Interview: William Fitzsimmons and his Beautiful Raw Music.
by Daniel Haim
Born the youngest child of two blind parents, William Fitzsimmons was raised in the outskirts of the steel city of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Reared more on sound than sight, Fitzsimmons was immersed in a musically saturated home teeming with a myriad of instruments, classical and folk records, talking parrots, and a pipe organ his father constructed with his own hands.
His songs began showing up on various television soundtracks, including Grey’s Anatomy, General Hospital, Life of Ryan, and Army Wives. A second self-produced and engineered album, Goodnight, appeared in 2006.
By now his sound was set, a gentle mixture of folk-rock and electronica applied to carefully written and often autobiographical songs that, at their best, delivered a quiet emotional power. His first official studio album, The Sparrow and the Crow, was released in 2008 which is the album we will discuss in this interview.
Daniel: How has your music career progressed between the first album – to the second album and now with the upcoming album The Sparrow And The Crow?
William: “Most broadly I think it really wasn’t until this point that I really had a ‘career’ in music, in the sense that when I made the first two records at home I was still involved in other pursuits. The music was important, and there were many positive things that I was fortunate enough to have happen. But it wasn’t my sole occupation or pursuit. The new record somewhat marks my acceptance of, or commitment to, the idea of actually being a full-time writer and performer.”
Daniel: What is the story behind “The Sparrow And The Crow? Are there any themes going on? Who’s the Sparrow?
William: “As with the first two records, it’s really completely themed. I don’t enjoy, nor am I certain I have the ability to, write without some sort of motif or theme to give a broader meaning to a project. It’s not something I like to ever really force either, and as I have a rather obsessive brain, I usually don’t have a shortage of compulsive thoughts, images, stories, and melodies bouncing around up there which want to come out.
The story of the sparrow and the crow is actually about my own divorce, and the process of coming to terms with it. It’s not an area of my life I’m proud of, and I’m also not entirely sure if it’s really cathartic or perhaps unwise to share that much personal matter with others. But until the day I don’t find myself with the desire, need, or drive to communicate through song, I’ll continue writing what I think is most important and relevant for me to write about. As far as the specific imagery in the words and songs, I’ll let people come to their own conclusions. I don’t want to insist on meanings that will likely come just as much from the listener as from myself.”
Daniel: Who is the female vocalist? What could you tell us about working with her? How did you get to make music together?
William: “Well there’s actually a couple wonderful female singers that sing on the record. The first one, Priscilla Ahn is a friend of mine, and brilliant artist, who I’d been wanting to record with for a couple years and we hadn’t yet gotten the chance to. I had the privilege of singing with her at a couple shows before, but never on tape. When the album started to materialize I thought she would be perfect for several of the songs, and she was kind enough to grace the music with her voice. She has a very ethereal, almost haunting, voice, which adds so much depth to the lyrics. The other singer, Caitlin Crosby, is another friend and artist who I had the pleasure of getting on the record as well. Like Priscilla, she’s just a truly rare talent, and the songs wouldn’t be the same without her. The female presence was vital to the project as I think it properly sets the tone for the obviously central relationship theme that runs throughout the songs.”
Daniel: What kind of change you think your fans will see in the upcoming album ‘The Sparrow And The Crow’ ?
William: “I’ve always liked the idea that a song is at its best whenever both the artist and the listener are able to have a fully engaged and evocative experience with a melody and lyric. And while I think I accomplished this to a good degree with the last two records, with the new one I actually set out with a mindset more focused towards reaching out and seeing if I could invest more in helping others connect, and maybe less in just saying whatever I wanted to say for myself alone. So even though this is definitely by far my most personal collection of songs, I didn’t want to have it be only something that would mean something to me. Truth be told I suppose I wanted to know that others maybe felt and went through the same kind of difficulties that I did.
From a sonic standpoint, I think this record stands head and shoulders above anything I’ve done prior. This was my first experience making music in a proper studio, and I think the difference in sound is pretty big to say the least. I love recording at home, but I thought these songs needed to be heard in the best way possible, and that meant humbly enlisting the mastery of others, and doing it in a real studio environment. Musically speaking, I think this are easily the best songs I’ve ever done.”
Daniel: What do you feel about the music industry, and the way it’s been changing?
William: “I suppose to be honest I really haven’t been involved in this occupation long enough to give a meaningful opinion on the matter, or at least not one that would mean much. Haha. From my brief tenure in music, I’ve learned enough to know that this isn’t a pursuit that you should ever take for granted. Success comes and goes more quickly than you can even keep up with, so I learned to not hold onto any of it too tightly. I really am terribly fortunate to have this as my job, and I take that fact with a huge measure of gratitude. And for the time I am lucky enough to spend my days this way, I will enjoy it and be responsible enough to make music that I believe in. As far as the state of affairs with the industry as a whole, I keep a basic awareness of it. But really what matters most to me is that I’m making songs that will hopefully matter to people. If I’m not doing that none of it really matters anyway.”
Daniel: In your own words, could you please describe for our readers your new album “The Sparrow And The Crow”
William: “Oh, nothing better than an artist self-describing their own music. :) I’ll attempt to be as neutral as possible. I’m definitely more comfortable with having others form their own descriptions! I’d say the record is a true story of betrayal and relational dissolution, put to music that isn’t as sad as you might think it’d be. Yeah, that’ll do for now.”
Daniel: What inspires you to write? Who are your greatest influences?
William: “Inspiration for me is really always about relationships. I just don’t think there’s another sphere or area in our lives that causes as many thoughts, emotions, or behaviors as that. I certainly applaud people that are able to write about other matters; certainly it’d be pointless and rather boring if we all wrote about the same things. But family, love, heartbreak, etc… those are the things that make sense to me when I have something I want to talk about. And those are the things that come out of my mouth when I sit down to sing.”
As far as people or artistic influences, I think I wanted this to be a more melodic record, and so I actually kept people like Brian Wilson and Jon Brion in mind throughout the process. The fact that we recorded it all only blocks away from where some of those classic melody records were made I think added to that. Other than that, though, I didn’t want to go after a certain sound. Instead I just tried to let the songs be fleshed out how they most felt right.”
Daniel: Did you write this album for someone?
William: “Yes. And that’s all I’ll say on that matter for now.”