Like many artists, William Fitzsimmons draws upon personal experience for his songs. That has been the case since William released his 2005 debut album, Until When We Are Ghosts. Since then, William has released a further five albums.Each album has proved a compelling insight into William Fitzsimmons’ life.
It seems no subject is off-limits for William Fitzsimmons.On his third album, The Sparrow And The Crow, which was released in 2008, William relived the pain and trauma of his divorce. William was so badly affected by his divorce, that he took a two year break from music.
Only after a two year sabbatical from music, was William ready to resume his career. A year later, in 2011, he was ready to release one of his most personal albums, Gold In The Shadow. It dealt with the demons that have tormented William; the mistakes he has made in life; and the mental illness that he has suffered from. Gold In The Shadow was akin to a stark confessional. However, it also was a sign that William was on the road to recovery.
Since then, William’s career has continued apace. He released his sixth album Lions in 2013. Since then, William has been writing and recording another hugely personal album, Pittsburgh, which will be released on Grönland Records, on 18th May 2015.
Pittsburgh has been a long time coming. It was ten years ago that William first thought of the album, and the two themes that run through Pittsburgh. William describes Pittsburgh as: “It’s a memorial for my grandmother, who lived her whole life there, and it’s an honorarium to my hometown.” This makes Pittsburg a hugely personal album from William Fitzsimmons.
William Fitzsimmons was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in 1978. He was the youngest child in the Fitzsimmons family. Both of William’s parents were blind. Despite this, both parents were talented musicians, capable of playing a variety of disparate instruments. Their talent rubbed off on William.
By the time William was in elementary school, he was already able to play piano and trombone. This meant that William could join in the impromptu musical evenings in the Fitzsimmons family home.
With William’s parents both blind, music played an important part in the family home. Some nights, William’s parents, and the rest of the family, sang, and played the musical instruments that filled the house. For the Fitzsimmons’ family, these were happy times, with everyone sharing in a common interest, music. It would play an important part in William’s life.
When William entered junior school he began to teach himself guitar. Later, William learnt how to play banjo, melodica and ukelele. This would stand William in good stead when he embarked upon his musical career. That was a long way off.
Before that, William headed to college. He had decided to pursue a career in the mental health. Eventually, William hoped to become a therapist. This meant many years of study at Geneva College in Pennsylvania. Eventually, William graduated with a Masters Degree in Counselling.
Already William had experience working with people with mental health problems. This came during the summer months, when William was on holiday. However, during one summer, William’s interest in music was rekindled.
It was towards the end of his training, that William started writing and recording music. William was on a summer break. As usual, William was working. However, this summer he had been asked to write some songs. Rhis was in preparation for William beginning work as a therapist. However, it was partly a cathartic experience.
For some time, William had been suffering from some psychological problems. Through writing and recording a collection of songs, he was able to exercise some ghosts from William’s past. These songs became William’s debut album Until When We Are Ghosts. William self-released Until When We Are Ghosts in 2005.
Until When We Are Ghosts.
William wrote the eleven tracks that became Until When We Are Ghosts. He also played all the instruments and produced the album. Until When We Are Ghosts was then sold via William’s My Space page. It was a very personal album.
For Until When We Are Ghosts,William drew upon personal experience. With titles like When I Come Home, My Life Changed, Forsake All Others, The Problem Of Pain, When You Were Young and Shattered, it’s a soul-baring album. Until When We Are Ghosts is almost a cathartic confessional. This would be the case with much of William’s music.
A year after releasing Until When We Are Ghosts, William was still juggling his career as a therapist, and as a musician. However, he had found time to write and record his sophomore album, Goodnight. It too, was a very personal album.
Just like Until When We Are Ghosts, Goodnight which was released in 2006, was a personal album. It dealt with his parent’s divorce. This obviously affected William badly. Songs like It’s Not True, Everything Has Changed, Leave Me By Myself, Please Don’t Go, You Broke My Heart, Never Let You Go, I Don’t Love You Anymore and Goodnight show just how his parent’s divorce affected William. It was a huge body blow, where the foundations of his life were shaken to the core. Suddenly, nothing seemed the same again.
The Sparrow And The Crow.
After a gap of two years, William returned with his third album. Ever since he release his first two albums, William’s profile was on the rise. His music began to feature on national television programs. Professionally, William was just as busy. Something had to give,
Ever since the making of Goodnight, William had been struggling. Things had been difficult. His marriage had come to an end, and William was undergoing a painful divorce. As if that wasn’t bad enough, the demons that had long haunted William had returned. What’s more, psychologically, William was struggling. So when the time came to write and record his third album, William had plenty of experience to draw upon.
Just like his two previous albums, The Sparrow And The Crow was a very personal and intense album. It was akin to a confessional.
On The Sparrow And The Crow, William relived relived the pain and trauma of his divorce. That’s apparent on I Don’t Feel It Anymore (Song Of The Sparrow), I Feel Alone, Further From You and Just Not Each Other. Then on Please Forgive Me (Song Of The Crow), William apologises to his wife. There’s a sense of hope on They’ll Never Take The Good Years. It’s sees William remembering that their time together wasn’t all bad. Like so much of The Sparrow And The Crow, the music is powerful, poignant and personal. So much so, that William revisited The Sparrow And The Crow the following year.
Derivatives, which was William’s first release on Grönland Records, saw various songs from The Sparrow And The Crow reinvented.
For the reinvention of The Sparrow And The Crow guest artists and remixers were brought onboard. Guest artists included Brook Fraser. She featured on the George Raquet Remix of I Don’t Feel It Anymore. Loane featured on I Don’t Feel It Anymore. The Great Neck South High School Choir featured on You Still Hurt Me. Other tracks were remixed. Mikroboy remixed If You Would Come Back Home, while Pink Ganter remixed Good Morning and So This Is Goodbye. All this resulted in the reinvention of The Sparrow And The Crow. This showed a very different side to William Fitzsimmons’ music. Normal service was resumed on Gold In The Shadow.
Gold In The Shadow.
Three years after the release of The Sparrow and The Crow, William Fitzsimmons returned with his fourth studio album, Gold In The Shadow. It was another personal album, one where William reflected on what was one of the most difficult periods of his life.
Following his divorce, William was at his lowest. Psychologically, he wasn’t in a good place. He had been struggling to come to terms with his divorce, and the psychological problems that had long troubled him. It seemed that he had to reach his lowest, before rebuilding his life. That’s what he did.
Over the next couple of years, William confronted his inner demons. He came to terms with his divorce, and the other mistakes he had made. Most importantly, William sought help for the mental health problems that for a large part of his life, have afflicted him. With the problems of his past addressed, William set about healing his life. Part of this comes through music.
On Gold In The Shadow, William he describes the songs as: “a real and long coming confrontation with personal demons, past mistakes, and the spectre of mental illness that has hovered over me for the great majority of my life.” However, William concedes that the healing has begun.
No longer is William willing to submit to the illnesses and problems that have blighted his life. He had to change. There was no way he couldn’t continue as he had been doing. So William bravely confronted his problems and illnesses head-on. That’s apparent on Gold In The Shadow.
There’s a sense of optimism and hope on some of the songs on Gold In The Shadow. Fade and Then Return is proof of this. However, Gold In The Shadow also sees William combine therapy and music. This is the first William has broached first external perspective taking musically. On Gold In The Shadow, William examines not just his own life and his psychological struggle, but those around him. He does this on songs like Psychasthenia, Wounded Head, The Tide Pulls From The Moon Most and Blood And Bones. This results in a compelling, cerebral and personal album from singer, songwriter and therapist William Fitzsimmons, who was slowly, rebuilding his life.
This continued on Lions, which was released in 2014. The long-awaited follow-up to Gold In The Shadow, was produced by Death Cab For Cutie guitarist Chris Walla. He played his part in what critics referred to as a “career defining album.”
Lions saw William pickup where he left off on Gold In The Shadow. He continued to document how he had rebuilt his life on Lions. It was an album to be proud of.
Prior to the release of Lions, William described his journey as “wonderful, painful, long, incredibly brief, and more educational and rewarding than any I’ve ever lived before. Lions is something I’m terribly proud of and utterly connected to.” And so he should be.
Critics hailed Lions, the finest album of William’s career. Songs like Well Enough, Josie’s Song, Hold On, From You and Speak were proof of this. Lions was a career defining album. It was the album many critics knew he was capable of producing. Everyone wondered what the future held for William Fitzsimmons?
Just a year after Lions, William Fitzsimmons returns with another incredibly personal and poignant album, Pittsburgh.
Pittsburgh features seven songs, which were written, and produced by William. They play their part in what William describes as: a memorial for my grandmother.” She died in late 2014, “having lived her whole life in Pittsburgh.” William was obviously close to his grandmother. He wanted to tell the world how: “amazing a woman my grandmother was.” His way of doing this, is through the medium of music. The rest of Pittsburgh, is “an honorarium to my hometown” the city William and his grandmother shared for decades. It’s proved the inspiration for one of William Fitzsimmons’ most moving albums, Pittsburgh.
I Had to Carry Her (Virginia’s Song), opens Pittsburgh. Just a lone guitar is panned left, before it’s joined by a double that’s panned right. They envelop William’s vocal. It’s full of sadness and melancholia, as he sings of having to carry his grandmother’s coffin. A reflective William delivers the cinematic lyrics. Soon, he’s singing to her, telling her “I’m sorry it took me to two years to come, you should see how the kids have grown.” Cooing harmonies briefly sweep in, while percussion, guitars and keyboards combine. Together they provide the perfect backdrop for William’s beautiful, wistful homage to his grandmother.
Firmly William strums his guitar on Falling on My Sword. A lone drums booms in the background. Then suddenly, the tempo drops and William’s vocal enters. Just like the previous track, it sits forward in the arrangement. This is how it should be. Especially given the quality of William’s vocal and his lyrics. His delivery is heartfelt and emotive. There’s also an element of despair, as he sings: “you stand on the shoreline, shining like a bright light, but it’s not for me.” Behind him, ethereal harmonies sweep in, as an organ and guitar combine with plink plonk percussion. They frame William’s vocal, as with sadness and regret he sings: ‘“Falling on My Sword.” In doing so, he brings this folk-tinged track to a thoughtful crescendo.
The tempo rises on Better. Drums provide a pounding heartbeat. They’re accompanied by a bounding bass. By then, a heartbroken William sings: “I’m not enough to make you better.” Washes of keyboards and jangling, trembling guitars accompany William as he sings: “I will spread your ashes from the bridge from the city where we live.” It’s no ordinary city. Pittsburgh is the city where William and his grandmother, lived and shared. Poignant, melodic and full of poppy hooks, Better is one of Pittsburgh’s highlights.
Pittsburgh is another song that appears to have been inspired by William’s grandmother’s death. William examines not just his grandmother’s death, but those that fell on foreign fields. He also deals with the subject of forgiveness, asking can the sons forgive those responsible for their father’s death? Just like the previous songs, the arrangement is understated. At the start, it’s just William and his guitar. Soon, his melancholy, thoughtful vocal enters. As he reminisces, waves of quivering guitar and harmonies enter. They provide an understated accompaniment to William’s vocal. This is fitting, as he remembers: “the ones we left behind.” A piano is panned, a guitar is strummed and washes of steel guitar reverberate. Along with the ethereal harmonies they play their part in a track that’s not just beautiful, but cerebral, thoughtful and heart-wrenching.
Washes of synths open Beacon, another poignant song. Just a keyboards and guitar combine before they’re joined by William’s vocal. Together they play their part in creating a pensive and poignant backdrop. Tenderly, William remembers the loss of his grandmother: “I’ll watch you slip you go, into the dark where I cannot follow anymore. I’ll hold your head across the bridge who will be there, waiting for me.” After she is gone, William becomes the Beacon of her memory. It carries on through him. By the end of Beacon, you feel privileged to have heard what are, some of the most touching and poignant and lyrics on Pittsburgh.
An old school drum machine opens Matter. Soon, it’s joined by a Fender Rhodes and William’s thoughtful vocal. Soon, a guitar and buzzing bass enter. By then, William is telling the story of his grandmother’s life. Tenderly, and with sincerity, he delivers the lyrics. There’s a sense of sadness in William’s voice, when he sings of “the love I never gave to you, it doesn’t matter any more.” Despite the words he sings, regret fills William’s vocal. It’s apparent as his vocal drops out. Hypnotic drums and washes of guitar take centre-stage on William’s heartfelt tribute to his grandmother.
Ghosts of Penn Hills closes Pittsburgh. Just a lone guitar plays. It’s joined by William’s pensive vocal, as he sings of the ghosts: “he sees each night.” Soon, a twinkling piano and wistful strings play. They frame William’s heartfelt vocal as he sings “The Ghosts of Penn Hills will bring you where you are.”Later, and poignantly, William sings: “I was woke by the baby at 5am, found out a day later that’s when you left, and I hope it’s true that we meet again. Touching, poignant and from the heart, these lyrics are among the most moving on Pittsburgh, where William remembers those he’s loved and lost.
Although Pittsburgh, William Fitzsimmons’ seventh album, features just seven songs, lasting twenty-six minutes, it oozes quality. This makes it a fitting memorial for William Fitzsimmons’ grandmother and honorarium to his hometown of Pittsburgh.” It’s also an incredibly personal album.
Pittsburgh, which will be released on Grönland Records, on 18th May 2015, sees William Fitzsimmons roll back the years, as he remembers his grandmother, and the city that shaped him. William lays bare his soul on Pittsburgh. Hopefully, in doing so, it has proved cathartic. The loss of a loved one isn’t easy to get over. Hopefully, through writing and recording Pittsburgh, William will be able to work through his grief and hurt. He certainly has produced a fitting memorial to his grandmother.
Most of Pittsburgh’s arrangements are understated. Some are atmospheric. Often that’s down to William use of washes and waves of guitar. They play a part in framing William’s vocal. Quite rightly, they take centre-stage. Each of William’s vocal is heartfelt, and full of emotion, sadness and regret. His lyrics are variously beautiful, cerebral, melancholy, poignant, thoughtful and touching. Often, it’s possible to relate to the lyrics. Especially when William deals with death, and the loss of a loved one.
Despite setting out to write what was a hugely personal album, William Fitzsimmons has written an album that others will be able to relate to. Who knows, maybe the music on Pittsburgh might help people to come to terms with the loss of a loved one? Surely, as a therapist, this will please William Fitzsimmons?
What will definitely please William Fitzsimmons is if Pittsburgh receives the critical acclaim and commercial success it so richly deserves. It’s a spellbindingly beautiful and poignant album. From the opening bars of I Had to Carry Her (Virginia’s Song), right through to the closing notes of Ghosts of Penn Hills, I was captivated by what’s without doubt, the best album of William Fitzsimmons’ ten year career. This makes Pittsburgh a fitting memorial to William Fitzsimmons’ grandmother, and a tribute to the city he proudly calls home.