Me and William Fitzsimmons have something in common as I found out in our interview: We both have never seen our dads without a beard. But unlike me he at least seen a photo of his Dad with a goati taken during the first wedding of William’s dad - I just know some photos when my dad was simply too young to grow a beard and one of his student time but there he is looking through a big camera lens. And after William and I both agreed that we actually never want to see our dads shave or clean, we started talking about his upcoming and already released in Germany album 'Lions'. Backstage at the Berlin Club Lido we sat down surrounded by PR- and other people, filmed for some reason, we chatted about working with producer Chris Walla (Death Cap for Cutie, Tegan & Sara, Nada Surf etc.) and the lesson he learned, Family and what has changed since his last album 'Gold In The Shadow' (2011). Enjoy!
Dörte Heilewelt: When I heard ‘Lions’ for the first time, it remembered me of the first ‘Until When We Are Ghosts’ because it has the same feeling to it - was it the intention to go that far back?
William Fitzsimmons: It was the intention to not try to make it sound like anything. Just to be natural with it and that’s exactly where I was when I first started writing. It was natural. I didn’t think about shows or festivals, sales or anything like that. I didn’t know if anyone will ever hear it besides me or my friends that I was forcing to listen to it. I think that’s why it has the same sort of spirit to it because it was free, without care and concern.
[…] I really like listening to ‘Lions’. It feels new and kind of exciting to me. I mean it always happens in the middle of a long tour and all of a sudden the songs get kind of mechanical and you get troubles of feeling them strongly. So, I try to hold on to this wonderful feeling now where it’s all like ‘oh, yeah, I got to play this song, I love playing this song’.
Do you have a plan on how to hold on to this feeling?
The best thing you can do is keep making little changes in what someone plays, what the band plays, what I play or even changing the tempo. Last night I was speeding up, slowing down. And bringing back old songs, too. No different than anything else: If you do something for long enough it starts to get normal. So, you do the little tiny variety things you can do to keep it alive, keep it fresh. But it’s still fresh but it’s always hard. There will always come a point where they’ll flatten out a little bit.
I have been waiting for the album the whole last year - I was waiting since January.
Can I tell you: I was so bummed! When we finished recording the record in June, I think. And I was really excited. It’s going to be mixed and mastered probably July/August and there is still time. I was still hopeful that we might be able to but it’s one of those things. At some point you finish it and it’s totally wrapped and you give it the record label and they say “awesome, we have to wait until next year.” But I really did had the intention of finishing it but sometimes…I was close, I am off by like two month.
Another thing that just occurred when I listened to it in the car was - it sounds like some love letters. Somehow this “I am a little broken”-kind of love letter.
Yeah….I think a lot of the other ones where very male-female-partner relation appear on it. This one is to me because of the story where it started, it’s very parent to a child. It’s like mother-child-relationship. To me it feels a lot more loving than the other ones do and it’s a kinder, not a romantic love, it’s more like pure, familiar kind of love.
With a song title like “Sister” it seems like family being involved.
Yeah, exactly and I don’t have a sister. I suppose it is. There is a lot of love on this album. There’s this point where you try to figure out what the connections are between people and we are acknowledging all the ugly stuff, too. It’s still very descriptive about a lot of negative things. There is plenty of pain on the record that’s real but It feels a lot better. It’s not like ‘The Sparrow And The Crow’, it’s really just plain dark and there is just a little bit of light. ‘Lions’ has a lot more of it.
What I also found interesting is that it seems you’ve spend a lot more time with your family in the last one or two years and you changed the way you wanted to write reading the note you published. Did it all came when you were with them as family is usually a bit more honest?
[laughs] That’s for sure. It was a large part of that. It was the environment that I was in. I probably wrote this record faster than any of the other ones before-not intentionally, I had no deadline, the record labels were kind of happy to wait until… They wanted something but they were waiting patiently for it. There was no pressure about this. I wasn’t thinking about all that stuff, I wasn’t thinking about the record label, I wasn’t thinking about ‘OK, I have three songs that feel like this and I have a couple of songs that feel like this and here is the piano song” - I wasn’t doing that really before but in the back of my mind those thoughts start to get really strong.
It felt really good to just write it, same thing with recording. We didn’t plan it out too much. We listened to the demo and we just started playing. ‘Let’s play some guitar, this sounds good, let’s chase this….’. If something sounds good, let’s do it, if it sounds bad let’s not do it and before it was really pain. ‘No, we have to keep working on this. We have to play… we’ll do ten more instruments and then we’ll figure out three of those were good…’ You can make yourself crazy and often you don’t end up with a better record this way either. You just work really hard for the same thing.
Was there a certain event where you thought that this is going the wrong way?
No, one thing I had to do was I had to let go some of the notions I had about…like the way you write a song. Even when you’re doing what I do - which is just guitar and voice or piano and voice - you start to hear arrangements. And you start to think like ‘Oh, man, this definitely could have a trumpet playing the melody right here’. That was the one thing when I was working with Chris Walla. I had to be willing to drop some of those ideas and let Chris steer the ship a little bit more but I never felt it was wrong. We were working in such a good balance and chemistry while we were working between the two of us that if it felt wrong it was wrong with both of us at the same time. We were both like ‘oh, that’s bad’. That was good. There were no real brick walls. I don’t think I ever walked out of a studio - we finished 11 or midnight maybe every night - and was worried or scared or frustrated. It was always like ‘Man, good day, see you tomorrow’. That was awesome. It felt good.
Did it have influence on how you work as a producer? You produced the last EP “Soft Light” of Lonesome Animals - I am not sure how the actual timing was.
I think I finished “Soft Light” before I worked with Chris but I since recorded new demo stuff at home. So, Chris is a master - that’s why people go to him because he certainly knows what he is doing. And he has a comfortability in the studio that I’ve probably never seen before. If you see someone who is a professional secretary who is doing this for 40 years watching them type is beautiful, it is like a dance. You know, there are looking away from the keyboard and having a conversation and they are typing about ten pages. That’s what Chris is like in the studio. He’s running the tape machine, he’s mixing stuff at the same time, splicing tape together but he’s never gets angry or super over-thinks everything. He is just uses his ears, he turns off the monitor when he is listening to something. He literally shuts it off, he says ‘you don’t see music’. Most of the time when you’re in the studio everybody is starring at the computer screen watching the faders just go up. That was the biggest lesson: Your eyes don’t matter, you have to listen to it and if it sounds good, let’s do it.
Also the listener won’t see the computer in the end. I don’t see it…
You don’t see the wave-files, you don’t see the tracks going up and down - all that matters is what’s coming out of the speaker and if it’s communicating something. But you really forget these things and in any profession you try to - if you have any success with it you try to hold on to it really tightly. ‘This is working, I don’t want to loose this.’ I have been in many studios now and it seems like the bigger the studio is the bigger the computer monitor is. It was funny to go into Chris’ space and he has just a normal computer screen, turned of most of the day. The first couple of days I didn’t know where to look and he just sit there eyes closed, leaning back in his chair and I thought I start doing that, too. He taught me a lot.
Now a really simple question - I know how you’re loved being asked about your tattoos.
I don’t mind telling about my tattoos…
Have you found your harbour? For me the anchor is always a sign of having settled down.
That’s almost exactly what it is. My life is not without conflict and change and challenge and those things but I feel more peaceful then I probably have before. That’s it. It’s scary, too. It’s scary, too, when you make the kind of music that I have been making because you read this stories about Kurt Cobain, Elliot Smiths and all these guys and you start to convince yourself that only good art can come from tragedy and heartache.
Some artists get even scared when they’re too happy for too long…
I heard a friend of mine telling a story about another friend of his. He left his wife and told the guy he did it because he was in artistic crisis and he there wasn’t enough pain in his life. I thought it was the most awful, backwards, stupid thing ever. Music for me is about being honest about emotions and experiences. So as long as you’re living and you’re observing and trying to learn from other people there is always conversations to be had. I just bought an album of Sun Kil Moon. It’s been out for a while but Mark Kozelek has been writing very similar albums and songs for like 30 years and I was listening to the record and I was sitting there in a bathroom when I listened to it and thought this is so fucking good. This guy is still even more brilliant than he has ever been before. You just have to tell the truth.
Thank you for the interview, William!
William Fitzsimmons is for the next months on tour, in Europe, Great Britain, USA and Canada. Look at his website for further information:
The interview will be published in German on FastForward Magazine in the upcoming days.
Have a good weekend,
Where to start? Well, I’ve already introduced some of my favourite things in 2013 through the previous “Best of 2013” lists of Quiet Lions, Tristan Brusch, Olympians, Tellavision, Phil, Laura Jansen and Corwood Manual. But what else was there? I published 15 interviews in total. That’s quite a bit and there are still some coming. Did I had a favourite? All of them to be honest. I think the one I was most scared of and most excited about and turned out to be an all time favourite interview. It was with Andy Bothwell aka Astronautalis where we chatted about science and stuff. And then there was of course the interview Laura Jansen who would be so encouraging.
I haven’t been to many festivals this years - three or four in total. My most favourite was Reeperbahn Festival in Hamburg. Why? Great music all day long without camping and in one of my most favourite cities of the world. Bands like Naked Lunch, The Sheepdogs, Talking To Turtles, Death Hawks, Tunng…
As always my best of’s aren’t in any particular order and are mainly the things I can still remember and made me happy. Of course I’ll keep the two farewell shows very close to my heart. I just loved The Candle Thieves concert in May and the last Stagecoach show during Alcopopalooza was just so much fun. And another plus: I saw Elephants live. They split a couple of years ago and I never ever thought I’ll see them. They reunited for one last show. They were amazing. The super catchy pop song “Strong Arms” never leaves my mp3-player.
And then there were Chinese band Nova Heart – magnifcient electro pop with an amazing singer who just knows how to put on a show. She was supported by another favourite of mine: Tomi Simatupang who not only played but combined it with a weird theater play and a great choir.
Arcade Fire were awesome. And of course: William Fitzsimmons, Denison Witmer, Mars Red Sky (at any time really, in my hometown and in theirs), Samsara Blues Experiment, Thomas Dybdahl, Efterklang, Salvation Bill and Rob Lynch.
Albums/music (in no particular order):
- Arcade Fire “Reflektor”
- Suns of Thyme "Fortune, Shelter, Love and Cure"
- Queens of the Stone Age “Like Clockwork…”
- Stagecoach “Say Hi To The Band”
- Kevin Devine “Bubblegum”/”Bulldozer”
- David Bowie “The Next Day”
- The Candle Thieves “All’s Well That Ends Well”
- Sharks And Bears “OK, Who Cares, Oh Well, Whatever”
- Elyas Khan “Brawl In Paradise”
The whole package which let to love:
There were some artists where the triplet – interview, music and concert - just made me fall in love with them. Those are wonderful moments. I didn’t know any of the bands/artist beforehand, the interviews were partly really messy but very interesting. It’s not that I went unprepared or something, sometimes I was just tired (as in too nervous to sleep), sometimes it was organized very last minute. In the end those turned out to be just fabulous conversation.
The first one was with Oliver Welter of Naked Lunch. He is a very smart man and it was a very enjoyable conversation. Their album “All Is Fever” has been on repeat for days and weeks after I talked to Welter. It’s full-on Pop.
The next ones were Tunng. We had a very messy interview but they are a lovely bunch of people and I like their album “Turbines”. After I have seen them twice live in merely 48 hours I was fully in love. After their singer Mike told me to check out their older stuff as well I was surprised how much their music changed over the years.
Unlike Tunng and Naked Lunch, Jan Roth is new to the game… at least when it comes releasing his own music. He has worked with several bands beforehand – too many to mention – and now he released “L.O.W.”: Lieder ohne Worte/Songs without words. He is witty and wise in his very own way.
Things to look forward to in 2014:
There are a couple of albums, tours and other things to look forward to in the next almost 362 days. The three most notable are the new album by William Fitzsimmons „Lions“ - I know that something I mention already in the outlook for 2013 a year ago. Well, now all label stuff etc is done, he, they and we are ready for the new album. It’s great, I can tell you already – he went back to his roots and so the album feels much more honest than his last one.
The second one I look forward to is Miss Kenichi's album “The Trail” – it’ll be out in spring on Sinnbus. Haunting beauty.
The last one is an album I got from Melodie & Rhythmus to review and I fell instantly in love with it. Not sure I would have discovered it any other way. It’s Sharon Jones & The Dap Kings “Give The People What They Want” – I got it on repeat for days (I was quite thrilled to find out they also made her album of the month). She is a real soul diva and I haven’t heard anyone like her since probably Aretha Franklin. A huge comparison, I know, but she stand it.
And of course: Archive's new project called “AXIOM” - a movie and soundtrack from the great band. Still time to support them on Pledge. Already looking forward to 29th of May when they will show the movie and play the soundtrack live in the Roundhouse, London.
Tours to go to: Kevin Devine, William Fitzsimmons, Arcade Fire, Unmap and Russell Brand. And I really want to catch To Kill A King when they are touring Germany by the end of the month.
I’ve probably forgotten a lot of things* but those were the first things to come to my mind.
Thank you for reading and have a good 2014,
*like when I saw Pentagram live. Bobby Liebling knows how a rockstar behaves on stage and the music wasn’t too bad either.
Previous best of 2013 lists: