There aren’t many guys out there who will fully commit to growing a full-on beard, most of us get to about an inch in length and think it looks too much then go to town on it with a number three guard shaver. This can not be said for William Fitzsimmons. The man has a more awesome Beard than King Beard of Beardland, if you imagine what Don King would look like if he was white and upside down you would be somewhere near! Upside-down-boxing-promoter comparisons aside, he also has quite a knack for writing the most emotionally fertile lyrics you will ever have the pleasure of hearing. 2010 saw the release of his last album Derivatives, which was a re-visit to some of his previous works with an electronic twist to give the songs a new unfound depth. Now in 2011 we are on the cusp of his latest musical release in the form of Gold in the Shadows which brings pastures new for the Pennsylvanian songsmith, not within his writing style but within the focus of his attentions. In his last few albums his attention was focused towards his problematic past, the pain of a break-up and his unconventional up bringing with blind parents, this time around he is focused on how to fix his problems. Being a full time therapist before his fame in the musical world has made this task quite easy indeed. We caught up with Mr.Fitzsimmons on the UK leg of his tour to ask about one of the biggest beards in music.
BR. Well the first thing I would like to say is what a very resplendent Beard you have, how long has it taken you to nurture such a fine facial ornament?
WF. Thanks very much. Honestly I'm not perfectly sure time-wise, as I'll have to trim it back every now and again so as not to scare children too much walking down the street. But I'd say it's probably right around a year at this point.
BR.When you come through an airport have you ever been pulled to one side in order to search your beard for foreign objects like guns, wildlife or the kitchen sink maybe?
WF. Ah you know in fact I have several times, although I've been assured on every occasion it is a purely "random" occurrence that the guy with the crazy beard is standing there nearly nude with a metal detector running every inch of my body. Interestingly enough it seems to happen at Heathrow more than anywhere else I've been.
BR.In recent years, genre categorisation has reached new levels of craziness. So I always like to ask, how would you best describe your sound to someone who has never heard your music before?
WF. Yeah, genre in music seems to have gotten to a near critical mass in terms of inclusiveness (or exclusiveness, depending on how you look at it). From my perspective, what I'm doing is folk music, although in a pure sense, I doubt many people would imagine drum machines and electric guitars slipping into folk records too much. The soul of the music is confessional and confrontational, however, and instrumentation notwithstanding, that is the grist of folk music in any form.
BR.You always pour your heart and soul into your songwriting, do you find it hard to listen back to some of the music you have created in the past because of the memories that it harbours?
WF. The sincerely difficult part about writing in the manner and subject that I usually choose is continuous performance; night after night having to put myself into the psychological space of what the songs are really about. If I was one of those performers who can just turn it on and off when they enter and exit the stage it likely wouldn't be a big deal. But I believe that music of this nature should never be presented without total mindfulness for what is being communicated. So yeah, there are nights where it gets pretty heavy and some of those ghosts visit for longer than I wish they would.
BR. Could you give any advice to the budding bearded singer/songwriters of the world on how to create such personal and emotive songs?
WF. In my mind, great song-writing is a matter of forthright honesty and efficacy in communication. Of course those two things are easier said than done, and only rarely ever perfectly achieved. But the best advice I could ever give another writer is to constantly be willing to go further and deeper into the headspace that most people are terribly uncomfortable even admitting they possess. Those journeys into understanding our own darkness and ugliness are where most of the good song-writing stuff is.
BR.I have always thought that psychologists must see the rest of humanity differently to everyone else; does your background in psychology influence your approach to song writing at all?
WF. It's precisely my love for the field of psychology in general, and mental health counselling specifically, that made me develop an interest and passion for song-writing. Because the practices of empathy, unconditional regard, and acceptance are of utter importance in both endeavours, in many ways the work I was doing with mentally ill persons is very similar to how I approach the matter of understanding myself and others in writing. In that sense, were it not for psychology, I don't think I ever would have felt compelled to write at all.
BR.Do you think you might ever make a return to your therapist past? You could open a retreat for the casualties of the music industry!
WF. Ah yes we in this field could all use some good counsel in these harrowing times! The truth is that I do miss the practice of therapy, most specifically the process of working with someone so intimately and intensely and being able to watch progress firsthand over the course of a long period of time. Seeing actual change is a powerful thing. But I'm really not one to believe in coincidences, and I think that if and when I'm meant to return to the mental health arena, there'll be clear indicators along the way.
BR.Your tour seems pretty extensive this time around; do you have a particular favourite place in the world to visit whilst you're on your travels, or is there a particular place you would like to visit but haven't yet had the chance?
WF. You know I really can't stand when an artist gives a political answer to a specific question like that, but I have to say I'm honestly pleased to get to travel anywhere outside my little country town. When you grow up with no vehicle in the family, and no travelling or transport whatsoever, the thought of even seeing another country seems almost unheard of. So for me all of the travel is very rewarding, whether it's very near or far. If I had to pick one place which I'm greatly looking forward to seeing for the first time, I'd probably say Australia, just going by what I've been told.
BR.What was your reaction when you found out your music was being used on some very popular TV shows and how did it come about?
WF. At the beginning it was a pretty surreal experience, most especially because those things started to come about before I had even taken up music full-time, and was still a working therapist. I think I figured at the start that maybe it was just a very lucky one-time thing, but over time it continued and more and more people seemed to be connecting with the songs. I've always been very grateful for it, because it's been an important way that many people have discovered my records that might otherwise have not.
BR.There are several remixes of your songs around which totally change their feel, my favourite is the NumberNin6 remix of 'I don't feel it anymore.' Does this bother you or are you quite open to other people's interpretations of your songs?
WF. Ah you know I take the perspective that once you finish a song, you have to be willing to let it go and have it's meaning fully constructed by those who will hear it. The substantive qualities of any piece of music or lyrics are only partially determined by the author, if you look at the whole scope of how music is consumed and digested. Therefore I don't really have a problem with people understanding the songs in whatever way they need to. I'm sure that my own comprehension of many songs is rather different from what the original writer might have intended. It's what makes song writing such a powerful thing; to be able to connect with someone, even in the presence of divergence.
BR.What artists/bands are you listening to at the moment; do you have any top tips for 2011?
WF. I'm always a bit behind the curve on whatever band is the zeitgeist of the moment, so I'm probably not terribly good at predicting anything someone hasn't already heard of. My latest purchase was "High Violet" by the National, which I think is absolutely brilliant. I haven't stopped listening to it for days. I suppose the next record which I'm most looking forward to is whatever Bon Iver is working on at the moment.
BR. If the world was to end tomorrow and you could tell our readers to go out and do one final thing, what would it be?
WF. It might sound rather soft, but I like to think that one of the best things we can do on any given day, whether it be the last day or otherwise, would be to make well with those around us. There are too many damn things we leave unsaid or not mended. How much better off we'd be if we could make peace with all that. Well, either that or punching the face off that kid who used to slag you off in school.
Well said! So you better watch your back Danny Bryan because if it is ever announced that we face our apocalyptic demise I will be looking for you! William Fitzsimmons is one hell of a guy and surely knows what it takes to write some amazing songs. Next time you're watching some American TV drama and you hear a male vocalist spouting emotionally pregnant lyrics into your frontal lobe, chances are its probably this guy!
Posted: Sat 26 February 2011