Posted On 13 Feb 2015
Tag: 5 Seconds Of Summer, All Access, All Access Music, All Access Music Group, AllAboutJazz.com, Artist Interview, Billboard, CHICAGO, Elliott Smith, Exclusive, Goodnight, Grey's Anatomy, Illinois, Ingrid Michaelson, Iron & Wine, iTunes, Passion Play, Paste Magazine, Pitchfork, Please Don't Go, The Sparrow And The Crow, Until When We Are Ghosts, William Fitzsimmons
William Fitzsimmons is an American singer-songwriter, based in Illinois. He is perhaps best known for his songs “Passion Play” and “Please Don’t Go”, which aired during pivotal scenes in the TV medical drama Grey’s Anatomy.
William draws from those early folks styling’s of his mother’s music, and the embellished instrumentation of his father’s. He is often compared to contemporaries Sufjan Stevens, Iron & Wine, and the late Elliott Smith, not only for his unique style and skill in writing and proclivity to deal with substantive and evocative subject matter, but also for his use of organic and colorful melodies and arrangements.
His first two records were completely self-produced, Until When We Are Ghosts and Goodnight. Fitzsimmons’ friend Ingrid Michaelson joined him with vocals on Goodnight. The Sparrow And The Crow, was his first studio recorded work, released in September 2008. The album debuted extremely well at #56 on the iTunes Top Albums Chart, and #1 on the iTunes Folk Chart.
With his expanding tenure as a songwriter, William has received mentions in noted publications such as Billboard, Paste Magazine, Pitchfork, Performing Songwriter Magazine, AllAboutJazz.com, among others. Fitzsimmons’ music has been featured on several television programs such as Grey’s Anatomy and Army Wives.
The enigmatic singer-songwriter took some time out to answer a few questions for All Access Music writer, Nicole DeRosa. Read more in their Q&A below.
Hi Will! Where does this interview find you today? What’s on the agenda today besides our interview?
Hey! Great to talk with you. I’m actually right in the middle of mixing a new record. There’s been a project I’ve been wanting to do for several years but the timing’s never been right.
I had a little time and just finished setting up a home studio I’ve been working on for a long time, so it felt like the right time. That, and changing diapers and bedtime stories; I’ve got two daughters as well.
For those not as familiar with you and your music, how did you get your start in music? I understand music came only after completing a Master’s Degree in counseling at Geneva College, and working as a mental health therapist. Who or what was the catalyst for you to pursue music as a “career”?
I, like perhaps many of my peers, come from a very musical home and family. But for that reason, it was never a “job” goal, it was just something that I cared about and wanted to devote a lot of time to.
During my first years as a therapist, my own life sort of went to hell; went through a divorce, lost my home, etc… Oddly enough at the same time a friend asked if I wanted to come out with him and play some shows for a couple weeks on the west coast. Honestly at that point I had nothing to lose and I needed to get away from everything. Working as a musician helped bring me back from the brink and I never really looked back after that.
You released your latest album, Lions in February this past year. What did you learn between albums that you wanted to infuse into Lions?
The longer I write songs, make records, tour, and so forth the more I realize how little of the result is in my control. The process is, but what happens after that is anyone’s guess. I always have this nagging voice in my head that I need to make things that are bigger and louder or something.
To try to compete with everything else that everyone is doing. But before Lions I just spent my time with my family. I put the guitars away, no shows, no touring, etc… I let all those voices die down and didn’t write until the motivation came about naturally.
This is a brutally difficult, albeit amazing, profession I’m terribly lucky to get to be involved in. But you can’t grab it and steer it. Most of the time you have to just trust that if people are meant to connect with what you’re doing, they will.
I know songs are a bit like kids, it’s hard to pick a favorite, but what is your most favorite song to perform live and why?
Haha! I used to feel the same way until I had kids of my own. Songs aren’t like kids at all. Kids are like kids. Songs are incredibly special, don’t get me wrong. But they sure as hell aren’t like kids. Before the last record I would have said “I don’t feel it anymore.” That one always seemed to hit me the hardest when I played it.
“Lions” has become a recent favorite to play live lately, though. I think the groove must be locked into my own physiology or something. No matter what I just get completely lost in that one every time.
You are known for mixing folk music with electronica in some of your music. Who are your musical influences?
I like and am influenced by mostly the same kind of music my mother brought me up on. James Taylor, Joni Mitchell, Nick Drake, John Denver, CSNY.
The electronica stuff really came about because I didn’t have anybody to play with but I was writing songs that I felt needed a band element to them. Some of the early Frou, Frou/Imogen Heap stuff showed me that you could use drum machines and electric guitars, and still make very personal, intimate music. But the heart of what I’m trying to do is found in folk music.
Do you remember the name of the first album you purchased for yourself?
It was an audio tape of “Bad” by Michael Jackson. I loved that record. But my grandmother found it after like 2 days and threw it in the trash. Anything remotely rock ‘n roll was considered evil in my home. But that was a fun couple days with that record.
Do you remember what the first song you fell in love with was? Why?
“Annie’s Song” by John Denver. My mom would play his live album on vinyl really loud and sing along with it. Such a beautiful song and my mother sang beautiful harmonies along with it. Still one of my favorite songs.
You have toured with fellow artists, Ingrid Michaelson, Brooke Fraser and Cary Brothers among many others. What has been your most memorable show on tour so far?
I’ve been like an old man on tour ever since I began doing this years ago. I don’t really covet wild things anymore. The things I look forward to are the quiet, middle-of-nowhere kind of things.
Driving over the rocky mountains, overnight, with the band just to make it to the next city in time for our next show. Sitting in the parking lot of a hotel drinking Jameson and smoking cigarettes hours after the performance. That’s the stuff that actually feels good to remember.
Who is in your current playlist? Any artists, musicians or genres we might be surprised to find in there?
I’ve been in a good writing phase lately and I tend to try to avoid listening to much music when that happens. I’ve been going through the Hobbit and Narnia books with my kids, so that sort of takes the place of listening to records.
I found a long time ago that if I spent too much time with other songs while I was trying to write my own, the distraction and influence was overwhelming. You either end up starting to accidentally pull things from others or realizing that trying to write anything when the Beatles already exist is kind of pointless.
What’s on tap next for you, Will? What are you most excited about in 2015?
I love the challenge and responsibility of trying to effect people with the things I write. If I think about how impossible that really should be, it gets incredibly frightening. And trying to do that in person, at shows, all the more. But the longer I do this the more I treasure getting to do that and see the absolutely rarity and specialness in it. Even just getting to do that for another year is exciting enough.
To learn more about WILLIAM FITZSIMMONS visit his website HERE .