Dark, divine comedy
Josh Tillman has eloquent opinions on everything from microdosing on acid to “explicit forms of control” from religion. Shilpa Ganatra hears a theory or two from Father John Misty
Hidden in the corner of an otherwise see- and- be- seen London bar, Josh Tillman, aka Father John Misty, is perusing the Electric Picnic line-up, a festival he is returning to after last appearing as the drummer for Fleet Foxes in 2009.
“I like Vincent Staples quite a bit,” he says. “I love Perfume Genius. I have a soft spot for Interpol. Pond are some friends. But I don’t keep up with music. I’m more of a fan of music journalism than I am of the music that’s covered. There’s something in that critical thought that feels relaxing to me.”
Yet when it comes to Tillman’s own press, his references to the media (on stage, on social media, during this interview, in other interviews) suggests that he follows closely the way in which he is portrayed, especially since his second solo album, 2015’s I Love
You Honeybear, delivered him a higher profile. That was the beginningof awkward BBC radio interviews, Daily Mail pap shots and a general reputation for being cantankerous.
Maybe we’ve caught Tillman on a good day. It is ironic that he feels he has an image problem, given that today he looks so stylish: ankle-flashing espadrilles, a low-buttoned white shirt, hobo-chic coat. And the beard is gone, replaced by a GQ moustache.
“I’m not as antagonistic as . . . actually, that’s not a soundbite I want,” he says, with a journalist’s radar. “I don’t want to talk about the way I’m perceived. That’s just a losing battle. The way I see myself is just as distorted as the perception. That’s not to say that the perception is 100 per cent wrong, but it’s like performing. You couldn’t say you knew me based on a performance of me shaking my hips. We can talk and you can see what I’m like. And we can leave it at that.”
What he’s like is someone who’s partial to bone-dry humour and intense conversation. Tillman’s patient, but the level at which he operates means he’s not someone you could talk to hungover.
It is entirely appropriate to Tillman’s deep-dive thinking that his third album as Father John Misty is a lyrically and musically dense discourse on the human condition. Dark Comedy comes with multiple styles of vinyl covers and a ream oflinear notes (including a 143-word sentence, surely a record).
Scattered among its political critiques and existential theories is the idea that liberal and conservatives have mirrored thinking, an aspect borne after Tillman freed himself from his evangelical upbringing in Maryland.
“When I left home at 18,” he says, “I thought, oh thank God, I’m leaving crazy world and going into the real world, where things are sane. Then I got into the real world. I started tosee religious thinking all over the place, in liberal and more explicitly in conservative thinking, but it was called something different.
“These differences we view as being so fundamental are largely semantic outside of a few major issues, which largely affect women. Women are where the crux of this social divide is, because women are subject to real explicit forms of control.”
I explain that Ireland knows this all too well, given our current fight for abortion rights. Tillman listens carefully, taking a drag from a cigarette.
“There’s something very disingenuous about using abortion as an issue,” he says. “And it serves a double whammy because, nine times out of 10, it’s an emotionally complicated issue. Women should not have to be thinking about whether they’re even having control over their own bodies
When I left home at 18 I thought, ‘oh thank God, I’m leaving crazy world and going into the real world, where things are sane’. Then I got into the real world
Josh Tillman “I’m more of a fan of music journalism than I am of the music that’s covered”