At home in Nashville while we’re all at home during this pandemic, Noelle Scaggs of Fitz & The Tantrums talked with QRO. In the conversation, the co-frontwoman discussed their upcoming live album, Live in Chicago (out October 2nd), released to benefit The Metro, the need for financial support for independent venues & restaurants, trying to remake live shows in the current crisis, losing venues (like where she first used a fake I.D.), last year’s All the Feels, the tenth anniversary of debut Pickin’ Up the Pieces, envisioning the visual of music, mental health, upcoming drive-in shows, and much more…
QRO: How are you holding up, with everything that is going on?
Noelle Scaggs: I’m actually doing pretty well, considering the uncertainty of life at this point. Especially when considering the music industry, and our band still, at the moment. There is a lot of internal work that’s going on, so it’s keeping everybody pretty occupied, if you are in the spaces of working toward significant change within the industry in any way.
It’s been very enlightening, very inspiring and purposeful, over the last few months, just collaborating with other individuals that are really looking to, I guess, revolutionize our industry in some way.
QRO: This whole pandemic has been such a catalyst – in so many industries. Everything needs a shake-up.
NS: If anything, being forced to stay in your own bubble, in your sphere, and really absorb things, I think has really enlightened people, and, I think, made people more passionate about things that they may have thought about years ago, that they didn’t have time for.
If you’re even just considering the touring industry, alone, more than 50% of the revenue, is very relied upon business for a lot of people. There are millions of people out of work; lot of people that cannot qualify for PPP loans. A lot of the infrastructure and funds that have been created for emergency services, when you’re talking about MusiCares, and organizations of that nature, have been drained.
And also, with this uncertainty of what’s going to happen with a lot of our independent venues. When you’re talking about the acts that are on the table, some co-sponsored by GOP representatives. I know, living here in Nashville, [Rep.] Jim Cooper is one of the sponsors of a bill, Saves Our Stages Act, RESTART Act, which are two bills that really need to be passed, that will hopefully create some sort of stimulus that can really, really help individuals in this business.
QRO: Like the ENCORES Act, they both have bipartisan sponsors, John Coryn of Texas in the Senate – Texas, Nashville, they might be red states, but they’ve got such a music industry.
NS: Especially considering Nashville, it’s a hub of entertainment. A big part of our revenue stream here is in entertainment, live music & stuff like that.
We’re just at Phase Two. It’s going to be a while before we can actually get into the last phase, of being able to have concerts. It’s going to force a lot of creativity. There’s going to have to be a lot of collaboration with our state government on identifying how we can best move forward, because we cannot keep people out of work for another year.
QRO: It feels like live music is one of the last things that are going to open up…
NS: Unless we can get creative with it.
There’s a whole lot of big open fields. I think it would come down to festival promoters and tour promoters coming together to create a plan & strategy.
Grace Potter recently had her Vermont festival [Grand Point North], which is something that she does annually. We’ve had the honor of playing that festival previously in our career, and it’s just a really big, open field, so you have the ability to create the drive-in situation. So, she was able to pull that off successfully in Vermont.
You’re looking at logistics of even just stage teams and all of these things. There has to be some coordination with physicians that can turn around COVID testing very quickly. There has to be an understanding of the people who are closely related to the band are the people that have access to the band, knowing that there’s a real understanding of the health matters and health concerns, right?
But then you also have to consider all the people that are coming. Then you have to navigate the territory. It’s a drive-in situation: you have your designated driver, there has to be things in place to look out for the safety of our fans, and also for ourselves, and the insurance policies, and all these things. It becomes a lot more expensive than a normal situation, and you’re half-capping…
It’s definitely going to take a few to really work out what we can collectively do. What I know in my heart is that there has to be some sort of unified effort in making this happen, this temporary shift happen.
It’s been very enlightening, very inspiring and purposeful, over the last few months, just collaborating with other individuals that are really looking to, I guess, revolutionize our industry in some way.
Because, like I said, our industry cannot stop. Too many people rely upon the paychecks, and not everybody is in a union. There’s only so much you can do. And a lot of us didn’t work as long as we have been, to go and get a job again.
I’m hoping to maybe be a part of these conversations as well, in addition to all of the things that we’re trying to shift and change, when it comes to the relationships of race and diversity. It’s really the act of, ‘How are we going to move forward with making sure that we can keep people employed?’ Seeing what we can do there.
Our government has to be a big part of that dialogue. I still feel, honestly, when we’re thinking about judges, and all of these people who have no foothold in the record industry or the business, still feel like maybe this is a ‘hobby’ for us. Not recognizing that this is a multi-billion-dollar industry.
QRO: No one’s saying to Major League Baseball, ‘Oh, this is a hobby, you should just…’
NS: Yeah, and they’ve worked it out.
Not that anybody wants to do a concert with no fans, but if you’re gonna team up and create live streaming opportunities, and sell tickets in this manner, maybe that’s something to think about, if you’re talking about saving our stages. But it’s no fun for us…
Our industry cannot stop.
QRO: You’re in Nashville?
NS: I live in Nashville.
QRO: How are things in Nashville right now?
NS: I don’t know… [laughs]
I do know. I don’t go out very often. It’s kind of like this for me when I’m not on tour. I have my friends, but I also have a house, and I’m an entertainer, so for the most part, people come to me, for dinners & things like that.
Obviously, I’m very concerned about my friends, with restaurants, restaurant owners, and their ability to stay afloat. They’re having the same issues that we’re having with the music industry. Not every restaurant has access to an outdoor space. Not every restaurant has the ability to float a half-cap room, pivot the business to delivery, and be able to pay their staff. It’s the same, very shared concerns.
Outside of the music thing, the food & travel industry is a big passion of mine. I started a media company really focused on that [Adventures with Scaggs]. I’m very connected to a lot of chefs in the industry; they’re struggling right now.
I’m very concerned about my friends, with restaurants, restaurant owners, and their ability to stay afloat. They’re having the same issues that we’re having with the music industry.
When you’re talking about chefs like Michael Voltaggio, and Dave Beran, and Andrew Carmellini, they’re opening up their restaurants now, but this is millions of dollars of revenues lost in their spaces. These are small restaurants that are already fifteen-cap rooms, in some places. I know Dave Beran had to shift his fine dining restaurant to a patio space; they kind of revamped the menu & all of these things.
Having to do that, and the cost that it takes, and the money that you have to spend for the safety measures, not a lot of restaurants can do that. There’s an act on the table for restaurants, to help with their stimulus as well (RESTAURANTS Act). There’s all these efforts that are happening.
These artists, in this way, are being overlooked in the same way that music is.
Fitz & The Tantrums playing “L.O.V. (Live in Chicago)” (QRO review) from Live in Chicago:
QRO: Were you always planning on releasing a live record, even pre-pandemic (and no live shows), or did you come up with this to benefit the Metro Relief Fund?
NS: We recorded that show very early on in our career.
This was kind of in the works for our tenth anniversary of the release Pickin’ Up the Pieces. It is a part of a whole campaign to celebrate that album, and the success that we’ve had over the years, in partnership with our very first record label that ever gave us a chance, which is Dangerbird Records. They’re the ones that signed after we’d nearly given up, after our first stint at South-by-Southwest, which is what really launched the band. They played a big role in our success, before Elektra took over and brought us out on this whole thing.
It’s really celebrating the roots of our career, but also in the sense that we are giving back and we’re able to promote the fact that our venues, like The Metro, may not make it through COVID without funding, because they’re not eligible for PPP loans. If we’re thinking about even just the alt-pop world, independent venues are integral to the road of bands. If we have nowhere to play, it makes it quite difficult for bands like ours, or smaller bands, to really be able to tour. We wanted to make sure that we were collectively working towards helping in promoting that.
QRO: Have you ever released a live record before?
NS: No. We’ve done content before, collaboration with like Guitar Center. We’ve always done live recording performances, but we’ve never done a live album.
QRO: I would say, a live album also feels extra-necessary right now…
NS: Yeah, that nostalgic feeling of being back in a room with sweaty people.
Obviously, there have been a lot of fundraising efforts, and live acoustic sessions, to kind of keep music going, but how amazing is it to actually go back and re-witness this experience. If you lived in L.A., you didn’t get to see that show in Chicago. That refreshing feeling – it’s definitely amazing for our fans that have been with us from the beginning, to share & relive that experience with them, as well.
Fitz & The Tantrums playing “Pickin’ Up the Pieces (Live in Chicago)” from Live in Chicago:
QRO: The recording is from 2011. Does listening to it make you feel any nostalgia – or embarrassment?…
NS: You know, as an artist, you’re always nitpicking at something, but I remember the energy of that show. Just being reminded of that, I think, is what really hits home, to see how far we’ve come. It’s really cool to kinda go back and watch that.
I had recently, actually, put together a video for Fitz’s birthday [Michael Fitzpatrick, co-frontperson], that I posted on our social media, as a ‘Happy Birthday’ kind of video, just going back to the early parts of our career, around the time of Pickin’ Up the Pieces. Just even watching his growth as a frontman, and how our interaction, and watching how we grew together, from one of our very first performances in Los Angeles at a place called The Satellite Bar, which is unfortunately now closed.
I found out about that recently, in my last trip to L.A. a couple weeks ago; I was super-bummed. Outside of the band, I have so many amazing memories of that specific venue.
Now I can say it, now that it’s closed, but it was the very first venue I used my fake I.D. to get in. Dancing with some friends of mine – I just remember that feeling of like, ‘Oh my god, I hope I don’t get caught, I hope they don’t get shut down, because I decided to be the a-hole that uses a fake to get in.’ I didn’t drink or anything like that; it was just the matter of joining my friends for a dance and having a good time.
And then, I lived very close to that venue. I lived within walking distance of that venue for many years.
Just to see something like that happen, and to know that they were already kinda slightly struggling, but to know that COVID was the thing that took them out. It’s kind of like, ‘Wow…’
To go back moments like that, and moments like The Metro, just kind of remind me of all the gratitude I have for our growth, and where we are now.
QRO: The weekend before last would have been Lollapalooza. I’ve seen you all there, and have been to some great Lolla after-shows at The Metro…
NS: We’ve definitely had some amazing moments at Lollapalooza. And at ACL. Lolla was one of the first big, major festivals that brought us on.
They also brought us on for their South American tour. That was our very first time, crossing over into South America, and realizing that we had an amazing fan base there, from Argentina, through Paraguay – we didn’t make it to Chile, but we knew we had fans there. Just to kind of go out, and get into South America, and finally be in front of our fans in this live setting, Lollapalooza did that. [Festival management company] C3 did that.
I forgot about Brazil – we still have a massive fan base in Brazil! How could I forget about Brazil? That was one of our first experiences, going there.
QRO: Back in the before-time, how was making last year’s All the Feels?
NS: All the Feels was amazing. That record really spoke to personal struggle & personal accomplishment, and the realization that having conversations & dialogue about mental health was something that was really important to us. Just talking about our view of life, through our own kind of personal struggle, but also in finding joy, in finding hope, in wanting to spread that. You know, kind of bringing light to dark subjects, or what can be seen as a dark subject.
So, that record, All the Feels, it really talks about that, it really talks about mental health, and personal struggle, and overcoming, and being your authentic, original self every day of your life. And being proud in that.
It’s one of the reasons why I love “I Just Wanna Shine”. It gives you this uplifting moment to really celebrate yourself. And to say to yourself, ‘I wanna have one of these days where I’m just 1000% me, and I’m happy about it.’ Saying, even with whatever internal dialogue you have going on, ‘I wanna shine, this human being that I am right now.’
“All the Feels”, obviously speaking to such in-depth of, ‘I just wanna feel!’ And not feel ashamed about these feelings. I don’t want to be told how I should feel. I don’t wanna feel like I need to be animated for every social media post. Like, I wanna feel okay about having a good day, and a bad day, and also still celebrating myself if I’m having a shit day.
[All the Feels] really spoke to personal struggle & personal accomplishment, and the realization that having conversations & dialogue about mental health was something that was really important to us.
I think it’s really important now, when we’re talking about COVID, and we’re asking the question, ‘How are you doing?’ No one’s doing okay right now; everybody’s doing the best that they can.
So, it’s like, how do you answer that, in a very honest way? And say, ‘You know what, yeah, things could be better right now. Maybe I can’t pay my rent,’ I don’t know, whatever anybody’s struggle is going on. And it’s okay to not feel okay, to say that.
I think now, with everything going on, it’s widely accepted to say that. You don’t need to be joyful all the time, you don’t need to find a light in every dark tunnel. I think it’s okay to not be okay.
It’s okay to be honest. Obviously, being compassionate and considerate of each other, and sharing, and empathy. You hope to uplift people, absolutely. But I think it really takes the stigma away of not being okay, you know?
QRO: Because you’re such an upbeat band on stage, was there ever pressure to be upbeat all the time?
NS: That’s a hard question to answer.
I think, just being in the public eye in general, there is this perception that you have to be. And there’s a general consensus that, if you’re not, then you’re bitter.
It’s kind of like, ‘F that life.’ We’re all human beings, and we all have feelings, and we all have thoughts, and we all have moral beliefs. I think, to take the humanity away from someone that you may look up to, or you may have a perception of how their life should be, is really not on them, and has everything to do with you, right?
I think it’s okay to not be okay.
I recall this only because, I remember when I first cut my hair off, all of it, the negative feedback that I had gotten from people that had perceived me in a certain light. They thought that I shouldn’t have changed my look, based on what their perception of who I was. I really had to address that.
Because, not only were the comments hurtful, being in this social media space, and then reading negative comments about the way that you look, by individuals who felt some kind of ownership. It was really weird. I had to deal with my therapist on that; it was really weird to have that be my reality in my career, when it should only be about my music.
I think it really comes down to, ‘Your perception of me has nothing to do with me, and everything to do with you.’ But also, as an artist, recognizing when you maybe alter someone’s perception of you, you kind of, in a sense, crush their dream, their fantasy of you as well. It’s kind of recognizing that it’s not personal, and don’t take it that way. There’s only so much you can do.
This is why I love Lizzo so much, you know?…
You can have your opinion about people, but I think, when it becomes a witch hunt in some way, or it becomes this beat down, it gets a little bit weird.
Fitz & The Tantrums’ video for “All the Feels”:
QRO: You also did a bunch of videos for All the Feels, including the title song, “Don’t Ever Let Them, “I Need Help!”, and “123456” – is that why you weren’t in the most recent one, just the awesome skateboarder & breakdancer in “I Just Wanna Shine?
NS: When Fitz & I really create videos, and we work on creative & stuff, in collaboration with the directors and everything, we really like to mix it up.
We’ve done videos where we weren’t in it at all. What comes to mind is “Fools Gold”, which is the very first video that we had done where we were not in the video at all. We hired a really good friend of mine, Darri Ingolfsson, who is an Icelandic actor who was the last villain in Dexter.
I chose him to be the love interest of the female character. And I just felt, at the time, that it would be cool to really do something and create a really amazing visual piece that had nothing to do with the band, and tell the same story.
Fitz & The Tantrums’ video for “Fools Gold”:
With “I Just Wanna Shine”, we had the same conversation. I was like, “One, I want it to be a young woman of color, if we’re going to do it. I want it to make sure that we’re telling this story in a way that, again, doesn’t really have to do anything with us, visually.” Because we have other videos that have us in it; it’s just really about making sure the visuals tell a story in a very different way, and being clever about it.
Visual is really important for me, both Fitz and myself. Fitz went to film school before he decided to ditch everything.
Also, for me, I envision music videos and concepts in recognizing whether or not one of the songs are done. If I can’t visually see it, picture it, or I can’t create the narrative in my head of what it looks like on a screen, oftentimes for me, it feels like the story is not complete. There needs to be some kind of human connection to the song. And oftentimes, we’ll go back and look at the song, and write about it. That’s just how I envision things.
It’s so funny, because I think about Annie [Clark], St. Vincent, and how she sees songs in color. I love that about her, because we do kind of share that same idea.
I’ve always been a visual person. I’m a visual learner. People can talk to me for hours about an idea, but unless I can see it on paper, or I can actually see it, it’s hard for me to kind of construct it.
Fitz & The Tantrums’ video for “I Just Wanna Shine”:
QRO: The dancer in “Shine”, is that the same young dancer from “123456”, or do you just have a whole stable of kid dancers?
We do the casting. Nicole [Laeno] was actually the dancer in “123456”. She is a young, amazing dancer. She came up with all the choreography moves that she did. She’s got a very popular Instagram page. We found her on Instagram, and we approached her about being in the video, and she was so down. But she’s an incredibly talented young woman.
Fitz & The Tantrums’ video for “123456”:
QRO: Have you all worked on any new music since Feels, either last year or during all of this?
NS: Obviously Fitz is in L.A. and I’m out here, so we kind of just work in our studios.
I, personally, have not been writing a lot, as far as a music has been concerned. I probably spent about a good month, writing things. I think everybody was just trying to, one, absorb what was happening. It’s really hard, as an artist, to force yourself to be creative in a space where you’re having your own internal dialogue about, ‘What the F?’
Our tour was cut short by two days. Thankfully, we were able to do the majority of our tour, but we came home in March the day that everybody started locking down their cities.
So, it was just kind of identifying like, ‘Oh, I don’t get to travel & see my friends.’ I’m an avid traveler. When I’m off tour, you can find me on an airplane, headed to Europe somewhere. I felt for a moment that my wings were clipped. It was very surreal, trying to figure out like, ‘Oh wow, I’m kind of stuck here, in this space, when I normally wouldn’t be.’ Trying to literally work through that.
Personally, I started doing some writing, but when George Floyd happened, it was a rough time for me. It was very rough and personal. As a black woman in America, and also an artist that feels things tremendously, because I write through emotion; I write through personal struggle.
To have that happen, and to watch the rage, and to be a part of protests that were peaceful, but then to watch it on media be torn down as a riot, it was really kind of, you know, ‘Fuck this place!’ For better or worse.
I envision music videos and concepts in recognizing whether or not one of the songs are done.
So, I was really just dealing with that, so I decided to take control of the situation that I thought I could navigate better, and helping people. That’s really what I’ve been focused on for the past three months now, working towards what I’m doing. Just finding like-minded individuals, being introduced to different organizations that are really pushing towards change, pushing towards making sure that people are educated about their voting, our infrastructure, and our government, and all of these things. So, this has been kind of really taking up a lot of my time and mindfulness and stuff.
With that, all these collaborations that I’ve done in the past are now starting to surface, and that’s cool.
QRO: With these protests and incidents, talk about visual…
NS: Yeah, it’s crazy, but it’s not stuff that you can turn away from, right? Now is the time to really face it and look at it, and navigate the territory. Figure out how to make it less of a thing than will ever happen again.
So, I think that’s really what’s happening now. A lot of people are very fed up. We’re fed up with the same struggle; we’re fed up with the same fight; we’re fed up with the same arguments.
It’s wonderful to see the shift. It’s wonderful to see the allies, and the voices, and all of these things, but I’m really hoping that it actually moves towards some significant change. And it’s not just a pastime…
QRO: Have you all thought about doing any sort of livestream event during this lockdown?
NS: Yeah, so that’s been an ongoing conversation.
What has been an issue is finding a platform that you can actually do it from a distance. The technology is there, but it’s not really there. So, when you’re thinking about a lot of the Zoom sessions that are happening, a lot of these things have to be navigated & prerecorded, which makes it difficult.
It’s like, are we doing this to stay relevant, or are we doing this because we want to make sure we are putting out things that matter? There’s conversations about what we’re going to do about these drive-in shows, if we’re gonna be able to maybe livestream those, I don’t know. It’s really hard to have the conversation, just because the technology doesn’t seem to be fully there, in a way that it makes sense to do it.
Fitz has been doing a lot of acoustic things for radio.
QRO: I saw the Good Morning America thing…
NS: Yeah, he did that for the graduating class of 2020, which was beautiful to see. I, unfortunately, couldn’t do it, cause I was here.
We’ve done other things in collaboration. We worked with BottleRock [Napa Festival], and it was more of an interview thing on my side – he played acoustic. So, it’s just trying to navigate, and do it more creatively.
Fitz & The Tantrums live drive-in shows
Saturday, 8/29/20 – Ventura, CA – Ventura County Fairgrounds
Saturday, 9/5/20 – Anaheim, CA – Drive-In OC
Sunday, 9/6/20 – Anaheim, CA – Drive-In OC