Focus puller

William Fitzsimmons writes his new album from the outside looking in

Erin Brown

When it came time for singer-songwriter-guitarist William Fitzsimmons to start work on his newest project, Lions — which released in February — it felt like a personal and professional reboot.

“The writing was different from anything I’d ever done before, except for maybe when I was just starting to write songs,” says Fitzsimmons. “It was a no-pressure, noexpectation kind of thing. I was just at home, being a dad, and I was writing music when it came to me, just letting the things that were inside my head and heart come out.”

With the success his albums have achieved in recent years — his songs have appeared on shows such as Grey’s Anatomy, One Tree Hill and Burn Notice — some people have suggested that he make his content more radio-friendly. The fact that he did not cave in to those recommendations is admirable enough, but what makes Lions more intriguing is how Fitzsimmons put a fresh spin on the type of content that usually appears on singer-songwriter records: he took the focus off himself.

“It’s autobiographical in the sense that it all happened to me, but this one was not the typical thing I had done before, which was mining my own experiences and psyche and putting it to music,” Fitzsimmons says. “This was more about trying to understand the people around me who were having an effect on my life — particularly the birth mother of my oldest daughter — and trying to understand her and figure out the role she had in my life and what I was supposed to learn from that relationship. So it’s autobiographical, but I’m not the lead character.”

Lions embraces a musical aesthetic that is not unlike Matthew Perryman Jones’ 2012 record, Land of the Living, combining elements of folk, pop and Americana to great effect. The title track matches gradually swelling folk strains with lyrics about his daughter trying to find her birth mother and encountering obstacles along the way, and the ambient piano ballad “Speak” closes the album with a hypnotic, simple, chilling piano refrain as Fitzsimmons speaks from the mother’s point of view about the fallacy of being able to call herself a mother after leaving her daughter’s life. “Took” is musically reminiscent of “In Your Eyes” while commenting on the wonder of a child being born, and the acoustic opener “Well Enough” finds Fitzsimmons singing so subtly that it is barely above a whisper as he imagines his daughter’s birth mother pondering if she did enough to have a positive influence on her daughter’s life. This last track is especially meaningful to Fitzsimmons.

“That song is from the perspective of the birth mom,” Fitzsimmons says. “Making the sacrifice she made, but still having this insanely hopeful and desperately positive outlook that she did the right thing, that she wants the best for this person she created, but only being able to do so much to make that happen.”

Creating the album has left Fitzsimmons in a very calm, peaceful place, because he made the record he wanted to make, and he made it on his own terms. Lions doesn’t pull any punches, and Fitzsimmons is content with the results because he didn’t stretch himself thin trying to please various parties or make the content more palatable to try and attract more music listeners.

“That’s exactly what I feel: contentment,” says Fitzsimmons. “I just feel really confident. I’ve never been too offended if someone doesn’t like what I’m doing. I totally understand. There’s too much variety to assume that you’re nailing it for everyone, and you shouldn’t try to do that. That’s not the job that anyone is put here to do.”

And even when it comes to the expectations he had for certain songs, he found a lot of comfort in letting the music guide him rather than vice versa. If nothing else, it felt more natural to go along for the ride rather than trying to control everything.

“The worst thing you can do is go into a project and try to make a masterpiece,” he laughs. “The best music is never made with that kind of outlook. It’s people just letting things go through them. That’s life anyway. Sometimes you’ve just got to let things happen and react to them as best as you can.”