Fresh off playing gigs in and around London, Paris, Antwerp, Berlin and the US, former Fleet Foxes drummer Joshua Tillman brings his latest musical incarnation to Australia this month. Having been a solo artist for several years and recording seven albums since 2005, Tillman has formed Father John Misty
and taken a trademark gloomy sound to new, melodramatic musical terrain. And it works.
Having officially left Fleet Foxes in January 2012, Tillman has consolidated his new direction since shifting from Seattle to LA in 2010. Feeling as though his melodic past wasn’t truly representing ‘the real’ Tillman, the Jonathan Wilson-produced opus that is his latest record, Fear Fun
breaks the shackles handsomely well.
Throughout the record there exists a hunk of pop and cosmic country that meld charmingly to generate quite a nice volte-face for an indisputable nomad of the musical game.
Fuelled by a dream sequence concerning a homosexual shamanic drifter, Tillman’s eighth record is strangely his most clearly defined to date as well. Here's what happened when we caught up with our Heavenly Father to discuss his tour and identity shift.
Your latest record was pieced together by a kind of shamanistic experience and the thread continues through the album artwork and narrative tale, yeah?
I think there is a point for some people where the lyrical content is kind of bizarre, but for me this record is sort of my conversational voice. It sounds like how I am when I’m just hanging out or bullshitting, or whatever.
So up until this point in your career, and after such a varied musical run, you’ve finally found your natural rhythm?
I think there’s a certain sense of preciousness that people expect out of the singer-songwriter idiom, and so that for some people it’s kind of jarring to hear my particular sense of humour in the songs… it can almost make them doubt if I’m being sincere or not.
Well, I’ve had people say to me, “Is this all a big joke?” and I’m like yes (in a sense of) that’s how I’ve sort of always viewed life. That’s always kind of been my outlook – sort of like a cosmic joke line of thinking but that doesn’t mean I don’t take it all very seriously. This album was a pretty major labour, pretty intense.
Folks often forget that you have fashioned a quality solo career over the trip and aren’t just famous for being the ex-drummer of Fleet Foxes. How have you dealt with that?
I’d say that about five years ago that shit really drove me crazy but at this point… well… my attitude towards this is now informed by a sense of play or an absurdist thing that you hear in the tone of the new album. I mean to make music like I was making in that time period and become indignant when people don’t know about it, is a little like that vanity I’ve always been trying to rid myself of.
The earlier, dourer J Tillman records such as Vacilando Territory Blues
and Year in the Kingdom
are a far cry from the buoyant resonances of Fear Fun
, so what happened?
Well they were dark, barely audible and lyrically impenetrable disaffected [pieces of] music but on some level I’m still very proud of that music. My perspective of those records at the time was limited because I was just throwing them into the blackness; they didn’t get reviewed much and weren’t covered you know?
US Rolling Stone
was seriously harsh on 2009’s Year in the Kingdom
, weren’t they?
They gave the record two stars, which was such a fucked-up insult because the Jonas Brothers were on the cover or whatever. But really I just didn’t know or care what was happening because I didn’t tour much – I just made them [the albums] and kind of then threw them out.
You quit Fleet Foxes earlier this year, but made the move to LA back in 2010, were you looking to reassess or start again?
What informed the record more was the anonymity I had when I got to Los Angeles because I didn’t know anyone and no one really knew anything about my music. Feeling anonymous allowed me to really start being myself and be around zero expectations – I felt like a newborn baby or something.
Jonathan Wilson [Glen Campbell, Dawes, Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy] produced Fear Fun
, how did this come about?
We were introduced through mutual friends and began hanging out at his studio like buddies. I’d written about 20 demoes and played them to him and he was into them. This was about two years ago, when I first moved here. I wanted to make a big, beautiful record, a classic-sounding album that didn’t have too many lo-fi affectations or anything like that.
Wilson’s production nous on this record and in general, most notably with the Laurel Canyon/The Band-loving Dawes, is quite something isn’t it?
The interplay between the brightness and the cleanness of the music and the kind of strangeness of some of the sentiments in there [Fear Fun]
… I really like the juxtaposition.
Your onstage demeanour and look has changed quite dramatically, too? A recent David Letterman
appearance had you with shorter hair, animated with the hands, losing yourself in a shuffling dance routine and not playing guitar or drums. Is this the new you?
aughs] I don’t know man, people that have known me for a long time have seen me dance like that countless times, and really and truly this current experiment is about (having) zero reservations. I’m just not in conflict with my natural instincts anymore and one of those instincts has always been to weird people out with the fun dancing so… it’s confusing for sure, I get it.
You have this Nick Cave sort of theatrical live performance approach now, with the hands up in the air and then behind the back.
I talk with my hands a lot, like I’m doing it right now. The gesturing and the punctuating and everything is how I communicate and the way I express myself.
You are now an all-singing, all-dancing kind of fella and you’ve totally stopped playing instruments live?
I just sing and just dance and whatever, it’s pure entertainment yeah. I’ve always been able to sing like that but had been self-conscious of not thinking I was good enough and never wanted to come off sounding cheesy.
So after four years behind the kit with Fleet Foxes, what do you take away from the experience?
I kind of want to pass on that one because I’m not much for summarising and that thing is kind of its own conversation, if you know what I mean?
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FATHER JOHN MISTY DATES:
Friday 27 July – Oxford Art Factory, Sydney
Saturday 28 July – The Corner Hotel, Melbourne
Sunday 29 July - Splendour In The Grass, Byron Bay