I first heard William Fitzsimmons before I saw him. As I stepped down the stairs of the Duck Room, the basement venue of the must-see Blueberry Hill in St. Louis, I took notice of the heartbreakingly tender voice that filled the hushed room. That soft voice forced me to pause; it contained this indescribable, poignant quality that instantly captured my attention. So, before I moved further to find my post in the audience for the rest of the show, I went to Fitzsimmons’s merch stand to buy his then latest release, Goodnight. Thirty aurally pleasing seconds was all I needed.
After my purchase, I reached a point where the stage became visible, and I was able to get a good look at Fitzsimmons. Now, as a female, I’ve never been one for growing facial hair, but even I was highly impressed with his beard. Just then, he broke into a cover of Go West’s “King of Wishful Thinking,” (yes, the very song popularized in 1990’s Pretty Woman), complete with an audience sing-along. He defended himself from the overwhelmingly positive audience reaction with shy shoulder shrugs, as if taken aback that the crowd actually liked him, his sound, what he was doing up there all night. Perhaps I was overanalyzing merely a personal style decision, but I was surprised by how powerfully that beard, a symbol of preconceived manliness, contradicted Fitzsimmons’s vulnerable onstage posture and gentle voice.
It was the first of many such incongruities that I discovered surrounding William Fitzsimmons.
I delved deeply into Goodnight and found Fitzsimmons is fond of using a signature mix of acoustic elements and subtle electronica. As a huge fan of David Gray, particularly around the time of his White Ladder and New Day at Midnight releases, I was enthusiastic that another artist had the capacity to meld these two genres together so gracefully. When I asked Fitzsimmons about his personal sound, he explained, “There’s something about the paradox of these really raw and organically arranged songs and the sort of ‘coldness’ of the electronic parts. It just honestly felt like it fit with what I was trying to say. I think it connects with people because it’s kind of a microcosm of a lot of the things we come across everyday.”
His lyrics follow that same level of complexity, unveiling the usually swept-under-the-rug realities of everyday living. Fitzsimmons is brave; his stories are “completely autobiographical” and of weighty significance, detailing family break ups, failed relationships, personal sins, and death. “I still don’t know if it’s really wise or not, but I’ve made the choice for now to be as vulnerable in the writing as I can be. With the subject matters I’m generally dealing with, I think they deserve no less than that,” says Fitzsimmons.
His upcoming release (in stores September 30th) continues the series of contradictions. He describes this album as “a big leap forward” from his past offerings. “Probably the biggest departure on the new album has been making a more intentional attempt to reach out to others with the songs. Although this is easily the most personal project I’ve ever worked on, it’s also been the first time I genuinely tried to speak to those who might be going through the same things I have and am. I want people to have this album as a way to feel something they need to or to help them get through a difficult time. Or maybe just to escape for a little while.”
Dubbed The Sparrow and the Crow, the opposing metaphors in the title represent the established pattern that Fitzsimmons has deliberately or unknowingly followed throughout his music making. His willingness to pair the organic and the cold, the beauty of honesty with the ugliness of reality, and even that beard with the tender voice articulates a satisfyingly natural harmony that mimics the way the world really works.
Fitzsimmons’s unique balancing act is definitely worth a listen. And trust me, after thirty aurally pleasing seconds, that’s all you’ll need.
The Making of The Sparrow and the Crow:
He said it: “I remember the day I found out what "Fire and Rain" was about, and it just knocked me to the floor. To be able to communicate such pain and still make it sound so beautiful… It’s the kind of music my mother taught me to appreciate and to understand… If a song isn’t trying to reach me, or to move me in some meaningful way, it’s doubtful I’ll have any interest in listening to it. I’m not saying I want to sit in a corner and cry, listening to sad songs all day. But I do want to have a real experience with music. I think that’s what it’s meant to do.”