Lilting songwriter, William Fitzsimmons, remembers following his mother around the house and mimicking her voice. She sang soprano and Fitzsimmons picked up on the high register affectation. Around their house, his mother and father would also play folk musicians on the stereo, artists like Jim Croce, Joni Mitchell, Simon & Garfunkel and John Denver. So, when Fitzsimmons began to sing his own songs later as an adult, the vocal sounds didn’t come from his chest voice. Rather, a softer, more delicate tone emerged. It’s a mood for which he’s become well known and it’s one prevalent on his glinting forthcoming record, Ready The Astronaut, set for release this summer.
“I think I thought that’s just how you’re supposed to sing,” Fitzsimmons says. “I thought you were supposed to sing high. Like when John Denver sings ‘Annie’s Song,’ you don’t really want to belt it out. It’s supposed to be this very pretty, smooth delivery.”
While the music on Ready The Astronaut is both smooth and pretty, its genesis was not whatsoever. The vulnerable new record is replete with growing pains. In fact, the record’s titular single was written at a time when Fitzsimmons says he was near suicide. He and his wife at the time were having trouble in their relationship. He was facing now a second divorce. The two moved to Nashville to try for a fresh start. But it didn’t work out. Life seemed impossible.
“William Fitzsimmons does not want to have songs to write about,” Fitzsimmons says, with a laugh. “She told me it was really over and I think that’s when I knew to pick up the guitar again. ‘Ready The Astronaut’ was the first song I wrote. It was in a moment of hopelessness. I had no idea what I was going to do.”
At the time, Fitzsimmons was staring at mid-life, 40-years-old. His own life had not gone as planned, he says. He’d married at 19-years-old and when that marriage failed, he got married immediately again afterwards. Now, he was facing shared custody for his kids with his ex-wife. It was an existence he had not imagined. But, in this stressful place, the music Fitzsimmons wrote began to thrive. Songs came. He had a path to a new future.
“It’s no different than when I journal,” he says. “I was sitting on the porch last night journaling. I was in a bad place – there’s all this craziness going on [with the pandemic]. Songwriting is just journaling with an instrument.”
The new record reads like page after page of delicate admissions and curiosities, humilities mixed with achievements. It’s bleak but that it exists is a sign of both hope and progress. A father, Fitzsimmons never fully indulged in his darkest of thoughts, thankfully – though it came close. It’s a decision he finds gratitude in today. He’s not ashamed to talk about it. It’s a part of his life, though now in the past.
“I’m really glad I didn’t check out,” Fitzsimmons says. “There were some moments there where I was like, ‘I fucked it up. It’s over. I’m done,’ if I’m being honest about it. But I’m really glad that I didn’t. It would have been a really selfish decision.”
Fitzsimmons is a deep thinker. Perhaps, too, an over-thinker. Reflective and intuitive, the meticulous songwriter isn’t averse to considering the idea of his own unique upbringing. Both of Fitzsimmons’ parents are blind (Fitzsimmons swears his mother can literally smell him when he’s in the room). So, small things like seeing his parents sitting in dark rooms were normal. Sound, therefore, was supremely important in his home growing up. It both heightened his appreciation for things like music and singing and also, potentially, created a great chasm.
“I’ve never had eye-contact with my folks,” Fitzsimmons says. “I always kind of wondered if there was a missing piece, as a result. I’m very close to my folks, don’t get me wrong. But I wonder if there is a connection missing. We’ve never looked at each other in the eye.”
Music was so essential to the family that Fitzsimmons’ father had his own sizable pipe organ in the home. It was so loud that the police would sometimes be called to the house for noise violations. Sound, over gesticulation, was a way to connect with his parents. Perhaps this is why each song he sings is an intimate whisper, something truly sacred. Indeed, the songs on the 11-track Ready The Astronaut are practically confidential. Fitzsimmons, who has a Master’s degree in counseling and worked as a mental health therapist, thinks of them almost like their own one-on-one therapeutic sessions.
“The older I get, the more I see it as they’re about the same thing,” says Fitzsimmons, who would take study breaks in grad school by playing guitar. “It gives you a little bit of universality, a little bit of connection with a person who is also struggling. When a songwriter writes a line that hits you like that – an idea you’re scared to feel or talk about – it’s a powerful feeling. ”
Photo Credit Jim Vondruska Photography