The session and touring vet sounds off on an alternative powerhouse’s newest smash.
On September 20, the soul-influenced indie-pop band Fitz and the Tantrums released All the Feels, their fourth full-length since forming in Los Angeles in 2008. The group, which quickly developed a buzz in L.A. early in their career, launched to global success in 2013 thanks to tracks such as “Out of My League” and “The Walker” from their sophomore album, More Than Just a Dream. On their latest LP, infectious hooks abound, as evidenced by lead single “123456,” which shortly after its release quickly racked up millions of online streams.
Although he’s not playing drums on every track on All the Feels, Fitz’s drummer, John Wicks, slays when called to do so. Check out “OCD,” where he channels his inner Marky Ramone to drive vocalist Michael Fitzpatrick’s contagious melodies. And don’t miss “Hands Up,” a lesson in consistent, tight, four-on-the-floor drumming bliss.
Wicks, the son of a Navy commander, shifted hometowns growing up. While he was in third grade and his father was stationed in New Orleans, his mother, an avid jazz enthusiast, sparked a fire in him. “Wherever there was music, she’d take me there,” Wicks tells MD. “Whether it was Mardi Gras or standing outside of a gospel church or hearing second-line drummers during funeral marches…that was it, man. I’ve just never stopped wanting to play since.”
After relocating to Bainbridge Island, Washington, Wicks attended Central Washington University, and then Boston’s Berklee College of Music, before moving to Brooklyn. “In New York I saw all of my heroes passing the hat at jazz clubs at the end of the night,” Wicks says. “And I’m like, Man, if my heroes are passing the hat, what the hell am I doing? I sort of went back to Seattle with my tail between my legs.”Soon after, though, the drummer moved to L.A. and built a studio career. “I’d done some recordings with Bruno Mars and CeeLo Green,” he says. “I was the guy you’d call if you couldn’t clear a sample and you needed something that sounded like an old Brazilian funk groove, a breakbeat, or whatever. If you didn’t have the budget, I’d approximate it. One of the producers I worked with knew that Fitz was looking for a drummer, so he passed my number along.”
We caught up with Wicks via phone from his current home in Montana.
MD: What was it like when you first joined Fitz?
John: Back then I started to notice that a lot of the players that were getting the lion’s share of session work in L.A. were starting to take touring gigs. Budgets were going down, the record industry was sort of imploding, and a lot of the guys that I looked up to—and still do—were taking touring gigs because the sessions weren’t paying enough.
Just as I was starting to get session work, I realized that I was a little late to the game. So I played a couple gigs with Fitz, and before I knew it there were lines around the block in jaded L.A. I was like, “What’s going on here?” It sort of became this undeniable force that people really liked.
Over the last ten years now, it’s very much changed into a whole different thing from what I signed up for. It’s gradually become more and more poppy, so it’s been a big adjustment for me for each record, and a new skill set [to learn]. I have to do a mental shift so I’m comfortable and turn it into an exercise so that I’m able to do it.
MD: What was the recording process like for All the Feels?
John: We used maybe ten different producers. I flew down to L.A. and we recorded two songs per producer. It was odd but also kind of cool. And that whole world is very different now from what I grew up doing. Sometimes they’d use my acoustic drums, and I’d replace a demo part. Sometimes it’d be a combination of live and programmed drums. And sometimes it didn’t really work out, and the programmed stuff worked better. It was honestly very challenging, yet inspiring and fun.
MD: What’s the split between acoustic drums and programmed parts?
John: It’s about 50/50. A couple of songs are very close to what we were originally doing. And then some are very much like having a Swedish pop producer come in and give it their thing. [laughs] So it was a very different experience—at times infuriating and at times very inspiring.
You know, if I start getting pissed off about something in the studio, it’s usually because I’m not pulling it off. And I think that’s most people’s most knee-jerk reactions: Oh, this is stupid. Well no, it’s not; you’re just not pulling it off. Start working on this skill set. Throughout my whole life, I’ve tried to make that my attitude: keep practicing no matter what.
MD: Do you feel like you’re battling someone else’s idea in the studio?
John: I want to see what else could be available. I don’t want to have what they’re hearing forced down my throat. If they’re inviting me to the table, I want to have something heard, even if they don’t end up using it. I don’t have any ego about it. But I at least want to feel like a creative individual if I’m going to be walking into that situation, rather than some drone.
John Wicks plays Pearl Drums and Istanbul Agop cymbals. He uses Vater Drumsticks as well as Tackle Supply Co. and Big Fat Snare Drum accessories.
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