It might not rival the transformation of Clark Kent to Superman, but there’s something impressive about mild-mannered studio engineer Michael Fitzpatrick’s new alter ego, Fitz, the sharp-suited stylist who fronts Los Angeles retro-soul combo Fitz and the Tantrums.
How did the former knob-twiddler morph into a performer so assured he recalls ABC’s Martin Fry at his “Look of Love” best?
All thanks to his basic belief, Fitz says, “that when the music gods give you something, you’ve simply got to run with it.”
Fitz — who plays Popscene this evening — didn’t acquire superpowers overnight. He studied singing as a teen, but got sidetracked by film school and a six-months-in-the-making movie thesis.
“It was so cryptic that only the other hundred students in class could appreciate it, and the amount of time and energy it took was exhausting,” he says of the blessing in disguise. “But around the same time, I’d gotten my first little home-recording system, a digital eight-track. And I really loved the process of waking up in the morning, having a musical idea, and by the end of the day I’d have a finished song.”
Eager to learn more, the novice hooked up with master mixer Mickey Petralia to hone his craft, got his old piano out of storage and started composing on the side.
But, Fitz still couldn’t find the right singing voice. That is, until he impulsively bought an old Conn church organ for $50, sight unseen.
“I got that massive thing into my living room, turned it on, and sat down and wrote the first Tantrums song, ‘Breakin’ the Chains of Love,’ in five minutes,” he says. “And I sang it in this blue-eyed soul style, and just felt this total ease. And I knew that it was one of the best pop songs I’d ever written.”
Fitz soon assembled his own Justice League around saxophonist James King and co-vocalist Noelle Scaggs, then tracked “Chains” for a debut EP, “Songs for a Break Up, Vol. 1,” along with the new follow-up album, “Pickin’ Up the Pieces.”
That’s where his studio skills came in handy, he says, “because we had no money, no label, nothing — the only place we could pull off getting a record done was my living room.”
Fitzpatrick’s only kryptonite? The foppish finery his Fitz persona prefers.
“When it’s 90 degrees out and we have a four o’clock festival time slot, a suit can be a deathtrap onstage,” he says. “And those days, I curse the suit and go, ‘Why? Why!’”
IF YOU GO
Where: Popscene, 330 Ritch St., San Francisco
When: 10 p.m. today
Tickets: $10 to $12