William Fitzsimmons' music combines soft folk melodies with perfectly crafted simple electronic beats. He's been compared to artists such as Iron & Wine, Joshua James and Imogen Heap. His last album Goodnight, which chronicled his parents divorce, was one of the finest albums that 2006 had to offer. William's musical journey has not been a traditional one, having obtained his Masters degree in mental health counselling and having worked in the profession for several years before putting out records. He was also raised by two blind parents which he credits for having a hand in growing up with sounds more than sights.
Fresh off of the singer/songwriter showcase known as the "Hotel Cafe" tour, William Fitzsimmons was kind enough to make some time for us for an online interview.
You just wrapped playing on the “Hotel Cafe” tour. What was that like?? & any highlights or favorite moments from the tour?
William- The Hotel Cafe tour was pretty incredible. Many of the folks that were on the tour were actually friends of mine already, and those that weren’t became so rather quickly. It was a joint effort in every sense of the word. We sang on several of each others’ songs, rode in the bus together, and just made it a sort of traveling community. I’d have to say it was unique to any touring I’ve done up til this point. I don’t know that there would necessarily be ‘one’ standout moment from the tour (corny or not, there were many particilarly special moments), but if I were to pick a single one, it would probably be singing on stage with everyone during the finale each night. Can’t think of it getting much better than that.
What is life like on the road w/ a collective of artists like that, as compared to just travelling w/ yourself or w/ your own band?
William- I’d be lying if I said there wasn’t a comfort in having your own privacy, your own space, and some downtime while touring. And traveling mostly on your own (or with a small group of folks) does offer that. However, there is something so fun, and actually inspiring about travleling with a large group that I think if offered the choice, I would pretty much always choose to tour with a lot of people. I sort of equate it to being on a sports team versus playing a more solitary sport. There is indeed something gratifying about making it work on your own, but when you look across a stage with a mass of talented individuals, all doing what they do best, you can’t help but to be moved by the experience.
The album Goodnight you've said is the story of your parents divorce. Was there ever a thought of not putting it out because it's too personal? Was the writing process of that one cathartic in a sense??
William- I really never had too much trouble disclosing personal elements through the writing, perhaps due to having been a counselor before, or perhaps just given my upbringing, so there wasn’t really a “should I or shouldn’t I” moment about getting into some gritty material on that record. Moreover, when I found myself not being able to even write about too much else without those family and experiential elements slipping in, I thought it would might be wise to exercise those demons, as it were. I’d rather get of my head what is trying to come out, then fight it and keep writing the same songs over and again.
On a similar note, I read once that 90 percent of your writing is about your family?? Is that still true when you approach songwriting?? why do you think that is?
William- The Goodnight record was somewhat of an exception, given it was specifically themed about my family and the experiences therein, although it is definitely true that I lean towards what I have known or lived through, as opposed to detailing external situations. I never sat down and decided that I would only write about myself or my family, but I think I am probably at my best when I am allowing experience and emotion to guide the process. I would rather follow whatever muse is in front of me at a given moment instead of focing things I can’t or shouldn’t be speaking on in the music. Perhaps most importantly, I think it is the responsibility of a songwriter to attempt to reach people at points that are relevant and germane to their daily lives. Family, relationships, loss, hope, etc... These are the things I find myself wallowing through on a daily basis, and the things I hope to meet people with in the tunes as well.
When did you first start to take an interest in music?? & when did u start performing??
William- Cliche or otherwise, music has been a large part of my life for as long as my little brain goes back. My parents had us in piano lessons at a very young age, and playing band instruments as soon as there was a school band to play them in. Performance then, I suppose, was also an early part of that, with school recitals and marching band weekends, and the like. Although I loved it (well, maybe not marching band so much), I never really thought it would ever be anymore than a passion and a hobby. As such it took a backseat in my life for quite a while in order to go to graduate school, and work in the psychology field for several years. It wasn’t until I picked the guitar back up and entertained the idea of actually writing my own songs that it found itself back at the forefront of my mind again.
Your past two albums have been self produced. Is it something you were trained in or was it all self taught?
William- All of the production I did on those records was self-taught. At the beginning of it I was just a guy with some in-expensive gear and a guitar who thought it’d be fun to record a couple beatles covers or something. The self-production was more out of necessity than pride; I really didn’t have another choice but to learn it myself! I think I took to it quickly because I was so motivated to be able to have fun with it soon, rather than waiting. That being said, I’d say one of my biggest accomplishments was being able to helm both of those records on my own. It was some of the hardest work I’ve ever done, but it was terribly rewarding because of that.
I heard your working on a new album. Will it all be self produced? & what can u tell us about the new album & how the sound is taking shape?
William- Because of the length of time and effort I had to put into self-producing, especially the last record which really took me about half a year to record and mix from start to finish, I’m going to be doing the new album in a studio, and with a producer. I’m not abandoning the notion of self-production for good, and I have a feeling I’ll keep doing it at various points, but I don’t know if I could emotionally handle doing all of it again on my own. I don’t want to say too much about the new album just yet, mainly because we’re so early in the recording I’m not sure what the sound will exactly be like. But I’ve already recorded the first song, and I’m very excited about the possibilities for the end result.
What new music if any are you excited about??
William- I’m such a bad person to ask about the newest music, and what people are listening to at the moment because I get so attached to bands and albums that I have trouble moving on from them. A couple recent favorites would have to be Priscilla Ahn and Meiko. Very hearfelt and potent stuff; I’d definitely recommend it.
Sites like Myspace, Facebook and I-like... It seems like yes, more people can find you and discover your work but it's much more DIY,work wise for the artist to keep on top of??... How have sites like these changed the music landscape in general & for yourself?
William- It goes without saying at this point that the social networking sites have been extremely instrumental for artists like myself, who would for certain, probably not even have a career were it not for them. And to be honest, I think someone rather hands-on like myself has a particular advantage because I look forward to and enjoy the experience of building up the sites, communicating with fans, and being directly involved in the process of getting the music into the ears and minds of listeners. I think in some ways it’s harder anymore because there is much more congestion in terms of people being able to find you amongst so many others and other things, but I still believe that if people are given a broader choice about what they would like to take in, we are all the better for it.
Is there anywhere you haven't played yet that's tops on your list if you get the chance??
William- I’ve already played at more places than I ever could have dreamed I’d get the chance to! No need to get picky. Haha. That being said, I’m definitely looking forward to touring the entire country for the first time, and actually hitting many of the states that I’ve never even visited before.
Favorite movie you put on when you need a good laugh??
William- Probably Old School.
Besides yourself, Best beard in music???
William- Haha...so many good ones to choose from! I’d say Matisyahu, Ray Lamontagne, and Sam Beam are all tops on that list. I think we’d all have to give Mr. Beam the nod for absolute best though.
Thanks kindly to William Fitzsimmons for his time and to take a listen to his music you can check out his myspace.
Photo credit: Caleb Kuhl