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

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - MUSIC -

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.

Deep­diver

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”

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