Fleet Foxes’ Josh Till­man gets a new iden­tity as Fa­ther John Misty,

Josh Till­man, indie-folk su­per­star and for­mer Fleet Fox, is mov­ing on once again – and it’s a lot more than just a name change. “The J Till­man thing had kind of got­ten away from me,” he tells Lauren Mur­phy

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - FRONT PAGE -

I’VE JUST given Josh Till­man a friendly warn­ing about his up­com­ing Ir­ish gig: his most re­cent mu­si­cal pseu­do­nym may draw a crowd that he’s not used to en­ter­tain­ing. We have ac­tual singing priests in Ire­land, I in­form him; adapt­ing the moniker Fa­ther John Misty could prove a risky move.

“Re­ally?” he says, un­per­turbed by the pos­si­bil­ity of the front row con­sist­ing of Bi­ble-wield­ing devo­tees. “Oh, I hope and pray that a small horde of peo­ple come, hop­ing for a whole­some evening of litur­gi­cal mu­sic!”

Al­though he was raised in a Chris­tian house­hold, there’s no reli­gious rea­son­ing be­hind his new­est stage name; af­ter record­ing seven al­bums un­der the J. Till­man alias, the Bal­ti­more-born folk singer sim­ply thought it was time for a change. The fact that it marked a shift in Till­man’s sound – from solemn, sparse folk to a joy­ful, of­ten cel­e­bra­tory and un­de­ni­ably op­ti­mistic full-band sound – is no co­in­ci­dence, how­ever.

As he puts it on the open­ing track of his new al­bum Fear Fun, “I never liked the name Joshua / I grew tired of J”.

“I guess I came to some re­al­i­sa­tion that I had been mak­ing these al­bums un­der my own name, and for a while, they were very rep­re­sen­ta­tive of ‘Josh Till­man’,” he says. “But at some point, I think I re­alised that they were no longer so. The ‘J. Till­man’ thing had kind of got­ten away from me, and I think writ­ing was kind of lag­ging be­hind where I was as a hu­man be­ing. I thought it was in­ter­est­ing that you could make these al­bums un­der your own name, but just be­cause they’re un­der your own name, it doesn’t mean that you’re re­ally say­ing much about your­self. The name it­self – the Fa­ther John Misty thing – that’s just for kicks. It makes me laugh. And I liked the jux­ta­po­si­tion of this pa­tently ridicu­lous name with this ex­plic­itly hon­est mu­sic.”

Hav­ing aban­doned his fouryear post as drum­mer with Fleet Foxes, Till­man cut (most of) his long hair, shaved (most of) his beard and . . . well, light­ened up a bit. Much of Fear Fun’s lyrics are laced with wry, acer­bic wit, yet coun­tered by thought-pro­vok­ing and of­ten-melan­cholic el­e­ments.

“It’s the first time that I’ve ever writ­ten in my con­ver­sa­tional voice, and it’s the first al­bum that has any rem­nant of my sense of hu­mour,” he says. “I was afraid – and I think right­fully so, for a while – to in­clude my sense of hu­mour in my mu­sic, be­cause it’s a very dif­fi­cult thing to pull off. I mean, ob­vi­ously I don’’t want to make nov­elty mu­sic or joke songs or any­thing, but I thought I could make it work. Hu­mour is a very volatile in­gre­di­ent in mu­sic; you can run the risk of marginal­is­ing your­self to your au­di­ence if they as­sume that you’re just yuckin’ it up, or what­ever. But I do have a very unique sense of hu­mour, and I think that I just re­alised that in or­der for the mu­sic to be hon­est, I had to in­clude that part of my per­son­al­ity, be­cause it is such a dom­i­nant part of my world­view. And if I con­tin­ued to omit that from my writ­ing, my writ­ing would never be truly hon­est.”

One of the fac­tors in cre­at­ing a shift in Till­man’s song­writ­ing mind­set was the com­ple­tion of a novel, pub­lished along­side the al­bum in poster form, which he wrote af­ter tak­ing a trip a magic mush­room-in­spired (the clue is in the al­bum art­work) trip down the Cal­i­for­nian coast. Tak­ing a break from mu­sic and adopt­ing a lit­er­a­ture-ori­ented mind­set, he says, helped him to see things more clearly.

“It was re­ally dur­ing the process of writ­ing the novel that I ac­cessed my own con­ver­sa­tional voice,” he ex­plains. “With song­writ­ing, it’s very easy – with­out even notic­ing that you’re do­ing it – to write how you think a ‘writer’ should write, as op­posed to writ­ing like your­self. And I think get­ting away from the song­writ­ing thing, and con­vey­ing my­self in an­other medium where I didn’t have all these aes­thetic pa­ram­e­ters pre­set, helped.

“When I would sit down to write a J. Till­man song, there were a lot of things that I would say that J. Till­man wouldn’t say: it was so se­ri­ous. And not to dis­credit it, be­cause that mu­sic was very cathar­tic for me – but when I was writ­ing the book, I wasn’t be­holden to that J. Till­man voice or method, and I no­ticed that my hu­mour was re­ally emerg­ing. I was like, laugh­ing my ass off the whole time I was writ­ing that book,” he chuck­les. “I just thought it was hi­lar­i­ous, and the whole ex­er­cise was so ab­surd. Once I ac­cessed that, I thought, ‘Well, here I am. All I have to do is ap­ply this to the song­writ­ing’. And what was in­ter­est­ing to me was that the con­tent of the lyrics re­ally dic­tates how you sing them, and these lyrics were just so plain-spo­ken. I no­ticed that I was even singing much more dif­fer­ently than I had pre­vi­ously.” The mu­sic is cer­tainly more up­beat, with songs such as the off-kil­ter This is Sally Hatchet and the warm, catchy I’m Writ­ing a Novel re­call­ing The Bea­tles. Else­where, the tremu­lous har­monies of Only Son of the Ladies­man isn't too far re­moved from his last nine-to-five, Fleet Foxes, while Tee Pees 1-12 can best be de-

“The Fa­ther John Misty thing – that’s just for kicks. It makes me laugh. And I liked the jux­ta­po­si­tion of this pa­tently ridicu­lous name with this ex­plic­itly hon­est mu­sic”

scribed as a “coun­try hoe­down”. Recorded in fel­low folkie Jonathan Wil­son’s Lau­rel Canyon stu­dio, Till­man agrees that the west coast sun­shine helped to im­bue the al­bum with a lighter touch.

“Ab­so­lutely,” he says. “All my ex­pe­ri­ences get boiled down into the songs, and I do think that the Cal­i­for­nia thing played in to the sound of the al­bum. More than any­thing, the songs them­selves dic­tated the ar­range­ment and the ap­proach and all that – but I will just say that it was just re­ally fun mak­ing an al­bum there. The idea of mak­ing this kind of sunny al­bum re­ally ap­pealed to me; it was like an in­stal­la­tion piece, in a way.”

Con­sid­er­ing that he’d been re­leas­ing al­bums both up to and dur­ing his stint in Fleet Foxes, it was some­what in­evitable that he’d re­turn to his solo guise sooner or later.

“When I joined that band, it was an­other phase where I needed some dis­tance from my own cre­ative thing,” he says. “Un­for­tu­nately, I think I re­ally over­es­ti­mated my in­ter­est in be­ing a drum­mer in a band [rather than] just be­ing a mu­si­cian. Ul­ti­mately, I’m re­ally only in­ter­ested in writ­ing. I was mak­ing al­bums all through my stint with them, but . . . yeah, I guess I al­ways did have a foot out the door. But it took a lit­tle while for me to re­alise that.”

Nowa­days, there’s a free­dom to be­ing un­shack­led from a drum kit at the back of the stage and be­ing able to set the tone of a show – or, as Till­man puts it: “I like be­ing able to ban­ter as much as I want.” With plans for an­other novel, a screen­play and plenty more ideas in the song­writ­ing canon, too, it sounds like the 31-year-old of no-fixed-moniker is quite con­tent with the di­rec­tion his ca­reer is headed these days.

“Well, I think there’s been an im­por­tant dis­tinc­tion,” he says, af­ter a pause to con­sider his lot. “The thing that I hear most from peo­ple I’ve known a long time when they hear the al­bum is, ‘this mu­sic ac­tu­ally sounds like you’. This is the singing voice that I’ve had my whole life, but the goal is find­ing a way to in­cor­po­rate your real voice into your mu­sic. That means you have to bring down a lot of van­ity, and you have to bring down a lot of fear, be­cause no one – my­self in­cluded – should as­sume that their ev­ery­day con­ver­sa­tional voice is ar­tis­ti­cally valid. I kind of took the long way around re­al­is­ing that for my­self. But, hey: I got there in the end.”

Fa­ther John Misty plays The Work­man's Club in Dublin on Novem­ber 24th. Fear Fun is out now on Bella Union.

Joshua Till­man per­form­ing as Fa­ther John Misty

at the Austin City Lim­its Mu­sic Fes­ti­val last month

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Ireland

© PressReader. All rights reserved.