William Fitzsimmons: Folk musician speaks on new album, songwriting process and ongoing tour
March 27, 2019
After overcoming a turbulent year in his personal life, seasoned folk musician William Fitzsimmons turned harrowing experiences into soft, expressive songs on his latest album “Mission Bell,” released in 2018. The singer-songwriter is currently on tour supporting the heartfelt record detailing his second divorce, and made a stop in Boston at City Winery for a concert last Saturday night.
The 10 songs on “Mission Bell” reflect on Fitzsimmons’ separation from his wife after a decade of marriage. The first version of the album was originally recorded in 2017, but when it came to Fitzsimmons’ attention that his wife and former music partner were having a relationship, he decided to abandon the project and restart it from scratch the following year.
“It was the thought of allowing those versions of those songs, I knew they would always be just awful for me to just listen to or to play,” said Fitzsimmons in an interview with The Suffolk Journal. “It’s like when you just have a bad memory attached to a location or something, you just know you can never go there again.”
Fitzsimmons does not describe the process of writing and recording “Mission Bell” as “fun” because of the upsetting memories associated with his songs. However, making the honest album was therapeutic because the musician was able to write his way through experiences, similar to the effect of keeping a journal.
“I wouldn’t trade my job for anything but it can be painful,” said Fitzsimmons in an interview with The Journal. “There are moments when I’m writing and when I’m recording and even playing the songs live that it gets pretty heavy, and there’s a cost to writing songs like this.”
Although this album bloomed out of distressing events, it also led Fitzsimmons to form long lasting friendships, such as his strong bond with Adam Landry, the producer of “Mission Bell” and his accompaniment during live performances. Their chemistry on stage is clear as they crack jokes throughout the night about Fitzsimmons’ habit of marrying too quickly, remarking to the audience that “it’s likely ex-wives five through nine are in this room right now.”
Fitzsimmons emphasized that they don’t want to make light of a hurtful situation or offend anyone, but he also explained that laughing at painful situations can help you get through them and despite the circumstances, he’s doing okay.
Over the years, Fitzsimmons’ music has followed a distinct acoustic style. For example, the singer explained that he used to make sure all of his songs began with an acoustic guitar introduction. However, for “Mission Bell” Fitzsimmons went with the flow and decided to let the songs do what they wanted while still keeping his individual sound.
“I think in the end I wanted to make a record that still felt like it was my thing, that it was still a William Fitzsimmons thing, but stretched,” he said. “I think in the ways that we succeeded in stretching it was not being afraid to do different kinds of arrangements, tempos and instrumentation.”
The musician’s discography, which dates back to 2005, has built a reputation of being forlorn. However, although his latest album includes its share of sad songs, not every tune has a melancholy theme.
“It still feels like its my voice but I think it’s packaged differently and I think it expresses more than just sadness, which is what a lot of the other records are,” he said.
Although Fitzsimmons plans to slow down on touring to spend more time with his children, he wants to release another album as soon as he has enough quality songs. He has been writing like crazy while on the road and played a brand new track called “Ready the Astronaut” at his Boston concert.
Fitzsimmons explained that from the moment he steps on stage, the goal is simply to create an opportunity for listeners to have an emotional experience, whatever that may be.
“Somebody might come [to the show] and it might be a fun thing. Someone might come and they’re on a date or they’re hanging out with friends. Someone else might come by themself and they need to sit there and cry for an hour. The only thing I hope is that we’re able to create an atmosphere where someone can feel whatever they need to feel,” said Fitzsimmons.
One of the highlights of being on tour for Fitzsimmons are the small moments of connection he forms with other people, whether it happens on stage in front of a large crowd or at a remote gas station in the middle on nowhere. He cherishes the instances when he notices listeners being moved by his songs, because to the singer, the point of music is to feel.
“This is not Beethoven, it’s not Bach, I’m not reinventing the musical wheel,” Fitzsimmons said. “This music to me is about expressing emotion and it’s about giving people the opportunity to experience emotion. And if I’m not doing that, then I’m not doing my job.”