If you’ve seen the most recent Oscar promos of a suit-clad army led by Ellen DeGeneres, then you’ve heard of Fitz and the Tantrums, whose song “The Walker” serves as Ellen’s dance track. The poppy, neo-soul group, led by vocalists Michael Fitzpatrick and Noelle Scaggs, has been around for years but has recently blown up thanks to the Paul Feig (of Bridesmaids fame)-directed trailer. Here, we chat with Scaggs about her junior-high talent show, the joys of performing, and the albums she can’t get enough of.
Tell us a bit about the Ellen DeGeneres Oscars promo featuring your song “The Walker.” What was like seeing an entire set of people dancing to your song?
This promotion has been such a fantastic thing to see. We are all Ellen fans—when we performed on her show this past year she told us that she's been a fan for a while. From there she began telling us about the idea of the Oscar trailer that had been pitched to her by Paul Feig, who was also a big fan of our music. It was really exciting to see the end result. To be a part of the Academy Awards in any kind of way is such an honor.
Which song or album was the most influential for you growing up?
For me I think it had to be when I got En Vogue’s first album in 1990 called Born to Sing. That was around the time all these female singing groups were starting to take over the R&B world. I used to sing all of their songs in my room after school. I knew every cadence, even the dance moves from the videos. It was one of their songs I'd performed at the [junior-high] talent show. It was called, "Just Can't Stay Away".
Who else were you listening to back then?
I was listening to a lot of my father’s old records, a lot of stuff out of the ‘60s and ‘70s. He has a pretty amazing collection of funk and disco albums, so I was listing to everyone from The Temptations to The Pointer Sisters. When I got into my high school years I was introduced to more of the adult contemporary and jazz world because of my aunt. I used to listen to a lot of James Taylor, Ella Fitzgerald, Eric Clapton, Miles Davis, etc., in addition to what I was discovering on my own in hip-hop and the modern rock and R&B world. I was the queen of making mixtapes and CDs.
Before F&TT you spent ten years fronting The Rebirth. What was that experience like?
The Rebirth was a real learning experience for me as a writer, performer, and as a vocalist. It was a lot of fun and it really helped me grow in a level of confidence as a performer. I was the youngest of the entire band and also the only woman at the time. I’d never toured before and all of a sudden I was touring through Europe, Japan, South Africa. It was an amazing experience. And had I not taken that leap with them, I most definitely wouldn't be in Fitz, as that is how I'd met James King.
What do you like most about being onstage?
I think my favorite part is really feeding off of an audience. Shaking them out of their comfort zones. I used to love watching hip-hop artists perform when I was coming up in the music business. I always watched the integration with the crowd, and the level of confidence they had on stage. I think that has always remained with me and shines through my performances.
You’re in the public eye quite a bit — what’s your personal philosophy when it comes to beauty?
I think women have to work so much harder than men to maintain their own sense of attraction for themselves and for the rest of the world. I think that whatever approach you take in helping your own self confidence and presenting yourself to the world, it needs to be carried in that manner, in confident presentation—aka OWN IT! I also truly believe that the way you treat your body internally manifests itself externally. I think the “fountain of youth” everyone always seems to be searching for comes from taking care of yourself from the inside—emotionally, nutritionally, and spiritually. Doesn't matter what size you wear.
How long have you had the cropped, blonde look you have now? Any secrets to maintaining it?
I have had my hair this way for about two years now. I love it because my hair is quite curly and it can be a pain in the you-know-where [laughs]. I see my hairstylist Yukari once every month for my coloring, and I am a slave to my Hanz de Fuko conditioner and pomade. I use Davines’ gold conditioner and shampoo to keep my color from fading away too quickly.
What albums are on constant rotation for you right now?
I'm loving my girls Haim; and the new Phantagram record is going to be insane. Can't forget Yoncé's new LP...and of course FITZ AND THE TANTRUMS!