Noelle Scaggs’ eldest brother was murdered in his late 20s. Surrounded by gun violence and gang culture from an early age, Scaggs was forced to navigate some harrowing situations. “I saw a lot of things I shouldn’t have seen. I put myself in situations I probably shouldn’t have been in, but I’m glad to be alive,” she tells American Songwriter over a recent phone call.
One-sixth of pop band Fitz & the Tantrums, Scaggs wanted to write a song analyzing society’s obsession with guns but flipped the storyline to the perspective of the weapon itself. A song called “Kiss the Sky,” from their most recent record, All the Feels, digs into the psychology of gun owners to further understand such staunch beliefs.
“I talked to people who were all about gun control, and then, I talked to people who are about the Second Amendment ─ and their reasoning behind it,” she says. “I feel they’ve just been… like it is this [gun] talking to them, and that there’s this unconscious conversation they’re having with this weapon. The conversation is about the gun ruling its owner.”
Initially, Scaggs cooked up the topline, and along with frontman Michael Fitzpatrick, dressed up the deceptively shiny melody. It also shifted quite a bit, lyrically. “At first, it was this self-empowerment song [after] seeing the next mass shooting and me reading things not happening with gun control. I was reading the news a lot at the time. I wanted to have this conversation around an inanimate object that has more control over you than you are consciously aware of.”
Chewy club production glides against some of their heaviest and most relevant songwriting to-date. “Was born to take your innocence / A rebel under the influence / Addicted to the thrill of it,” the second verse whizzes by the eardrums. “Just try to stop me, try to stop me / I wanna elevate your mind / Pray we’ll never sleep tonight / The perfect over counter drug / Just try to stop me, try to stop me.”
Scaggs notes, “Maybe [this song] could take the psychology that I see behind gun culture here in the U.S. and shine a light on the conversation and maybe wake people up in a way.”
All the Feels ─ “more than just a hashtag,” Scaggs affirms ─ seeks to soothe stigmas around depression and mental health, while also reigniting human connectivity. “I want to feel just a little / Just a little, just a little / Put my heart in the middle,” Fitzpatrick calls into a synth-y whirlwind on the title cut. Again, the group marries bubbly effervescence with deep-chested yearning.
Ironically, and perhaps tragically, Scaggs feels most connected to the world when she’s totally tapped into her screens. “The only time I really feel detached from the world is when I’m not plugged into my phone or diving into the everyday news. Outside of my own community, I feel completely detached. The only time I do feel connected with other people is on my phone,” she admits.
“That’s a sad reality of living. I’ve gotten used to it. I was born in a time where that wasn’t a thing, and I have the balance to understand how to do so. I feel bad for the people who don’t have that experience. There should be more people consuming their time outside of their phones and understanding what reality and presence is. It’s hard because it’s been going on for so long now. You adapt. That’s what human beings do. We adapt to the situation, and the older you are, and for some people, it’s not easy to get into that space.”
With “I Need Help!,” the pop outfit fall to their knees and beg for help they’ve realized they’ve needed for a long time. It’s a gloriously empowering moment and reminder that we, truly, are never alone. But the stigma around mental health has only dissipated in recent years as more and more individuals have fallen victim to mental deterioration. “Fear drives a lot of people. There is fear of being misunderstood. There is fear of judgement of other people. It’s human nature to run with society or be very independent of it,” Scaggs offers on why there was a stigma in the first place.
“All these major celebrities died from suicide. They died because they felt they were alone in a room constantly,” she adds.
Scaggs has long struggled with bipolar disorder and her own personal demons, so a song such as this is not only vital to provoke the listener but to her own growth. “Since I was a child, I’ve dealt with depression, mania, and all of these things I didn’t really recognize until I got older. I was forced to really deal with it because it was affecting my relationships,” she says. “It comes down to human beings allowing themselves to be OK with whatever people think of them. At the end of the day, no one else is walking in your shoes.”
Here is where the internet can be a helpful tool: as a source for “wider understanding of the world we probably didn’t see when we just had television or were only forced to talk to those in front of us,” explains Scaggs. “We didn’t have this broad spectrum of individuals spreading positive messages and saying, ‘It’s OK for you to feel sad ─ but here are some tools that can help you maybe get to a better place.’ Or, ‘Here is a group of people who are dealing with the same things you are so you know you’re not alone in this world alone.’ Times have just changed and forced people to look at ugliness or darkness in a different way.”
Time also plays a crucial role in the album’s arc, most notably with “Stop,” a throbbing plea to relive cherished memories. “This song always feels so liberating. Working with Jonas Jeberg is that way. He’s an amazing producer,” she says. “He gives you that freedom, and that’s something I always feel even when I just listen to the song. It’s feeling exposed and not caring. It’s this elatedness you feel when you don’t have the weight on your shoulders of worrying about somebody else’s thoughts about you. It’s also the freedom you’re giving yourself from all your self-judgements for a moment, a day, a year, a lifetime.”
“Wait a minute now / When did love get to moving too fast? / Can we do it all again?” pleads Fitzpatrick over an electrifying beat. He both basks in the moment and replays memories like a homemade reel.
“I feel like time zips by. I don’t know if it’s because I’m living this lifestyle where most of my life I don’t even know what day it is,” Scaggs considers, with a laugh. “When I’m on tour, I just lose track of time in that way. I don’t know if it’s that or just living a really good life. The idea of time has shifted. I stay present every day. I’m not worried about the agenda so much.”
“Even right now, I’m experiencing that. I’m giving myself freedom to not have an agenda whatsoever. Everybody’s asking me how I’m doing and what I’ve been up to. I’m trying not to put so much on my plate. As you get older, that becomes the narrative of your life ─ taking things day by day and not being so overly concerned about X, Y, and Z.”
With the world gripped by the COVID-19 pandemic, we have nothing but time these days. An album like All The Feels could very well be essential for our collective reflection, getting through, and hopefully surviving, until it is finally all over.
Photo Credit: Luke Dickey