The Triangle talked to Joe Karnes, the bassist from popular band Fitz and The Tantrums. The band’s recent claim to fame has been the song “The Walker,” which has been on the Billboard Top 100 Chart for the past 12 weeks. The song peaked at number 67, but was still number 74 in last week’s chart. Fitz and The Tantrums are also known for their single “Out of My League.”
The band, which was formed in 2008, now consists of Michael Fitzpatrick, Noelle Scaggs, Joe Karnes, James King, Jeremy Ruzumna and John Wicks. Their sound is most identifiable with indie pop or indie rock, but with a distinct retro feel that sets them apart from other groups.
Find out more about bassist Joe Karnes and be sure to see Fitz and The Tantrums live at the Electric Factory Nov. 7.
The Triangle: First of all, what is your favorite song that you play and why?
Joe Karnes: That would be “6AM” off our new record. It’s just really fun to play. It’s a great groove, and it’s something we had come up actually way back in 2010 and something we’ve played for a while, but every time we play it, it makes me pay attention. And it’s got such a heartfelt interplay between Fitz and Noelle and whenever it comes up on the set, I always look forward to it.
TT: How would you describe your musical style as a performer in a few words?
JK: That’s an interesting question. I’ve never thought about that. So many things. There’s influences, there’s people that have influenced me. Really I just want to be completely supportive to the songs and what’s going on out there and making sure that our singers, Fitz and Noelle, are able to, you know, feel whatever they need to feel to get the words and lyrics across. As a bass player, you definitely like to be in a supportive role. I also like to get the energy out there and make sure the whole crowd is having fun. They could look at any one of us and have a good time when we’re up there.
TT: What do you think about when you’re performing?
JK: Most of the time, I really try to think about exactly what I’m doing, but, you know, it’s amazing the amount of different thoughts that can come into your head while you’re doing so many different things. The main thing I really try to think about is being a sense of joy to the audience so that they can have fun too. We put on a show that helps people lose their inhibitions and let their hair down and have a good time. So that’s usually my main focus is just kind of looking out at the crowd and making sure I play the songs correctly and with a great feel that makes them want to dance.
TT: Have there been any shows that stood out in a positive way that you can remember?
JK: Yes, there’s a ton of shows — luckily — that I can remember that stand out. I think one of the biggest ones for all of us was when we first [went to] Lollapalooza in 2011. Our first record was just starting to poke its head out, and get some notice. We were doing lots of club shows and everything was going well and we were on a good trajectory but this was our first time on that size of a stage — we got on the main stage. And it was about 2 p.m. on a Saturday and the Friday was a pretty epic night, I think, and we’re like, “Is anyone going to be out there? It’s 2 p.m., people are probably still showing up.” We looked out at like 1 p.m. and the crowd wasn’t that full, and we’re just kind of gearing ourselves emotionally to go out there and play in front of not that as many people as we would like to. As soon as we got on the stage — we made sure not to peek — and as soon as we got out there and saw the crowd, it was just packed. There were so many people out there, you know, 20 or 30,000 people, and when we started to play we could see that the people way in the back were partying just as far as the people in the front. Our music was reaching all the way back there and everyone was having a great time. We definitely came away from that one like, “Wow, we’ve just stepped into a much larger world.”
TT: Why did you decide to make a commentary album of “More Than Just a Dream?” What was the process behind that?
JK: That’s just something that people are doing these days, I think. You’ll find a lot of other acts have that. I think that’s definitely for the more audiophiles, and the Fitzaphiles, if you will. The people who really want to that extra detail. Most people just want to hear songs. I think it’s Fitz and Noelle doing that one, just talking over the song, but I remember listening to Fun — their record; they did one. It’s really eye-opening for people who want to know how songs are written or people who want to know a little more about some meanings of what the songs are. You know, songs are really great in that they can be interpreted in so many ways and if people have their own interpretations, that’s just as valid as whatever we were trying to say whenever we wrote whatever song we wrote. It’s really different for people to want to dive in a little deeper and learn more about the process of creating our music.
TT: How would you describe the band’s presence in the current music scene?
JK: It turns out to be a lot of friends that we get to make on the road here. I think a lot of times we play at a lot of radio festivals, so we’ve gotten really close with all the guys and Foster the People, we’ve done a bunch of shows with them this summer. We’ve got some shows coming up with Cage the Elephant and Capital Cities. We did a co-headline tour with them last fall, so we’re really good friends. So those are the bands that we really look to as our peers. You look at all the music and everyone’s got their own sound, so it’s not like we’re part of a sound, other than we all get played on similar radio stations. But those are the peers that we kind of look at and go like, “Hey!” So I guess that’s the scene that we’re a part of, even though some of the bands are based in cities far away from us.
TT: What is the general process of writing a new song and how do you, yourself, fit into it?
JK: Every single way you could think of. On this record, songs are written in so many different combinations. Often it starts with someone coming up with an idea, or a demo and sometimes other people get involved. On one of the songs, it was me and Jeremy, the keyboardist, on the song “Get Away” on the album. Jeremy had half a chorus part, and I went over to his house and I came up with the verse; we both came up with the bridge. So we kind of came up with the music and brought that over to Fitz and Noelle, who came up with the lyrics and melody on top of it. Some songs were born out of jams that we had, some songs just came, you know, some were just written by Fitz …
We all just put our vibe and our energy and our arrangements to the song. Everyone gets to put their personality and their stamp on each tune. But, you know, there’s so many different combinations, so we try not to limit ourselves to one process because you never know where inspiration is going to come from.