now I’m trying to figure out if it’s helping kids out, turning them onto the drums, turning them onto music, turning them onto how to avoid pitfalls—whatever it is.
I’m writing a drum method book write now, too.
These things have provided so much to me and my family, so it’s finding a few things that let’s me give back to feel good.
For so long, as we went through the shitstorm of the music industry, we were always out for number one. But now, I feel like I can take a breath and not have to just look out for myself and try to figure out what’s next.
So I don’t really know the answer to that, but hopefully something that will help some people, because there’s a million ways to do it.”