I caught up with William Fitzsimmons two shows into his Mission Bell North American Tour. His Sept. 21, 2018 release of Mission Bell has been widely recognized as a dynamic addition to his already large catalog, and his performance on Jan. 15 at The Cedar Cultural Center will be our first chance to catch these songs. Fitzsimmons has an interesting upbringing and history of folk fame that’s well documented in a previous article with Music In Minnesota. I highly suggest reading it to better understand his perspective and progression as a musician.
How’s the tour been out so far?
It’s been good. It’s just a couple of shows down at this point, so we got a ways to go. We have a small group at the moment, but I like everyone that I’m with and they like me, so that kinda works out well.
Is it harder to get into the tour lifestyle or tougher to walk away from it?
Definitely the latter. Ever since having kids, I dream about having to get away from parenting duties pretty regularly. [laughing] No, honestly I’m old enough now where I just accept the first week is going to be a little bit hairy. You’re figuring out the gear, figuring out the new songs, it’s funny. Little things change, it’s always different. When you go home and have to readjust to not getting up and physically getting into a vehicle to drive for hours, doing the whole rigmarole, it actually is hard. The body gets used to the movement of it.
With New Years just taking place, often times we make resolutions that are geared towards resolving past conflicts or unfinished promises we made to ourselves. Do you get into resolutions, and if so, have you made any resolutions in 2019?
This sounds very curmudgeonly, and I’m not a scrooge when it comes to most holidays, but New Years I find just a little bit silly. Just because it’s not very pragmatic. It’s like you ate a whole bunch of sweets over the holidays and you want to lost 10 pounds, then you waste money on a gym membership, and that whole trope. I like the idea of daily spiritual growth, at least the goal that you’re spending time reading, prayer, meditation, service to others. I’m not saying that I’m great at it. I like using a daily cycle instead of a yearly cycle, if that makes sense.
I’ve been spending a lot of time with Adam Landry, who is in the band and produced the Mission Bell album. We’ve gotten really close over the past year-and-a-half. He’s a very emotionally and spiritually mature person, and I guess I’ve been trying to learn from him, almost a mentor/mentee relationship. We’re roughing the same age, but he’s been engaging the parts of life that I feel like I need to grow in. He’s been doing that for a long time. To me the music I make ends up being an outgrowth of where my own personal development and maturity are. My early songs were all kind of – I’m not saying they were bad, a lot of them were whiny, adolescent, ‘my dad wasn’t nice’ to me kind of songs. I think the last record has more complexity to it than that. It’s acknowledging both sides of the story, it’s not finger pointing. I just wanted to get to a place of forgiveness and peace.
As fans, we connect to your music to help us get through our own problems and our own relationship downfalls. When you go through those issues do you use songwriting as your therapy, or do you find other music? Does a therapist go to therapist?
[laughing] I go right to a therapist, my friend. Music is wonderfully helpful to me. Aimee Mann’s last record (Mental Health) was big for me when I was going through the aftermath of everything that happened to my current relationship. I tend to turn to those things. I don’t find writing to be all that therapeutic in that kind of in the moment of crisis. At that point I go to prayer, I go to literature. At some point when I’m coming out of it, it’s helpful to start to write. As far as being a fan of music and being infected with that, if there was a way to destroy an iPhone by listening to a song over and over again, I would have done that already.
Mission Bell is the first album that you leaned heavily on analog tape. Working with Adam Landry, what challenges did you have working mainly in that medium?
It would have been terrifying as it was before. We tried a little bit when I made “Lions” with Chris Walla. He’s a wonderful guy, wonderful producer, used to be in Death Cab For Cutie. He’s more a tape guy for sure. The first day we got into it and by the end of the day I had to tell him the truth. It’s too scary, there’s too much pressure, to literally have to go through a take and for the most part, do it perfectly. The emotional place where I was in when heading to Nashville (to record Mission Bell) was different. I was still very much involved in figuring out if my marriage was even going to be fixed. So I gave him carte blanche because I didn’t have the energy to fight it. It was hard and definitely scary, but whatever magic is on the album came from Adam and from the process of doing it like that. We’d literally setup a microphone, hit record, and take two acoustic guitars out into the room together and play in time. It ain’t perfect, but there’s this neat thing where you don’t want to be the guy that messes up and then have to stop, apologize, and start the tape all over again. Those cool limitations that you have to make forces you to be more creative.
That process certainly pays off sonically in the final vinyl release of Mission Bell. The presence and warmth of the music is apparent.
You really can hear it. Listen, by the time it gets to an MP3 or it’s streaming on YouTube, at that point it’s a bit of a toss up. If you’re talking about listening to it on vinyl through decent speakers, there’s nothing like it. I finished a version of this record before everything went to pot and I essentially threw it away. It wasn’t bad, but it had zero spirit, no life. It was completely a digital record. There was griding the drums, putting everything in perfect timing. It should have been awesome but upon listening to it, you felt nothing. What good does that do for the kind of music that I’m making? I don’t have a big light show. [laughs] If you don’t feel something, game over.
You have a large catalog of music at your disposal for live shows. Are there any songs that you won’t play, due to them being too difficult to perform? Is there anything too touchy to touch?
Well, my dad came to the Pittsburgh show, so I didn’t play the ones that were about him. [laughing] If somebody wants to hear it, I’m open to playing it. I consider myself an artist, but I also think I’m an entertainer. I can’t look somebody in the face that paid $25 to watch me and say no. If I remember how to play the song, and I remember at least some of the words, then I’m going to try to do it. That’s the right thing to do. You show your fans respect that they are literally and figuratively putting food into your kid’s mouth.
You released a four-song Christmas album this past season. Tell me where that came from?
It was an important holiday to my family growing up, and still is. Christmas was quite literally sitting around a piano and singing carols. I’ve always had a pretty special place in my heart for Christmas music. I wanted to make something pretty that would be a little left of center from what other people were doing.
It fits nicely in my Christmas playlist of Amy Grant and Bing Crosby.
(My) favorite Christmas record ever is Amy Grant’s first one with “Tennessee Christmas” on it. I’m actually a pretty big Amy Grant fan. I don’t know if that’s connecting you to me being raised in a Christian household, but she holds a special place in my heart.
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Happy happy happy to announce that we will be starting the new year with a run of shows supporting @williamfitzsimmonsofficial. We've been fans of William for a long time now and we truly can't wait to hit the highway, cruise thru toll plazas, sleep in weird rooms and play music throughout the midwest and beyond this January. Ticket links are in our biography. See ya out there! 1/6 Pittsburgh, PA @ Club Cafe 1/8 Lakewood, OH @ The Winchester Music Tavern 1/9 Ann Arbor, MI @ The Ark 1/11 Indianapolis, IN @ The Hi-Fi 1/12 Chicago, IL @ Old Town School of Folk Music 1/13 Milwaukee, WI @ The Back Room at Collective 1/15 Minneapolis, MN @ Cedar Cultural Center 1/17 Denver @ The Soiled Dove Underground 1/18 Fort Collins, CO @ Magic Rat Live Music – The Elizabeth Hotel Photo by @annaazarov
Jim and Sam are opening for your show here in Minneapolis. What has been the experience so far with having them on tour?
They are phenomenal. As human beings they are just incredibly kind and funny and social. They legitimately blew me away on stage. It’s that chemistry thing that happens when siblings have played together for a long time, or somebody like Carol King and James Taylor where they were just meant to play together. I was blown away, and as an old timer doing this, that doesn’t happen very often anymore. I’d definitely recommend getting there early to see them.
Tickets are still available online for his show on January 15th. Click here and get there early!