Image Courtesy of William Fitzsimmons
This week US based singer-songwriter William Fitzsimmons will tour Australia for the very first time, with shows in Sydney, Melbourne and Perth. We managed to grab five minutes with Fitzsimmons ahead of the shows to chat about the new record Pittsburgh, his decision to head to Australia and what’s next.
Gareth Hugh Evans: Pittsburgh is a very personal, autobiographical album. How does it feel to put something out there that’s pulled so much from your life?
William Fitzsimmons: Honestly at this point it’s really all I know. I’ve been writing songs about my life, my family, my mental health problems, etc. for over 10 years, so at this point it’s become second nature. Not that it’s easy, it actually takes a pretty big emotional toll to spend so much time thinking about things that cause pain. But it’s never been difficult in terms of sharing it with other people. That part has always felt natural. These are the kinds of things that only get worse when you don’t let the steam escape every now and then.
GHE: I love the production on Pittsburgh – it just feels a little more “filled out” than Lions. What was behind the decision to self produce again for this album?
WF: Thanks a lot! You know that decision to me is a really funny one, because I never sit down and do a pros and cons list or anything. I probably don’t even think about it for more than a few moments, and I just sort of know what I’m going to do. I’m sure a large part of the choice comes down to what I’ve been doing more of recently. I loved making Lions with Chris Walla so much and I would love to work together again. But whenever I work with a producer for a while I really start to want to be behind the controls again. And vice verse when I’ve been holed up alone in my own studio. It’s the same with performing with a band versus solo. Both are wonderful in their own rights. But after a while of doing it one way you want to do something different.
GHE: We picked the title track of the album, “Pittsburgh”, as one of our top 25 songs of 2015. Can you tell us a little bit of the story behind this song, or if that’s too personal a little about what went into writing and producing this track?
WF: That means a lot, thanks sincerely. I’m very proud of that song and yes, it is a pretty personal one for me. I wrote that, and the whole record, after I lost my grandmother, Virginia, in late 2014. The song is about being separated from a person, or persons, or a place, or a time that meant a great deal to you. I left Pittsburgh years ago, following my divorce, because it was just too depressing to be there anymore. I loved my family and I still had some close friends there, but it was just destroying me to be there any longer. I suppose there’s a piece of guilt in the song about leaving. But it was the right thing to do.
GHE: This is your first tour to Australia despite Pittsburgh being your sixth or seventh album. What’s prompted you to visit your Australian fans for this album cycle?
WF: Haha, I’ve been trying to get down there for years! I still have no idea why it happened, but Australians were, believe it or not, some of the first to start writing me on Myspace asking for CDs, talking about the songs, etc. At the time I was still working as a therapist, so even though I would have loved to, I didn’t think there was much chance I’d ever get there. The last several years, however, as we’ve been traveling further and further away from home, I knew we could find a way to make it work. I’ve been waiting for this for a long time, trust me.
GHE: Are we likely to here tracks from across your catalogue or will you mainly be focusing on Pittsburgh?
WF: For the first visit there, I think it’s a lot of fun to try to hit all the records. Of course for me personally, the newer songs tend to be closer to where I’m at emotionally. But there’s this cool thing that happens when you revisit a song you haven’t played in several years. You start to hear it in a different way, almost like it’s not even your song. I have this personal rule that I’ll only play songs which I have a strong emotional connection to at a given time. Old or new, doesn’t matter. If I can’t mean what I’m singing I won’t do it.
GHE: You’ll be performing solo while you’re here – does that affect how you go about choosing a set list compared to band shows?
WF: It does in the sense that with the band you’re always having to think about flow and arrangements, switching instruments, tunings, dynamics of the show, and so forth. It turns into a big puzzle and sometimes you make song choices based on pragmatic issues in addition to emotional ones. For the solo shows, basically I can do whatever I want to, whenever I want to. I can be totally open to throwing out the set list in the middle of the show and just playing what I’m feeling the crowd wants me to. It’s more loose and fun in that sense. It feels more spontaneous.
GHE: Finally, what’s next for William Fitzsimmons?
WF: Well I don’t think I’m supposed to tell anybody yet, but I just finished a new record. It’s the 2nd half of the Pittsburgh album, basically “Pittsburgh Part 2.” There’s another half of that story that I wanted to tell. I’ll be doing some limited touring for that record this year and probably some festivals in the summer. Past that just spending as much time with my daughters as I possibly can.
Pittsburgh from William Fitzsimmons is available now. His Australian tour dates are below:
Tuesday 9th February – Newtown Social Club, Sydney, NSW
Thursday 11th February – Northcote Social Club, Melbourne, VIC
Sunday 14th February – Chevron Festival Gardens, Perth, WA