Fitz & The Tantrums Come Back Stronger With New ’80s Sound & Sophomore Album

The first time I chatted with Fitz & The Tantrums was during the epicenter of SXSW 2011, and the lead-singer duo – Michael Fitzpatrick and Noelle Scaggs – were lying in different positions on a carpeted stage in an underground conference room at Mellow Johnny’s Bikeshop in the Warehouse District of Austin, Texas. An earlier showcase was thumping away upstairs before they were set to go on, and both musicians looked utterly gassed after nearly eleven shows in four days and a week-long European tour starting the following week. However, less than an hour later, they’re on stage giving the performance that landed them their first record deal with Dangerbird for their album Pickin’ Up The Pieces and proved their Motown pop sound belonged on a much bigger stage.

What was originally a week-long European tour became a year, taking the indie-pop band across the continent, talk-show circuit, and the late-night closing minutes at rock clubs. As their fall tour ended in 2012, Fitz and Scaggs locked themselves into a house in Silverlake and cranked out “35 to 40 songs in a month, month and a half.” The goal was to write a song a day, ravaging their creative mines for everything that could possibly be hidden within them. Ultimately, they turned to the outdoors, writing about the L.A. life they saw from their living-room window. The result: the song “The Walker”  about a hipster walking down the street in their hilly neighbor – which stands as one of the gutsier and finer songs from the fruit of their labor, their new album More Than Just A Dream.

The album, which is out on Elektra Records this week, is the band’s sophomore feat, and, with its ‘80s sound, proves that Fitz & The Tantrums have evolved beyond the Motown pop that blazed their earlier success, and into anthem-esque tracks and synthesizer sounds. Their opening single “She’s Out of My League” epitomizes this, leading the new album like a general, and is followed by the crooning “Spark,” and smooth-as-a-breeze-from-your-window “6am.”

Two years since our last meeting, I sat down with Fitz and Scaggs on the bustling Four Seasons patio in the maelstrom of yet another SXSW to discuss their new album, new ’80s sound, and the drive to make a sophomore hit.

Did this new sound we hear on your latest album come about unexpectedly, or was it part of the sophomore plan?
Michael Fitzpatrick: Oh, for sure.
Noelle Scaggs: We definitely didn’t want to be stuck in a box of being a vintage soul band. We can do so much more and we really wanted to bring forth a record that represented how we play live, where anything goes, yet still keep that Motown vibe and niche we began with. We really wanted to explore the ‘80s.
MF: We’ve become a bit of a weird hybrid. For us, there were a few sleepless nights trying to decide what to do next.

You’ve toured with some huge groups like Maroon 5, Sharon Jones And The Dap-Kings, and Flogging Molly. How did this help?
MF: It lined us up to do the record. Both of our records really. Without touring with those bigger acts, none of what followed would have been possible. It also planted some seeds in places we never would have been able to plant them. The more you play, the more people you reach. The size of the audience doesn’t matter.
NS:We were also playing shows at the beginning where we didn’t even have enough songs to fill out a set, so it taught us to be creative onstage with our performances.
MF: And also come up with some really unique covers of popular songs, like the Eurythmics “Sweet Dreams” and Racontuers “Steady as She Goes.”

Why the ‘80s influence on this album?
MF:That was always kind of in the background on the first album. It was more ‘60s on Picking Up the Pieces with the 80’s in the background, and now we’ve pivoted and switched it up. But we don’t think about that stuff when we’re trying to write a record. That’s what leads to those sleepless nights we mentioned earlier. Instead, you just try to make the best song, make them as good as possible. We didn’t want to just be a retro or throwback band in people’s description of us anymore.
NS:  We wanted to make a record that turned us on and if it turned us on, hopefully it would excite other people. We’re not doing this for a few hits—we want 20-year careers.

How do you get along so well, considering you’ve toured for two to three years straight, churned out a new record in a few months, and are set to do it all over again?
[Noelle Scaggs laughs]
MF:You’re family. You love each other. You drive each other crazy.
NS:There are times where you have to take a break. There were a few weeks off where you get home and don’t talk to anybody in the band for the whole time you’re back unless it’s an emergency or go on vacation. You just turn off your phone.
MF:A lot of times everything else around us is changing and the only things that are consistent are her, me, and the other guys in our crew. Every few days it’s a different city, a different hotel room, a different crowd. That can be really disruptive to your mind and creativity.

Was there a fear of a sophomore slump with this album?
MF: There’s a pressure to deliver, sure.
NS:That’s why we kept writing and writing and writing, hoping to strike gold.
MF:And hopefully we have.

This Week’s L.A. Happenings: Stella Barra Opens, George Clooney’s Tequila, & The Coen Brothers

WEDNESDAY: Jeff Mahin’s Stella Barra Opens In Hollywood 
ABC’s The Taste may have been disappointing, but contestant Jeff Mahin’s new pizza joint Stella Barra in Hollywood is redemptive. Expect a bigger menu and plates than his Stella Rossa Pizza Bar in Santa Monica, in addition to handmade pastas. The 120-seat restaurant will serve breakfast, lunch, and dinner. While you won’t find a wood-fire grill, Chef Mahin is all about perfecting his popular dish: burrata with wood-grilled grapes. That’s good enough for us.

Stella Barra (6372 West Sunset Blvd., Hollywood) opens on Wednesday the 8th. To make a reservation, visit the listing at BlackBook Guides.

MONDAY: George Clooney, Tequila, & Four Seasons
In celebration of Cinco de Mayo, The Spa at Four Seasons Los Angeles at Beverly Hills has partnered with ultra-premium Casamigos Tequila, owned by longtime friends George Clooney, Rande Gerber, and Mike Meldman. Until May 12th, guests can choose from two exclusive Punta Mita treatments and enjoy the Casamigos Reposado Tequila either topically in the treatments or served in a margarita afterward. We say go for both.

The Punta Mita Casamigos Tequila promotion is available May 5th to 12th and based on availability at The Spa at Four Seasons Los Angeles at Beverly Hills (300 S. Doheny Dr., Beverly Hills). To make a reservation, visit the Four Seasons listing at BlackBook Guides.

MONDAY: The Coen Brothers (Sorta) At Rockwell LA
It’s not often you make it out to Los Feliz, but we’ll give you two good reasons: Coen. Brothers. For The Record—a fusion of theater, community and supper club—Rockwell L.A. brings the directors’ movies to life in a 360-degree live, theatrical concert experience, featuring O Brother, Where Art ThoughFargoHudsucker Proxy and The Big Lebowski.

For the Record at Rockwell L.A. (1714 Vermont Ave., Los Feliz) runs until May 19. To book tickets, visit their web site. For more information on Rockwell, visit the listing at BlackBook Guides.

Know every inch of this city by visiting BlackBook’s L.A. City Guides

This Week’s L.A. Happenings: Paiche Opens, Celebrity Chef Joins Culina, The Lash Dance Party

TUESDAY: Paiche Opens In Marina Del Rey
No chef in LA knows gourmet Peruvian cuisine like Ricardo Zarate, the man behind hot spots like Mo-Chica and Picca. His newest venture Paiche, named after the tender whitefish that’s headlining the menu, is a contemporary Peruvian izakaya, so expect some Japanese elements like small plates, plain-view fresh fish on the other side of the open kitchen, tons of booze, and a dash of zen.

Paicha(13488 Maxella Ave., Marina Del Ray) opens Tuesday, April 2nd. To make a reservation, visit Paiche’s BlackBook listing here.  

TODAY: Mette Willams At Four Seasons’ Culina
Mette Williams has brains (winner of Food Network’s Chef Wanted), talent (sous chef at Spago and exec. sous chef at Soho House West Hollywood) and she’s super hot (on Eater’s Hottest Chef 2012). Dig into her culinary magic at her new home, Four Seasons Los Angeles’ restaurant Culina, with new menu items debuting today.

Culina at Four Seasons Los Angeles is open for breakfast, brunch (Sundays), lunch, and dinner. To make reservations, visit the Culina’s BlackBook listing here.

WEDNESDAYDance Party At The Lash
Our favorite new downtown hangout The Lash kicks up a Wednesday night, FREE dance party: Shot/Down with DJs Jeremy Price and Short Shorts. Get buzzed on "special" rum punch ($6) and a shot and a beer for ten bucks.

The Lash (117 Winston St., Downtown) Shot/Down dance party starts at 9pm every Wednesday. It’s free. Get the inside-scoop on The Lash by visiting the BlackBook Guides listing.

Be the first to know about the latest openings & events in L.A. by signing up for the weekly BlackBook Happenings email & downloading the BlackBook City Guides app for iPhone and Android.

Watch Max Richter Re-Imagine Vivaldi’s ‘Four Seasons’ Live

For years, I have wanted nothing more than to hear London-based German composer Max Richter perform his heart-wrenchingly beautiful compositons live. His albums Infra, The Notebooks, Songs from Before, 24 Postcards in Full Colour, and Memoryhouse have been the soundtrack to the beating of my heart and sonic accompaniment to my passions for years now. And this past Decemeber, I finally had the chance to see him perform, in what was by far one of the most emotionally-charged nights I’ve ever experienced. Held at Le Poisson Rouge, Richter was there to perform his re-imagining of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons. Re-written with his signature style of amalgamating the electronic and classic words, his composition is painfully wonderful, with strings that wrap their notes around your heart, and proves a more cinematic adaptation of Vivaldi’s work that cuts straight to your gut and unhinges your tearducts with a mix of absolute pleasure and melacholy sadness.

Written with violin soloist Daniel Hope, who gave an energetic stunning performance that night, as the two led the show, a silence fell over the audience like a warm blanket of calm and awe, and all enraptured in what was being played before them and fed into their brainwaves. And to my surprise, when the Four Seasons wrapped, Richter reemerged on stage with a quartet to play the entirely of Infra plus favorites "On the Nature of Daylight," "November," and "Sunlight." Needless to say, I could have died happy right there against the crowded bar.

Thankfully, NPR was there recording the event in its entirely and as of today you too can watch the hauntingly brilliant performance. Warning: you may find yourself sobbing at your desk, keep some tissues on standby. Enjoy.

Hotel Food to Stay For

Why ever leave your hotel when so many accommodations now offer a wonderful spread for their guests, like the freshly renovated Auden Bistro and Bar at the Ritz Carlton? Where once the bar and dining room of this classic hotel exuded old, musty money, the newly revamped space brings a clubhouse vibe and chef Mark Arnao’s modern-meets-traditional bistro cuisine. Hotel guests and diners can choose whether to look at the view over Sixth Avenue or at their plates of regionally sourced nibbles. Over at the bar, the team has carried over the regional bent and offers many local spirits and beers, all poured by bartender Norman Bukofzer.

Of course, Auden Bistro and Bar stepping up their game comes long after the boom of laidback, yet fine dining. Not too long ago, Reynards made waves by opening up in the Wythe Hotel in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Yotel also entered the game with their fun FOUR at Yotel and Dohyo, which looks like it should be in a hip-hop video, which is just might. Oh, and Ace Hotel has the joy of hosting April Bloomfield’s babies, The Breslin and John Dory Oyster Bar.

Todd English spread his, ahem, seed to the Plaza Hotel a couple years ago with the Plaza Food Hall, which is more like a fancy food court that hosts guests as well as permanent residents like Tommy Hilfiger and family. Yes, I am told he is a regular.

Lest us not forget the institutions that have made hotel dining a fine and glorious thing, such as Alain Ducasse’s Adour in the St. Regis, or the famous King Cole Bar next to it. The Trump Hotel also features a world-renowned chef’s self-titled eatery, Jean Georges. In fact, New York’s shift out French food and the start of fine dining featuring American cuisine began in The Four Seasons.

All of this sure beats the continental breakfast low budget travelers (like most of my friends and I) are faced with. True, nothing beats a good cup of cold orange juice from a machine or gooey, prepackaged cinnamon roll, but sometimes, it’s nice to have a little bit of bubbles added to it.  

The Best Meat Meccas in Chicago

One of the last scenes of The Jungle, Upton Sinclair’s 1908 masterpiece about Chicago’s meatpacking industry, takes place at a Socialist rally. Downtrodden and abused stockyard workers, many from Eastern Europe, all hopelessly exploited, froth in righteous anger as the orator chants, “Chicago will be ours! Chicago will be ours!”

A century later, most of the stockyards have been shut down, but Chicago’s place as a carnivore’s carnival has never looked more assured. A crop of new restaurants with a crew of young chefs are reconnecting to the city’s storied past. “We’re coming back to our roots,” says Cosmo Goss, the 24-year-old head of charcuterie at Publican Quality Meats, an artisanal butcher shop and the newest addition to Blackbird chef Paul Kahan’s meat empire. “What it comes down to is if you start with a great cut of meat, you simply don’t need to jazz it up.” At both PQM and The Publican, where meat is substantially jazzed up by chef Brian Huston, all meat—beef tongue, blood sausage and country ribs—is sourced from local farms. Charcuterie has also taken root at Bread & Wine, which opened in late 2011. Helmed by Curtis Gamble, the bistro pays homage to the old Eastern European days with kielbasa and terrines as well as appealing to the modern carnivore with a beef & chorizo burger and the Black Earth lamb and mustard seed meat loaf.

But the real mark that meat has made its return is the menu of Allium, the hotly anticipated restaurant at the Four Seasons. One section is devoted to things “From The Meat Locker.” Also on the menu is what is surely the most haute Chicago–style hot dog ever. It boasts “housemade everything.” “With our reputation as the hog butcher to the world,” observes Allium chef Kevin Hickey, “Chicago has always been known for great cuts of meat. But now, restaurant patrons are looking for serious, high quality cuts of protein cooked by creative chefs in different environments.” For meat lovers, Chicago is finally theirs. 

Ashley Isaacs Ganz Designs Your Dream Trip From Poolside in Istanbul

Ashley Isaacs Ganz IS the founder & CEO of Artisans of Leisure, a bespoke travel planning company that offers luxury trips all over the world. Planning out full itineraries for a discerning customer requires a deep understanding of all the things that make a trip memorable, from big hotels to small discoveries along the way. Ganz has that understanding. We spoke with her about her new travel hot list for 2012, and her own latest travels.

Where are you based?

How long have you lived there? 
15 years.

How many days a year are you on the road?
2-3 months total per year.

Sum up your job in a sentence:
Designing dream trips for some of the most fascinating and accomplished people in the world.

What are your favorite cities to visit?
London, Tokyo, Istanbul.

Where/which are your favorite bars right now? 
I don’t spend a lot of time at bars these days, since I like to get home to be with my young children after work, but when I do manage to grab a drink, I like to go somewhere near my office, like Tarallucci e Vino or Eataly.

What’s your drink right now?
Campari and soda.

What’s the last great meal you had?
Today. Vegetarian (and gluten-free) dim sum in Chinatown.

What’s the best hotel you’ve stayed in this year?
It’s a tie between Four Seasons Hotel Istanbul at Bosphorus in Turkey and Gleneagles in Scotland. I loved being at the Four Seasons Bosphorus this summer. Sitting by the pool and the outdoor restaurants and watching life on the Bosphorus go by was the perfect way to relax after a busy day in Istanbul. I just got back from a late fall trip to Gleneagles in Scotland, and I can’t imagine a more perfect place to experience autumn in Europe.

What makes a great hotel for you?
I love a hotel that feels intimate and personal and that really reflects its locale, yet is large enough that it has extensive facilities and an energy to it…one where you want to be sure to spend some time even if your schedule is packed.

What are your picks for the upcoming year?
Artisans of Leisure is offering new trips in all the following countries this year, so this is our cultural travel hot list—check us out to see what private tours you can enjoy in all of them.

1. Myanmar (Burma)
2. Portugal
3. England
4. Peru
5. China
6. India
7. South Africa
8. Germany
9. Israel
10. Morocco

Flying in Style: How Luxury Hotels Are Making Your Airport Experience Less Painful

If you think the best you can do to alleviate the stress of a cross-country flight is a drink at the Polo Lounge, think again. Hotels are going out of their way to make your airport experience smoother, instead of waiting to coddle you once you arrive on their premises. “We try to be a concierge at the airport and make their lives a bit easier whether they’re coming off an hour flight or a 14-hour flight,” James Bardolf of the Peninsula Beverly Hills told the New York Times. His role as “airport concierge” means he’ll greet you at LAX with anything you need, and for a $100 fee, he and his staff will speed your departure by getting you through security fast, securing your access to airport lounges, and getting your seats upgraded. Other hotels are offering similar services, so read on for the full list:

Round Hill Hotel & Villas and Island Outpost Hotel & Villas at Montego Bay get departing guests through security and immigration faster, and lets them rest in a 10,000-square-foot lounge with Wi-Fi, showers, a bar, and mini-spa, for about $30. That’s less than the regular lounge, and it’s newer and nicer.

In Marrakech, the Four Seasons has a hotel pickup service for 600 dirhams ($74) that lets you get your passport checked for customs in the lounge, while La Mamounia’s private 560 square-foot space is designed by Jacques Garcia in the same style as the hotel. It’s also scented with their unique date fragrance, created by Olivia Giacobetti exclusively for La Mamounia. Other hotels that are adding their own airport lounges include the Four Seasons Resort Hualalai, the Hilton Maldives Iru Fushi Resort & Spa, Waldorf Astoria Maldives and Conrad Maldives Rangali Island

In the luggage arena (because we’re all trying to stick to that carry-on), you can use the exercise clothing and sneakers at all Westin and Fairmont properties to reduce bulk while packing, or if you’re a repeat visitor, many hotels will allow you to store all your clothing there between visits, including Ritz-Carlton and Four Seasons properties. And if you don’t want to deal with the expense and hassle of airport food, see if your hotel can cook something up for you: many hotels, from large (most Four Seasons properties) to boutique (the Montage Deer Valley, One & Only Palmilla) will prepare to-go boxes that will keep you stuffed and satiated on the plane ride home.

Luxe Lofts: The Best Penthouse Hotel Suites in the U.S.

Las Vegas: Cosmopolitan The hotel’s Mandrake suite stands out even in a town known for excess, and at 4,395 square feet of city views and sleek entertainment packed into every corner, they deserve their notoriety. The David Rockwell-designed suite is as ultramodern as the rest of the hotel, with his signature blend of natural materials and contemporary furniture, and the terraces, outdoor soaking tubs, private dining area, and 24-hour service ensures you’ll have as much fun in your suite as out of it. Reserved for ultra high rollers and celebs, and rarely offered (or publicized) beyond those circles. Starting at $25,000/night.

New York: St. Regis There’s nothing like true old-fashioned New York City opulence, and the Presidential Suite at the St. Regis positively defines the look. The floor-to-ceiling windows frame a picture-perfect view of Central Park, while the 3,400 square feet of interior space include three bedrooms, four bathrooms, a classically-appointed gentleman’s library, a fully-equipped kitchen, and a dining room with seating for eight. A full range of amenities and white-glove service ensure that you’ll settle in easily into your home away from home. From $16,500.

Los Angeles: Four Seasons Beverly Hills – The Presidential Suite East is a beautifully lighted 3,235 square foot spread overlooking the city, from a beautifully appointed modern traditional space, with a custom kitchen, multiple marble bathrooms, and an impressive selection of contemporary art decorating the walls. If you can bring yourself to leave the room, you’ll have the use of a brand-new luxury car (we like the Maserati) to get you around the city. $9,850/night.

Miami: JW Marriot Opened about a year ago, the Presidential Suite is the crown jewel of the downtown JW Marriot — even compared to the 50,000 square foot entertainment and sports complex located on the 19th and 20th floors. With amenities like an NBA-approved basketball area and a full-size tennis court, it’s no wonder that the Asian-inspired 2,500 square foot suite has played host to athletes like Anna Kournikova and Rafael Nadal. $4,000/night.

Houston: Hotel Zaza The epicenter of all things young and hip in this Southern city, the scene is always a mix of upscale locals and hotel’s clientele, but in the case of the hotel’s 2,200 square foot Black Label suite, it’s better to be a visitor, so you can enjoy the glitzy chandeliers hung from dramatic black ceilings, marble fireplaces, and oversize balcony with a seating area and two-person outdoor tub. $2,500/night.