William Fitzsimmons is known for quiet melodies, introspective lyrics and engrossing emotional narratives. Celebrating the release of his latest album, Mission Bell, Fitzsimmons is touring the North America, with a scheduled stop at Union Stage on 3/27! Scoop your tickets now before its too late.
We caught up with the Pittsburgh-native singer-songwriter while he was on tour, discussing topics such as his songwriting process, DC memories and, of course, snacks.
By Kayley Nagle
UNION STAGE: Congrats on your new album Mission Bell. What was the writing process like? Where do you feel you write best? What is the best setting for a listener to take in your music, in your opinion?
WILLIAM FITZSIMMONS: There was nothing “fun” about writing this record, but it was very meaningful to me. It’s time and effort I can use not just to create things but also to process the choices I’ve made, the things that have happened to and around me, and the areas of my life that require healing and change. Writing is mostly a solitary thing for me; I think the less distractions the more you can access the internal stuff that makes for great art. It’s a difficult thing being a father and finding the time and space to do so! But often it’ll be late at night, after the kids are asleep, and I can sneak away and spend time in the studio and see what comes out.
It’s hard to answer if there’s a “best” milieu to listen to my records. I think how we consume music is a pretty individual and varied thing. That being said, I like to think that it’s the type of music that probably lives best when it’s heard in quiet spaces; when you’re able to let it be heard without too much else going on.
US: Do you have a favorite song to perform live off the album? How have the songs changed from the recordings to the live rendition?
WF: It’s still fresh enough that I actually enjoy playing a lot of them live. Some nights I feel the emotions of some songs more than others, which I think is only natural. For better or worse I’ve never really given too much energy to the idea of recreating the recordings when I perform live. I like to think that’s too completely different arenas and should be treated as such. Even if you succeed at aping the record perfectly on stage, have you really created a unique experience? I think it’s totally possible, but I think the main concern on stage should always be “am I present and giving all of my abilities?” and “and I creating a memorable experience for my audience?” Anything after those things is just icing on the cake.
US: I loved your music video for “Angela.” How did your lyrics inspire the vision for the video? What was the creative process like? Can we expect any more videos from the album?
WF: Thanks very much; I’m very proud with how the video turned out. Honestly, I learned many years ago that I’m just not gifted in visual arts so I decided very early on that I would find other people who were gifted in those areas to connect my music with visual elements. So I really don’t have much presence in that entire process, save for approving initial ideas and final edits, etc… As long as something is powerful and it carries some narrative of the specific song I think it’s worthwhile. I try not to worry too much about those elements that are outside of my control either.
US: I read that you are a Pittsburgh native. What type of music inspired you growing up? Did Pittsburgh have a certain music scene that ignited your passion for music?
WF: Pittsburgh was a longtime home for me and always will be in some way. Most of my family still lives in the area. When I was there the music scene really didn’t match the things that I was interested. It was pretty steeped into rock, which was very cool in some ways, but not in terms of what effected me creatively. Instead I spent most of my time digging through my mom’s folk records: John Denver, Joni Mitchell, James Taylor, etc… She is really the one that caused me to fall in love with folk music. It was in those quiet, sweet, old recordings that I started to want to do those same things.
US: It is a few minutes until showtime… what are your pre-show rituals? Any traditions or must-have snacks?
WF: I actually like to not even really make much of a distinction between “showtime” and not showtime. If I make a big deal of it or try to hype myself up I end up getting too much inside my own head. And if I’m there, I can’t really be into the songs the way I should be. Instead, I like to spend time with my band, have a couple beers, maybe read. I want to feel just as much myself when I’m on stage as when I’m off of it. That allows me to just play my songs and let the rest happen as it will.
US: We are excited to have you back in DC! Will you have time to enjoy the city? Do you have any fond memories of DC shows past?
WF: I make a point to try to explore whatever town/city I’m in, as much as is possible. I’m usually happy camping out in a coffee shop or a pub with a book! But it’s good for me to walk around and actually feel the differences of where I am from one day to the next. Otherwise I get a little too internal and start to turn into a hermit on the road. I’ve always enjoyed coming to the DC area. I’m too old to try and pick out specific memories of shows, but I do know there’s always been a warm reception that I’m grateful for.
US: What do you have planned for 2019?
WF: I usually try to take some time off from writing if I’m still touring a record, but for some reason I’m just very hungry to keep making things. I’ve been writing new songs for several weeks now and ideally I’d love to go back into the studio perhaps even some time later this year. Not sure if that’ll happen, but I’m rather certain I’ll have a new record ready to go in 2019. You never know when the songs are going to come so when they do you have to chase them.