William Fitzsimmons will perform at Salon IKSV, on Thursday, 7th of April. We talked to him about his music, Pittsburgh, Istanbul and his glorious beard.
Would you say that studying at a Christian University influenced your lyrics?
I think studying at a religious institution of any kind had a pretty big effect on me. In most ways I think it was a really good thing and I’m sure it’s played a role in the lyrics I write. I like to think that studying psychology specifically played the biggest role in the exact things I feel compelled to write about, though, I think if I went back and played some of my music at those colleges they would probably be pretty offended by some of the songs.
Pittsburgh, a city famous for it’s steel industry, must have quite a strong and fierce sound for music. However your music touches the soul. Do you believe this is irony?
Well I think it explains one of the reasons why my music wasn’t really well known there until after people starting listening to it in other places. Pittsburgh has a very “tough” reputation, one that is definitely deserved. I love that quality in a city and in people, but it’s that kind of old school toughness that sometimes confuses emotionality or feelings of any kind as weakness. I was raised, and came to think, that one’s ability to withstand and deal with emotional turmoil is a great kind of strength. I’m glad and extremely proud I came from there, though, as I think both kinds of strength are incredible assets.
In 2009 you covered Kanye West’s Heartless. You showed that a song can be blended into a very different vibe. How is covering a song harder than creating it?
I think the real challenge in doing a cover song is to find that sneaky balance where you’re not imitating the song but neither are you destroying what was great about it in the first place. I wouldn’t say that covering a song is at all harder than creating it, but it’s very hard to do so and have people really think you contributed something. There’s about a million Beatles covers and I can think of maybe 3 or 4 that I’m glad were recorded.
Some compare you to Iron & Wine, Sufjan Stevens. Do you like to be compared to other artists or would you prefer to be listened to individually?
It’s a definite double-edged sword! I’m honored to be listed alongside women and men that I admire and respect and love. But comparisons are our way of simplifying a life and world that is incredibly complex and varied. The problem comes when we use the comparisons for more than just introductions to a subject and apply a great deal of meaning to them. Oftentimes they just reflect a bit of laziness. Like Sam Beam and I both have beards, but what we write about and our presentation of material is incredibly different oftentimes.
Everyone has the perfect moment in the day to listen to you, but when would you suggest us to listen to your work?
Haha, well probably not when you’re tired and have to drive late at night. I like to think my music probably works best when you give it a little time and space to sink in. It’s pretty soft and unobtrusive so it’s easily dismissed when there’s distraction. I like making songs that require more than just volume to connect with a listener. You have to get to know them a little bit.
Your sound is very soft and calming. Istanbul is very busy and fast. Do you think you two will like each other?
I like to think that oftentimes the busiest and most hectic places are the ones that need peacefulness and calm more than anywhere else. I think we’ll get along wonderfully.
I believe that every artist has a special connection with one of their songs. Which song do you have an extra connection with?
Probably the one that I always come back to is “I Don’t Feel It Anymore” from the Sparrow and the Crow record. That marked a very transitional time in my life and that song is a sort of connection to it that I can always hold on to. It’s doubly powerful because I’ve had a lot of people tell me that song, and that record in particular, helped them through difficult periods in their lives as well.
Should William Fitzsimmons be the soundtrack of a honeymoon or a birth?
One of the coolest things about any kind of art is that people get to experience and incorporate it any way that they see fit. It’s well beyond me to decide how somebody should bring my songs into their lives. I know of people who keep it only in the sadder, darker parts of their lives and I know of others who use it to lull their babies to sleep! Music makes me FEEL, and that’s what I love about it. Doesn’t matter what kind of feeling it is necessarily. I think there’s probably a lot of people out there who feel the same.
Let’s assume we had a bet and you lost thus you have to shave your beard off. Would we see a tear around your eyes?
Not in the least! It’s about as important to me as my favorite pair of jeans. I really like my favorite jeans! They’re comfortable, they’re what I know, and they’ve been with me for quite a while. But if something happened to them, I would probably just get another pair and not think too much of it. I shave it off occasionally just to remember what my face actually looks like.
Could you tell us your wildest adventure?
I was never really one for “wildness.” In fact, I tend to try to avoid most things that upset the normal routine of the day. Easily the wildest thing I’ve ever done was adopting two baby girls. My life is 100 times crazier with them than it ever was just being a touring musician. I love the quiet parts of life.
One Word Questions:
Calm – Perfect
Beard – Me
Banjo – WONDERFUL
Angus & Julia Stone – Great