Wednesday, 11 November 2015

It's My Kind Of Interview - William Fitzsimmons

After a decade of releasing music that has won him fans all over the world, U.S. singer-songwriter William Fitzsimmons is coming to Australia for the first time in February 2016. As long time listeners of his work, we were stoked to be able to ask William some questions ahead of his trip over. It's a Wednesday night interview surprise... enjoy!

Interview by Matt Bond

Hi William, thank you for taking the time to answer some questions from us. Where in the world are you and what have you been getting up to lately?

William: My pleasure.  I'm actually at home at the moment, taking some time off from touring to spend time with the family and record some new songs.  It's been a pretty busy year, which is great, but I start to feel really disconnected with my family after a while and it's not healthy to keep going in that state.  I'm going to stay home through the holidays and into the beginning of next year.

You'll be performing in Australia for the first time in February, with shows booked for Sydney and Melbourne. Have you been to Australia before? Other than the gigs, what have you got on your list of things to do while you're here?

William: It's funny, Australia is one of the first places I wanted to go to whenever I started traveling to play music, but it's taken me 10 years to make it happen.  I've never been there and honestly I don't have much of a "list" per se.  I mean I am definitely going to go and explore the cities as much as possible.  But for me places are usually best experienced through people.  This might sound overly sentimental, but honestly I most look forward to getting to meet the people who have been carrying my music with them for a decade so I can say thank you.

Music must have played an important part in your life right from the start, with your parents both musicians. What are some of your favourite childhood musical memories?

William: My dad used to get home kind of late from work some nights, but he loved playing his organ.  So he would fire it up, even after 9 or 10 at night, and blow the shit out of that thing.  He's a great player, and man was that thing loud.  Our neighbors hated it, but there was something so comforting about hearing that sound reverberate up the walls as we went to sleep.  I still miss that.

After completing your studies and working in mental health, you released your first album in 2005, "Until When We Are Ghosts". They're two vastly different fields. What inspired you to work in mental health? Did you always know that music was something you wanted to pursue as a career?

William: You know on the surface of course they do seem very different, but what I found over time is that the mental health component in music, at least in some of it, is incredibly strong and incredibly important.  Sometimes I think the very thing that connects us to our favorite songs or favorite artists is that they're touching on things we ourselves are trying to work out.  Once I realized how powerful that connection is I figured I was given the opportunity to write and play in order to make songs that could operate well on a mental health level.

As far as pursuing music, I knew I would always play and sing, but I never thought of it as something that would pay the bills.  That didn't come about until after my divorce, when my world kind of went to shit and I had to figure my life out again.  I wanted to physically get away from where I was and I thought I could play some shows that would pay the way.  That was 10 years ago.

Speaking of "Until When We Are Ghosts", the first song of yours I heard (way back when) was 'Funeral Dress', which can be found on your debut. I'm going to be totally selfish and take the opportunity to ask you for the story behind the song...

William: I wrote that song after seeing a picture of my mother as a little girl for the first time.  She was wearing this beautiful confirmation dress and I was young enough to have my mind blown by thinking that my mom was once a young person.  I thought of how she must still think of herself in that way from time to time, and that one day she might wear a similar dress when she died.  I didn't mean it as a morbid thought, it's just about the reality of time passing and how quickly it goes.  Now I think about how I'm getting near the same age she was when I first saw that picture and the song has a little more weight to it than it even did back then.

This year saw the release of your seventh record "Pittsburgh", your most personal collection of songs yet, not only because it's paying homage to your hometown but for the touching way it pays tribute to your Grandmother who passed away last year. How did your Grandmother and Pittsburgh shape you as a person and performer?

William: I think the culture of Pittsburgh is one of toughness and honesty.  And I think of my grandmother as having those in spades.  She was terribly kind as well, but never without an element of truth in it.  I aspire to those qualities, though I know I don't have them yet in the ways that she did.  But I want my music to hopefully offer that to people.  A little bit of honesty in a pretty bleak world.  I like writing about shit some people don't want to talk or think about.  I like that sometimes it makes people uncomfortable.  I don't get off on that, but it makes me feel like I'm on the right path.

You've got seven records to your name, which means there's plenty of tracks to draw from for your Australian setlists. Since they'll be your first shows in the country, can fans expect more of a 'greatest hits' experience?

William: Haha, it's good that you put "greatest hits" in quotes, cause I'm pretty sure I don't have anything you could call a "hit" ;)

Yes, when I play places I've never played before, I like to kind of go back to some of the old stuff, as those people have never had a chance to hear any of the songs in person.  I'm not precious about that stuff like other artists sometimes are.  I'm a writer, yes.  But I'm also an entertainer.  There'll be some of the new stuff too for sure.  But it'll be balanced.

I don't know. I consider any song that's been on Grey's Anatomy a hit and you've had two. So you're not even a one-hit wonder. Well done! Who are some of your favourite Australian musicians? I've got a feeling I know who one of them will be, since you recorded with her on your track 'Let You Break'...

William: I was very happy to be able to sing with Julia Stone.  I love her voice and she's such a beautiful AND unique singer, something that's increasingly rare anymore.  One of my other favorites has to be Colin Hay.  I got to open a few shows for him several years ago and his live, solo show blew me away.  He was so connected and present.  I learned a lot from that and, beyond being a fan, I've tried to incorporate that element of being super present when I preform.

With over a decade of experience learned, what advice can you offer to emerging artists who would like to enjoy a long career in the music industry?

William: Well there are no silver bullets.  There's no magic pills.  And it's a son-of-a-bitch business.  Writing songs is hard.  It can be painful, and lonely, and alienating.  I just recently found out that the guy who was running my merch business screwed me out of a lot of money.  But if you love writing and playing, then you find a way to do it.  What's kept me going is the feeling I get when I write a song that means something to me, and when I see the face of the person that it means something to as well.  That, and all the women.

Of course... the women. When it comes to related artists, you appear amongst the likes of Ingrid Michaelson, Greg Laswell, Sara Bareilles and Cary Brothers (among others). What you all have in common is your wonderful songwriting and storytelling abilities. What do you personally think makes an effective songwriter?

William: Telling the truth.  Most music doesn't do that.  I didn't invent doing that, far from it.  But if you want to make people feel something, you have to do it.


The first album you ever bought was...
William: "Bad" by Michael Jackson.  I LOVED that record.  But my grandmother threw it away when she found it a few days later.  She thought rock and roll was the devil's music.  Seriously.

A song you wish you had written is...
William: "If I Needed You" by Townes Van Zandt.  That is a fucking masterpiece of a song.

The best gig you've ever been to was...
William: Bon Iver in Haldern, Germany several years ago.  We were playing the same festival and they had us on different stages at roughly the same time.  I might have rushed through my last few songs so I could see his show.  Maybe.

Your music guilty pleasures include... 
William: Katy Perry.  She's a really good singer.  And she's beautiful.  Just saying.

When they air the William Fitzsimmons edition of MTV's Behind The Music in thirty four years time, what will they say about you?

William: "Who the fuck is William Fitzsimmons?"

Brilliant. Massive thanks to William for stopping by! If you're lucky enough to be in Sydney/Melbourne in February, make sure you head along to one of William Fitzsimmons' shows. Details below...

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