Joe Karnes: Tantrums & Tones

In the fall of 2012, Fitz and the Tantrums found themselves in a rather precarious position. They had just finished a massive two-year tour promoting their smashing debut, Pickin' Up The Pieces, and began the process of creating a follow-up. While the debut was mostly the brainchild of bandleader, Michael 'Fitz' Fitzpatrick, the band was now a road-seasoned ensemble, ready to tackle their sophomore release as a group. Rather than making a slightly more expansive – and much more expensive - version of their debut, the band retreated once again to the studio in Fitz' living room to reinvent themselves for their explosive new release, More Than Just A Dream.

Bassist Joe Karnes says that the stylistic range of the new album is largely due to the collective influences of the band members. "With this record, we wanted to take in all of the influences that we have because we all listen to so many different kinds of music. We really wanted that to shine through and let everyone's personality out of the bag." With that in mind, the group began a series of prolific writing sessions that saw the creation of dozens of new songs. With songs coming in from every direction, the band had to enforce one rule on upon the creative process. "The only rule we had was no one could say, 'That doesn't sound like us!'"

We recently spoke with Joe about the new album during a quick break from the road, recording in the living room and what is shaping up to be another two-year tour!


After the huge success of the first album, how did you prepare for this one?
It was kind of all over the place! Basically, every possible way that a song could be written…that's how we did it! We toured for about two years on the last record and took about a week or two off and then went right into trying to write and record this album. We wanted to get it out by last October (2012) so we set this impossible deadline for ourselves and it was beneficial because we basically wrote 30 to 40 songs in about a month, month and a half. For those sessions we would all bring in our own ideas, while some were ideas that Fitz had and then we all fleshed them out as a band. It was a really intense writing period and at the same time I was about to have my child! So that was how the pre-production went (laughs)!

I hope the actual recording was a little less intense!
(Laughs) Yes! Most of the stuff was done in Fitz's living room, which is where he recorded the first record. And then we had three weeks booked with the producer we choose, Tony Hoffer, who was phenomenal! He was really great on the pre-production end of the project so we ended up recording the whole record in like three weeks not including extra overdubs and things like that.

Joe's Aguilar Gear
Joe Karnes Gear

"My main touring rig is a DB 750 and a GS 412. After ten years, it is still kicking ass! I love the GS 412 because it has a thick, deep tone but also provides a ton of definition. And the cabinet really translates well in various sized venues from huge outdoor festivals and arenas to small, 500 person clubs.

I also have the Tone Hammer 500 and a GS 112 out with me for promo dates and radio shows.

I’ve also been using the AG 4P-HOT recently. It's pretty powerful and seems to have a wider, thicker low end. When I really wail on it, I can get some grind out of it too. It's a cool, unique sounding pickup and I've been enjoying it quite a bit. I'm impressed."

There is a great energy on the album. For all of the work involved the end result is…fun!
That's definitely what we were going for – music that people would enjoy and have a fun time with. We thought about our live show and what we like to accomplish with the new tunes by adding what we already do with people – lots of interaction and moments for people to sing along. But still, at the core of it all – we had to write a good song (Laughs) which is always the trick!

This album is much more adventurous from a sonic standpoint.
We gave ourselves permission to really push the envelope and just let the songs come and use the tones that we wanted to use. On our first single, Out of My League, there are definitely lots of layers on the chorus – low-synth, the bass, and it was much more of a percussive, driving thing. We really wanted that large impact to come through on the chorus. On a few other songs we did similar things by having a synth bass with electric bass mixed in to punctuate it a little more depending on the tone that was needed.

So you are doubling the electric bass along with a synth?
On some songs there is a sub-synth underneath it but it depends on the song. Some tunes started out with a synth which was part of Tony Hoffer's influence in getting us to step out of the box. There's a song called 6am where the verses are synth bass and the chorus are electric bass. It's such a crazy bass-line on the key bass and I'm not that good of a key bass player! That tune was from a demo that we have had for a while and we had been playing it live, so we really had the arrangement down. I really loved the bass performance that I did on that demo. There are three only chords; it's the same progression for the verse, pre-chorus and chorus. And I really wanted to change it up and give each section its own definition and one of the ways to do it, especially when we were writing it, since we weren't using lots of different sounds – was through variations in the bass line.

Quite a big difference from the first album!
The last record was primarily bass, drums, organ and/or piano, vocals and horns – that was our entire color palate! We did a lot with that all through the touring for the album and it was really fun – we didn't have any guitar! That gave the rhythm section a little more room to play and some more 'jobs' to do (laughs)!


I love The Walker!
Oh yeah! That's a fun one! It was mainly synth bass with the electric bass coming in halfway through the verses. I think I even played the bass with a pick to give it just a little subtle drive – a bit of a lift.

Will you be on another two-year trek for this album?
Well, we're going big till the end of the year and then all next year too! We just finished five weeks and then we are home for ten days before continuing through September. And then another 5 week run starts in October! Next year will be a lot of international dates with some domestic dates mixed in as well.

Thanks for using Aguilar Joe and for taking the time to chat with us!

  • 599 Broadway 7th Floor New York, NY 10012
  • • Tel: +1 212 431 9109
  • •
  • © 2011 Aguilar Amplification LLC. All rights reserved.