William Fitzsimmons breaks out the quiet

After an extended hiatus, William Fitzsimmons returns with a new album family, and outlook

One man, one guitar, no TV soundtrack needed.

One man, one guitar, no TV soundtrack needed.

photo by erin brown

Catch William Fitzsimmons at 7 p.m. on Thursday, February 12, at Harlow's Restaurant & Nightclub, 2700 J Street. Cover is $20. http://williamfitzsimmons.com.

William Fitzsimmons didn’t plan it that way, but after the release of his breakthrough 2011 album, Gold in the Shadow and subsequent tours, the singer-songwriter would let several years pass before writing another song.

Fitzsimmons, scheduled to perform at Harlow’s Restaurant & Nightclub on Thursday, February 12, says there were many reasons why—not the least of which was Gold’s critical and commercial success. That album, which included songs featured on TV shows such as Grey’s Anatomy and Private Practice, landed at No. 3 on both Billboard magazine’s Heatseekers and Folk Album charts.

It also made life a little more difficult, packed with crazy-making decisions and details.

Fitzsimmons’ entry into music had been slow and organic, without any financial goal. Raised by two blind parents who both played various instruments and always had records spinning in the house—James Taylor, Joni Mitchell, etc.— he learned to play at an early age. He didn’t make a serious go of it, however, until much later. On break from grad school as he studied for a Master’s degree in counseling, Fitzsimmons started writing and recording songs in his bedroom. Those songs eventually turned into his debut album, 2005’s Until When We Are Ghosts.

Several years and records later and Fitzsimmons says he realized that making music had become a business. That had its upsides, of course—more money, for one. But more money, of course, comes with more problems. Well, more headaches, at least.

There were bigger tours to figure out, for starters. All those logistics that can get in the way of creating. The effect, he says now, felt claustrophobic.

“Music is a business—most things are, I totally get that,” Fitzsimmons says. “But I knew other people who were doing it in a way where it wasn’t just all overcome by the business aspect, but [for me] it was a real difficult dance. I hit the pause button to start over.”

There were other factors, too. Fitzsimmons and his wife had recently adopted their first child, a daughter birthed by a surrogate. Family life took over.

“There was no motivation, the energy just wasn’t there,” he says. “There was just no ambition.”

Rather, Fitzsimmons says, he isolated himself in his adopted hometown of Jacksonville, Fla.

“I just wanted to wait until a song came to me—that’s a wonderful feeling,” he says. “It never feels honest as when you wake up with something in your head, just a little melody. I coveted that feeling.”

It finally arrived one early morning as he sat outside with his daughter, strumming a guitar while she rocked in her baby bouncer.

“Just that beautiful little baby and a nice moment that was removed from playing shows or getting a song on a TV show,” he says. “I was in a very happy place.”

It was his daughter and the family’s relationship with her surrogate, however, that eventually inspired many of Lions’ songs.

The album, produced by Death Cab for Cutie’s Chris Walla, stands as something of a tribute to his family, which now includes a second adopted daughter.

“We had gotten close to the birth mother [of our first daughter] and the feeling that I had when we stood there in the hospital was just ridiculous joy and also sadness for a friend,” Fitzsimmons says.

The resulting record is markedly quieter than Gold in the Shadow. While Gold was rich with electronica touches, Lions’ sound is more nuanced and subtle. Both the joy and sadness shine through, in equally quiet measure.

The sonic shift wasn’t intentional—just the opposite, actually.

“I went like I often do, thinking, ’This is going to be the one, the one where I’m breaking out the loud,’” he says with a laugh. “But I never quite got there.”