Fitz & The Tantrums’ John Wicks
Hey, MD folks, John Wicks here. I wanted to take a minute and tell you about Fitz & The Tantrums. I’m currently recording the upcoming release by Fitz, Songs For A Break Up Vol. 2, and having a total blast. Fitz’s songs are influenced by ’67 AM radio, Motown, and early Hall & Oates records–super-cool stuff.
With the success of the recent record I played on by the group NASA (Anti/Epitaph Records), I’ve sort of developed a niche as the guy you call if you want your record to sound like funk or soul from the ’60s or ’70s. I’m completely obsessed with the drum sounds from those eras, which is why a mutual friend recommended me to Fitz.
Producer/DJs Squeak E. Clean and Zegon of NASA asked me to replicate the sounds of scratched-up Brazilian funk records from the mid-’60s for their album The Spirit Of Apollo. Fitz, on the other hand, loves the drum sounds of soul records from the early Motown, Stax, Hi, and Chess catalogs and asked me to give him that flavor. This is where the fun begins for me. I love researching drum sounds, microphone choices and placement, and anything else that will get me as close to the sound we’re going for as possible. I even seek out and buy black-and-white photo books containing recording session pictures from that time period so I can see what mics they used and where they placed them in the room.
For Fitz, I went back and listened closely to the drum tuning and cymbal choices of Motown drummers Pistol Allen and Benny Benjamin, Fred Below at Chess Records, and of course Al Jackson Jr. and Howard Grimes from Stax and Hi Records. Since Fitz’s music contains no guitar at all and is centered around the organ, I went back and checked out Idris Muhammad’s supportive playing style and drum sounds on Charles Earland’s Black Talk! and Lou Donaldson’s Alligator Boogaloo.
Songs For A Break Up was recorded with 1960s Japanese drums that I bought at a local Venice Beach thrift store for forty dollars. (I have since asked Peace to make me a set that uses the same wood as these but with their quality, road-worthy lugs and hardware.) For a snare drum I used a neglected, out-of-tune aluminum Ludwig Acrolite. For cymbals I used two thin 15″ crashes as hi-hats and one Mel Lewis signature crash/ride, all of which Scott Liken at Istanbul Agop hooked me up with. A total of two microphones were used, but it was mostly just one tube microphone from the 1960s placed strategically. It was all recorded in Fitz’s living room with hardwood floors. No fancy studio needed.
My obsessive research began back in the early ’90s with hip-hop records and finding the origin of the drum breaks that they contained. Records like De La Soul’s Three Feet High And Rising, the Beastie Boys’ Paul’s Boutique, and Public Enemy’s Nation Of Millions were completely sample laden and kept me busy and broke for years trying to find out where each sample was from. Around this time I was also gigging several nights a week with one of the best Hammond organ players in the world, Joe Doria, up in Seattle. Joe turned me on to a ton of great organ records; I found out later that hip-hop artists sampled a lot of them.
With the recent success of artists like Mark Ronson, Amy Winehouse, Duffy, Daniel Merriweather, Sharon Jones & The Dap Kings, and more, listeners are being re-exposed to how enjoyable it is to listen to a record where you feel like you’re in the room with the band. The drums don’t sound as if they’re crawling out of the front of the speakers and punching you in the face. It’s a much more personal, intimate listening experience, and you still want to shake your booty. Money Mark, the keyboardist from the Beastie Boys and an incredible artist in his own right, is an absolute master of the low-tech, unobtrusive drum sound that still makes you bob your head. I’ve been lucky enough to work with him for the last few years, and I’ve learned a lot from him.
Fitz is writing and performing some of the hippest, funkiest music out there. He has a lot of well-deserved momentum and buzz right now, and I’m sure you’ll be hearing a lot more about him in the months to come. Check him out!
Thank you to my sponsors, Peace drums, DW hardware, and Istanbul Agop cymbals, for their support. Much appreciated.
For more info on Fitz & The Tantrums, visit www.myspace.com/fitzsoulmusic.
For more info on John Wicks, visit www.myspace.com/johnwicks, and check out John’s personal blog with lessons at drummersseat.wordpress.com.