Long before he rechristened and rejuvenated his creative spirit as Father John Misty, Josh Tillman was a busy musician. He released several full-length records under the J. Tillman moniker, and spent a few years playing drums for Fleet Foxes during the band’s rise to indie-folk prominence.
But in May 2012, not even four months after playing his final show with the band, he released Father John Misty’s Fear Fun, a refreshing, delightful, and occasionally hilarious record that does a jig in the face of typical “acoustic singer-songwriter” music. His fun-loving, dance-inducing, wise-cracking new take on the world was warmly received, and he’s spent most of his time since touring, both in a headlining capacity and with other buzzy artists like The Walkmen, Youth Lagoon, and Wild Nothing.
Consider this the victory lap, then. Before getting to work on Fear Fun‘s follow-up, Tillman has announced a series of solo dates (supported by hilarious avant-comedian Kate Berlant) that will take him into November, and find him visiting the Georgia Theatre this Saturday. In the name of journalistic integrity, your humble Flagpole correspondent spent 17 minutes and 34 seconds grilling Tillman with a series of very important questions and very deep thoughts. Thankfully, he gave them the attention they deserved.
Flagpole: What are you up to today?
Josh Tillman: I’m making some tea right now. That’s one of the perks of the solo-tour life is having a lot of personal space. It’s actually my first-ever tour on a bus, so I’m just kind of lazing about right now.
Before you used to tour in jets, right? But now you’ve downgraded to bus level?
Yeah, the jets… Actually, have you ever seen that Iron Maiden airplane? The lead guitarist of Iron Maiden is licensed to fly commercial jets, like 747s. One time, I was on a layover in Reykjavik, and I saw it land. It’s got Eddie emblazoned across the whole side of the thing. Incredible. If you’re traveling by jet, your music is dead. It’s dead, banal and popular.
Iron Maiden’s got a beer, too, and I know you’ve got that perfume out…
Nobody is buying that perfume. I gotta put a sex tape on the internet or something. I mean, there’s only a couple hundred bottles of it. With the perfume, though, it’s funny: I will very trepidatiously admit it’s satirical in some respect. But it’s actually, like, a really good perfume. It’s made with these incredible, rare oils, and it’s all natural. But I think people enjoy it more as a satirical commodity than a real commodity. But I regret nothing. I still think it’s the best thing I’ve ever done.
Do you feel like you put yourself out there and got rejected?
Um, no, certainly not based on the sales. I’m being a little hyperbolic when I say it’s not moving at all. It’s paid for itself; it’s all good. It’s not a money hole or anything. But I will say that, with the perfume, some of the glibness around it I thought was a little unsavory or something. In my mind, it was this really simple thing: I have this friend who makes these small-batch perfumes, and my sense of humor is very subtle. I was just thinking, like, “This is hysterical, but people will also see the merit in this.” I thought there would be a little wink to it.
But I think people ended up interpreting it like a gag or something—this big, gross, tacky gag. Like, [puts on obnoxious voice] “It smells like weed!” I would rather kill myself than put out a weed perfume. No exaggeration. I would rather kill myself than put out a weed-scented perfume. This is the way people think, in these blunt terms. Like, what I should have done was put out a men’s boutique beard maintenance shaving kit with tobacco and scented oils. That’s just not me, though. That’s a little too earnest or something.
What’s your favorite beard from rock and roll history?
Probably Moondog. He had a huge, matted, disgusting beard that’s not cute. It’s like a real beard. It’s not an “I’m a barista” beard. What is the function of beard oil? Does it just make the pieces of burrito slip out of your beard without brushing them out? That sounds great.
What happened to your Twitter account?
I just feel like I accomplished what I set out to do on Twitter. What I didn’t realize is that when you do the Twitter thing, or any of those mediums, there’s a social contract in play, that you’re going to use it to engage with your fans. I wanted to use it as just a little, tender kiss of hate for random people. They just get a tender, little kiss of hate from me. People just don’t want that. They wanna get into it with you. I don’t have friends for a reason.
I would rather not get enmeshed in the social-media thing. For me, it’s truly a waste of time. What I like about Twitter more than the other platforms is that it’s text-based. That’s kind of my wheelhouse. I like writing poetry and fiction and songs and all of that. I guess I’d rather save that for the real output, though. I just take everything really seriously, and I was like, “Well, if I’m gonna do Twitter, it’s gonna be the best Twitter on the Internet. It’s gonna be better than anyone else’s Twitter.” Those kind of things start in jest, but before you know it… You know the movie Network? It’s like you have a thought and then you think, “Is that a good tweet?” And once I started having that, I decided, “I’m not gonna walk around thinking this way!”
I catch myself worrying about Twitter sometimes, which is problematic.
You end up commodifying your thoughts, but without even getting paid. Just spiritually, that’s a quagmire.
Do you really not have friends?
Well, yeah, I think so. Yeah, I have some friends. But not many. I’m 32. When you’re in your 20s, you have friends as a means of survival. You don’t even have to try to have friends. You have a job or you drink at this certain bar and you’re surrounded by this network of other people and it’s good and it’s comforting and et cetera. But there’s just more and more that I wanna do and experience in seclusion than with other people. I can’t explain it. It’s not so much about people; it’s more about me. I haven’t made a conscious decision about that or anything, but I find that the things I want to accomplish require me cultivating some kind of internal silence.
If you played “I’m Writing a Novel” for Neil Young, what do you think he’d say?
You know, I’ve actually played that song in front of him before—in a really intimate setting. This was years ago, right when I started writing these songs. Half of the set was J. Tillman material and half of the set was the new Father John Misty material. I was opening for his wife in San Francisco at this tiny club that holds maybe 150 people. Neil Young was playing guitar and watching the set from the side of the stage. I have no idea what he thought, but I imagine he must have some objectivity on the fact that he’s considered an inspiration or a prominent figure in the songwriter archetype.
That whole thing is just about how you have to kill your idols at some point. You have to be like, “Look, I’m not going to spend my life trying to be this fucking person, no matter how good they are.” It can’t matter. So, I think he could get behind that sentiment.
Father John Misty plays the Georgia Theatre on Saturday, Oct. 26.
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