It’s another day on tour for John Wicks, while he stares out the back window of a ornate tour bus, watching streams of people steadily collect like little ants. There’s still yet another eight hours to drain from the clock until him and his bandmates step underneath those hot lights. On a handful of the fans, frantically baking in the afternoon sun, Wicks points out a few all too familiar t-shirts, ones that read “Fitz and the Tantrums.”
This is where the drummer finds himself in disbelief.
“I want to go out there to those people and say, “Do you know I’m just a nerd from Seattle? Why are you here this early?”‘ Wicks said. “It’s mind blowing to me that people have embraced these tunes on the level they have.”
At times, the rhythmic backbone for the indie-soul group has a hard time fathoming how it’s him finishing out another gig of this caliber. “It really is the truth. When I finish playing the last note of the night, that’s when I realize, “Wow, all of these folks are here to hear us, and they’re singing every note. That’s what really hits me—this awesome boost of confidence and such a great feeling that your work has paid off.”
Hard work at that. Before initially banding together in 2008, members Michael Fitzpatrick, Noelle Scaggs, James King, Joseph Karnes, Jeremy Ruzumna and Wicks individually maintained careers as full-time musicians; some of whom carrying a list of credentials a mile long. But the surreal series of fortunate events; one that began with a few phone calls, a handful of rehearsals, and when a certain something finally clicked. Only then, as he described it, all six of them found a coinciding goal. They agreed that this was the ticket.
Furthermore, after Fitz and the Tantrums dropped their debut album in August 2010, an escalade of success seemed to follow. Wicks explained the experience of the first album as the band getting to know each other throughout the process. “(Pickin’ Up the Pieces) was a great spin board for the success that we’re having now. It was kind of crazy how fast everything happened, because people were really digging it.”
As of early May 2013, the neo-pop artists took yet another leap of faith when releasing their sophomore LP, More Than Just a Dream, with Elektra Records. Which has seen a generous amount of reception; something he describes as “eerie.” However, the new record is a big departure musically from the former. A unanimous decision made amongst the band in order to provide a better representation of their influences, and to put a personal stamp on it.
But in Wicks’ eyes, as well as countless other musicians, he realizes fame and fortune isn’t made in the recording studio. It derives from the live performances. “No one’s making any money off of record sales anymore,” he said. “You have to have a killer live show, and you have to get on a van or bus and go out there with the people in person.
The drummer spoke of making records in the modern music industry as simply calling cards, or the refined version of handing out flyers. “Our future is in live performance and connecting with as many as we possibly can. Everyone needs a great show and has to pull it off. I think we have that,” he said. “But I also think, with everybody being able to make music on their laptops—and it’s frankly decent sounding music with little or no experience—there’s so much more out there. That for us, to float up to the top of all of that, says something about the future of music as well. It’s the strength of songwriting that matters, lyrics that really connect and tell a story. It can’t be less than that.”
This is where Wicks, as well as the rest of the Fitz and the Tantrums, find themselves on the road to progress, while also realizing they’re on the verge of pure fear from time to time. One reason being as the band is the current support back for pop icon, Bruno Mars. A segment of their tour in which he and the rest of his bandmates were personally invited to take place in. “Sometimes, there’s up to 20,000 people at (the show). It’s scary because they’re not there to hear us. Whenever you do that, you stand a chance of getting some people with folded arms in the front row.”
But thankfully, that has not been the case.
“When we first hit the stage, the stadium is halfway full,” he said. “But by the end of the set, it’s completely full. We’re playing for tens of thousands of people who’s never heard us, never heard of us, and they’re all standing on their feet, clapping and dancing.”
Throughout the experience so far, as the opener for Mars and his calamity of a show; Wicks and the fellow members have agreed this tour has shown how much they still have to grow, both as a band and also learning how to put on a big show for a ton of people.
“I want to be the headliner at those stadiums. I want to be on that level of professionalism, production, broad appeal. I want to make that many people dance with what I’m playing on the drums,” he said. “To get us to that level of showmanship, but still retaining the soulfulness and musicianship, and not sacrificing anything but really getting to that level where we get to put on the show that Bruno (Mars) does every night. It’s mind-blowing, it’s unreal what they do. The music is absolutely incredible, his voice is amazing, the screen, the lighting, the detail, every little part of the show is phenomenal. That’s what I want for this band.”
For Wicks though, even after all of the jazz about the band’s “soulful” rendition of a sound, and their extending level of collective success, it’s hard to sanction the direction the artist took honing his craft. “I’m a snob when it comes to that. It’s hard for me to admit that I’m legitimate in that genre, because I grew up listening to soul and disco. I don’t know why it’s tough, maybe it’s because my skin is white?” he said. “I guess when I think of soul, I think of genuineness. And the one thing I can say about this band is there’s no irony. There’s not a hipster in this band. None of us are even young enough to be hipsters. On that level, it’s a soulful sound because we’re genuine. We’re not doing anything in a tongue-in-cheek kind of way. We’re laying it all out there. This is who we are.”