How surreal has life gotten for L.A. pop-R&B outfit Fitz & the Tantrums since the release of Pickin' Up the Pieces, the classy 2010 debut album that yielded two chart-topping hits, "MoneyGrabber" and "Don't Gotta Work It Out"?
Here's one favorite instance, chuckles frontman Michael "Fitz" Fitzpatrick, the studio-whiz-turned-serious-songwriter who — along with co-vocalist Noelle Scaggs and saxophonist James King — first convened their sextet back in 2008: The longtime Daryl Hall fan, who'd sent the blue-eyed soul legend several of his early compositions, ended up on the "Live From Daryl's House" webcast, trading verses on a selection of Tantrums and Hall & Oates numbers.
"For some of us, Hall and Oates are still just the greatest songwriting duo of all time," says Fitz. "And that experience, for Noelle, myself and James, was such a magical one. You watch that episode, and I was smiling like a little girl."
Post-recording, he adds, they were cooking with Hall and his mother in the kitchen. "And his mom whispered 'C'mere! C'mere! You sound just like my son!' And I was thinking, 'Victory!' I mean, what greater vindication could I have?"
Fitz came on the scene with the same gospel-fervored style of ABC's dapper Martin Fry, circa The Lexicon of Love. He also sported the same angular haircut and fondness for dress suits — although hot summer festival dates around the world over the past two years have made the group loosen up a bit on its once-formal wardrobe.
The constant touring has also made the Tantrums an ultra-tight performing unit, which is clearly evident on More Than Just a Dream. Released last month, the sophomore album's hooks are marlin-huge, and anchored in wah-oohed choruses, New Wave-edged keyboards, and the charismatic interplay between Fitzpatrick and Scaggs. You can hear them shine on the church-rousing "Break the Walls," the Motown-velvety "Last Raindrop," a calliope-colored "Merry Go Round," and the barrelhouse-booming "Keepin' Our Eyes Out."
It's all the end result of a life-on-the-road blur so confusing that both Scaggs and Fitzpatrick have often greeted the wrong city on various nights. "The worst," says Fitz, "was in Dallas, where I called them Houston, and there's this huge rivalry."
With the new album, he explains, "we were trying to bridge that gap between the record and the live show, and to make them live in the same place. So the theme is triumph, this sort of fierceness, because it's absolutely what we lived — the improbable story of the six of us, who just blood-sweat-and-teared it to make it. With a little bit of fairy dust along the way that gave us these magical moments."
Of course, some of those moments have gotten a bit weird. At one point, Scaggs casually mentioned in an interview how much she loved her posh Marc Jacobs watch; the next week, a box of three Marc Jacobs timepieces arrived. Fitzpatrick, whose haircut is bisected by a natural white streak, will look out into a crowd these days and see several male look-alikes.
"It's quite a weird experience to have people dressing like you for Halloween," he admits. "Because at the end of the day, we're real, super-down-to-earth people, who just hang out at the merch table. And I think that's one of the things that our fans love about us."