Had the great pleasure of interviewing William Fitzsimmons prior to his gig at Kaufleuten on Oct 5th. Together with his buddy Joshua Radin, he embarked on a EU tour a few days before and hopefully will be winning over a lot of new fans. The singer from Pittsburgh, PA is not only known for his incredible songs but also his sometimes dark humor and of course his amazing beard.

William Fitzsimmons has been around for a while now, but somehow not many people know of him – even though they probably have heard songs of him before. Many of his mostly mellow songs have made it into successful TV shows, such as Grey’s Anatomy, Teen Wolf or Blue Bloods… Very happy I had the chance to chat with this super interesting and talented dude! Make sure to also check out the interview with his tour buddy and friend: Joshua Radin that happened right after the interview with William: Interview with Joshua Radin.

Interview with William Fitzsimmons

Hi William, it’s good to see you again! It’s been a couple months since I’ve seen you at the City Winery in NY. I was really wondering, what’s up with these shows where people sit there and eat. It’s quite noisy…
I make jokes about it because you feel a little bit like a monkey. It’s a little less personal and takes a bit of the intimacy away. But it’s also very clear that that’s why you’re being paid to do. These are people that want that experience and have entertainment while eating dinner. It’s totally fine. I love the City Winery, it was an awesome tour.

Your new album Mission Bell is finally out – is it just me or have your lyrics become a bit more straightforward over the past years?
Yeah, you’re absolutely right. It’s not particularly poetic, I moved away from being clever. I don’t like cleverness. Sometimes it’s great when you almost have a little puzzle to figure out. It’s rewarding even if you have to dig into a song and figure out what it means. I also think there’s an elegance in just saying the thing flat out. One of my favorite records maybe of all time is Carrie & Lowell from Sufjan Stevens and there’s a line in one of those songs (Fourth of July) where he literally says “We’re all gonna die” and it had that effect on you. If you said that in a flowery poetic way, it would still beautiful – he can do both things – but the fact that he just said it like that. That hurt in a really good way. Just tell it like it is.

Right, I guess esp. for non-native speakers it can get really tricky to try to understand certain songs.
Oh yeah, there are still some of my favorite songs in English even that I have no idea what they’re talking about. But that’s ok, we project our own narratives and our own feelings onto the art that we like. In general, I am not thinking of listening to a Nick Drake song and trying to figure out what he’s feeling, I’m trying to create an emotion while listening to his music that means something to me. The reason why I love his music is because I feel something. 

Your songs are always very personal and mostly quite sad. Is writing down your personal experiences almost therapeutic for you?
I wish I didn’t have to write these songs if that makes any sense. A lot of it is my own fault, I’ve made a lot of bad decisions in my life. It’s not like I’m the victim. I choose to write them. I think something about it is helpful, at least at the beginning when I write them, that’s when I’m really dumping a lot of emotional material out. Playing the shows is more about connecting with people. It’s not so much about me. If I make it too much about me, I get really fucking weird on stage. I’ve cried on stage before, that’s not a good scene. Then you’re not making it about the audience. The show must be about the audience. If I have a great time and they’re having a shitty time – am I really doing my job as an artist. You want to make people feel things, communicate truth. It’s a good question… It’s tricky. 

Yeah, I mean at some point you have to get it out. And then it might end up being a song that the audience really wants to hear.
Yes! And sometimes you hit a line in the song and you just weren’t ready for it. I’m going through a lot. It’s a rough time right now, the record is not fake, it’s a real story and it’s happening right now. It’s really really hard. I’m fortunate that I’m with my band and the crew that we’re on the road with – they’re my friends. Close friends. They trust, and they allow me to vent. I went out with Adam (Landry) my guitar player, he’s also produced the record, walked around, got coffees, smoked cigarettes and talked. It was good. 

Being on tour with friends definitely helps.
Oh yes, and it’s funny how some people have this idea of a tour – it’s rarely ever accurate. It’s amazing. I’m here sitting with you, having a nice conversation, drinking a beer, we’re traveling on this nice bus, eating good food, have good company. It’s amazing. But there’s an emotional toll that this kind of work takes. Especially if you’re making this kind of music. If this was party music, it’d be a different thing. You know, I’ve got kids, I have responsibilities – it’s not as black and white as people think. I’m not complaining, there’s a lot harder work I could be doing. Do you know Mark Kozelek (Sun Kil Moon) he’s one of my favorite songwriters. He’s brutal, he keeps it real. He wrote this line recently: “Songwriting is painful, songwriting hurts” and then he lists all these people: ask Elliott Smith and named different songwriters that were so utterly depressed, that they took their own lives. For any kind of artistic expression, if you’re doing it right, there will be an emotional toll that it takes. You’re going into parts of yourself that you don’t have to but you’re choosing to and for many people that is a dark place. You’re facing stuff about yourself that you normally wouldn’t choose to face. 

You’ve been on the road with Joshua Radin a few times now.  You’ve been friends for a while. Have you met before Joshua started making music or after?
The first time we met was in LA at the Hotel Café. It was one of the first shows I played. I met Josh that night. His girlfriend at the time (Schuyler Fisk) told him about me apparently and gave him a heads up “you’ll like this guy”. So anytime we were in town we’d go have drinks. You can have friendships like that when you’re on tour. You’re constantly going to the same places. It’s like “oh I’m going to New York, I’m gonna call this person and this person”. It’s fun!  

Fan Questions

Sila: What’s the most amazing venue you’ve ever played at? 
Oh that’s a really good question. I’ve played a lot of shitty ones but also a lot of beautiful ones. There’s been a couple of churches we’ve played. Playing in an old cathedral is so neat. From a sound standpoint, from a spiritual standpoint. It’s one of those things when, even if you’re not religious at all, you walk into a church and we all have that feeling that, if I swear in here, I’ll be struck by lightning. You all enter with this slow reverence. When you play music in that situation, it’s almost more powerful.

There was this one time, I don’t remember the name of this town, but it was in Italy and it was in this bizarre massive villa. There was this amphitheater outdoors, and there was this really big pond with beautiful clear water and fish in it and lights. It seemed very old. There were brick stone walkways all around it. There were candles and people just sat on the walkways. And there was a small waterfall behind where we played, so you could hear the water all the time. It looked like a Disney movie! That was special for everybody, just because of the atmosphere.

Sandra: What’s the best part of touring with Joshua Radin?
I think it’s just that we’re friends. Sometimes it’s fun to tour with someone you don’t know if you get along. But I think if you talk to other artists, most would say they prefer to tour with people that they know and like because we’re all on the same bus for a month. So if you’re on the road with someone you don’t get along with for whatever reason, it’s awful! It becomes like a “6 months”-month. I think it makes the shows better too. But yeah, I think the friendship is the best part.

Complete Sentences

The last thing I do before going to bed is… most of the time I’d say pray
I write my best songs when I’m… probably sad
Chocolate is… wonderful!
Raccoons make me feel… gross! They fucking eat garbage and shit. I don’t like small things. Small dogs or rodents, I get the shivers down my spine when I seem them. I don’t like possums either, they’re disgusting. 

So yeah, that was it! Thanks for taking the time!
Yeah sure, I liked it. I liked the sentence completion, that was rad. In the field of psychology, we call those projective tests. You’re taking a neutral stimulus and are asking the person to project their personality onto that neutral stimulus. It’s the same thing as the Rorschach Inkblot Test where you show random inkblots….

We kept talking a bit about this and other psychology things. Super interesting, but I’ll spare you the details 🙂

Make sure to go check out William Fitzsimmons! I’ve already liked his music before, but after this talk, I appreciate his art even more!

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And of course a big thank you to AllBlues Konzert AG for making this happen!