• About A Band: Father John Misty


    Josh Tillman’s second album under the moniker Father John Misty, "I Love You, Honeybear," is one of the most anticipated and expansive modern folk records in years. But at its core, beneath the orchestral backing, the pop-up-book packaging, and social commentaries, Honeybear is an intensely personal album. Driven by lyrics refreshingly devoid of innuendo and reined by Tillman’s voice, which soars as easily as it drops to conversation, the album uses the traditional language of folk, experiments with form and production, and delivers what may become a timeless manifesto of modern love. In advance of our UO Live Brooklyn record signing with Father John Misty on Friday, Feb. 13 from 7-9pm at Space Ninety 8, we spoke with Tillman about the new record, finding universal truths in personal art, and why he hates Crosby, Stills and Nash. 
    Photos and words by Angelo Spagnolo


    What can Father John Misty do that Josh can’t do?
    It is some catharsis. This doesn’t have to do with Father John Misty specifically, because I don’t view it as an alternate reality. The name’s primary function is to serve as a thought experiment, when you go on stage acknowledging there is some some break with reality. I can go on stage and tell an audience to shut up, which is not normal. 

    In some ways it’s the way I would like to conduct myself if my own propriety didn’t get in the way, or social conventions or whatever. I hate small talk. I can’t do that. It just makes me crazy. What I like about the performance space is all these seeming contradictions that you can reconcile: If a cop walked on stage during my set I’d probably like kick him in the balls. I wouldn’t do that walking down the street. That doesn’t mean that the two are not reconcilable. I don’t have anything against cops. It’s probably an untimely time to talk about kicking cops in the balls. But I just like the chaos. The perfomance space is pure chaos. 


    You have to be fine with that.
    Yeah, you have to suspend your self-loathing. But at the same time, I very much engage some of my self-loathing and some of my contempt. I mean, I have a lot of contempt just for the fact that I’m up there. I have a lot of contempt for people on stages with microphones. All of that’s being engaged. It doesn’t make any sense, unless you’ve performed. It’s rife with conflict. That’s what gives it its vitality. Especially with this new material. I’m singing about these very specific episodes in my life that are about one other person, two other people at most, and singing it for 1,000 people. 

    That’s kind of the way all art is, intensely personal, but as soon as it leaves you it’s for the audience to interpret.
    That’s kind of the magic of it. The more intimately or specifically or exclusively you write about yourself, somehow, the more universal it becomes. 


    Folk music is sort of a traditional American craft, a traditional form that you use to talk about modern love, modern themes.  David Crosby never sang so explicitly about his sex life.
    I hate CSN [Crosby, Stills and Nash] to be honest with you. I hate that shit. 

    Really. Do you hate Neil [Young]?
    No, I love Neil. I just hate their music from a compositional standpoint. I don’t like the harmonic structure they use in every one of their songs. But, maybe I think about it in a little more broad sense than folk specifically. I think about it in the context of — and this is only in retrospect, it’s definitely not conscious while I’m writing songs, I don’t have a lab coat on, I’m not thinking about this kind of stuff  — but in retrospect I do think in terms of the singer-songwriter archetype, and I do like subverting some of the expectations of that. 

    Especially with love songs, there is a lexicon. There’s this paradigm: how a sad white man sings about love or heartbreak. I have far too satirical a view. When I hear that stuff it’s purely farcical to me, because it doesn’t resemble anything that I’ve experienced. It’s fantasy. My impulse is to puncture holes in fantasy more so than to inflate it. With a few of these interviews a couple people have been asking me like “This album is definitely dealing with more lofty, divine themes,” and I’m like ‘no’. The reality of love, I view it as something that you create with another person. It’s not something that exists out there... [Love] is not out there, but you can create it. You can make it, and choose to believe in it. It doesn’t mean that it’s not real, or real, or that it’s garbage. 


    …or that love is the same for all people. 
    Yeah, and that’s what that song “Holy Shit” is all about and there’s certain lines in “I Went to the Store One Day” that’s like “let's just put an end to this endless progressive tendency to scorn these provincial concepts,” or whatever. I hear a lot of that kind of cynicism in the culture. But if you just want to live with it getting handed down to you, then it is going to be someone else’s structure, someone else’s dream. I don’t want to live in someone else’s dream. I just claim the right to have love and to create love with this other person. I don’t care if anyone else has ever experienced it. Whether they have or not it doesn’t have anything to do with me. Unless they’re talking about it honestly. When John Lennon sings about his love, that makes sense to me. Because he’s singing about his own love. That’s the only way it makes sense to me, is to hear someone else singing about this thing that they’ve made with someone else. And it’s okay that it has nothing to do with me. 


    As far as the new album, the pop-up art, the listening guide, the demo cassette tapes: it seems like you’re very into the tactile experience of record buying, into creating a package around the music.
    I’m in the commodity business. Part of the appeal is that the material just doesn’t even have a prayer of competing with the immaterial value of music, so it’s funny to me and absurd to even make an effort. I just like the way that this measly physical component of the music thing has to be reconciled with the function of music, which is completely immaterial and completely spiritual. There’s something about trying to reconcile those two that’s funny to me.


    You wrote the listening guide, and you’ve written some expansive bios and marketing materials in the past. It seems like you have the writer’s itch. Do you consider yourself a writer beyond songwriting?
    I like having an excuse to write. I really like writing copy for some reason. I don’t really know if I’m a writer, per se, I really am a songwriter. That’s what I spend my time doing. That’s what I’ve been chasing for ten-plus years, however long I’ve been at it. 

    Is there an ideal you’re chasing, a measure of songwriting you’re trying to achieve? 
    It’s funny, you spend so much time clawing. You don’t really know. It’s sort of like Wile E Coyote, you’re just running over this open expanse of air, but you can’t look down. You just want to keep running. I’m not sure, but you get a taste of it every time one of these things comes out and you hold it in your hands, this thing just came out of my brain. You get some glimmer of satisfaction. Then it’s like, “on to the next.” 


    Father John Misty's UO Live Record Signing is February 13 from 7-9pm at Space Ninety 8
    Shop Vinyl