“People who make records are afforded this assumption by the culture that their music is coming from an exclusively personal place, but more often than not what you hear are actually the affectations of an ’alter-ego’ or a cartoon of an emotionally heightened persona,” says Josh Tillman. “That kind of emotional quotient isn’t sustainable if your concern is portraying a human-being made up of more than just chest-beating pathos. I see a lot of rampant, sexless, male-fantasy everywhere in the music around me. I didn’t want any alter-egos, any vagaries, fantasy, escapism, any over-wrought sentimentality. I like humor and sex and mischief. So when you think about it, it’s kind of mischievous to write about yourself in a plain-spoken, kind of explicitly obvious way and call it something like ‘Misty’. I mean, I may as well have called it ‘Steve'”
Josh Tillman is a fascinating musician. As a solo artist he has produced plenty of quality records from ‘A Minor Works’ to ‘A Year in the Kingdom’ and gained such a reputation as a musician that he was persuaded to join Fleet Foxes as their drummer, an association which I now believe he has ended, moving to LA in the process to focus once again on his own music. However, his latest record ‘Fear Fun’ has been released under the quite unusual moniker ‘Father John Misty’, a fact I only picked up on having read the Sunday Times review and thought that the artist in the picture looked awfully liked Josh Tillman.
Tillman explains on Subpops’ – his new label – website that he had “…lost all interest in writing music, or identifying as a ‘songwriter’. I got into my van with enough mushrooms to choke a horse and started driving down the coast with nowhere to go. After a few weeks, I was writing a novel, which is where I finally found my narrative voice. The voice that is actually useful.” He explains that “I was honest with myself about what music actually excites my joy-glands when I was considering the arrangements and instrumentation.” “As opposed to what’s been enjoyable to me in the past – namely, alienating people or making choices based on what I think people won’t like or understand. Pretty narcissistic stuff.”
So does this come across in the music? Simple answer is yes. Tillman has ultimately created an alias to allow himself to grow as an artist without necessarily being judged for doing so. If released under his own name I believe that this album would be seen as a major departure and risk, which it undoubtedly is. However, under the name Father John Misty, Tillman has had the freedom to explore new ground without ever alienating his original audience. As one of those original audience members, I can confirm that this new approach to music is one that is refreshing and exciting and Tillman has lost none of the song qualities that has made him stand out for me for such a long time. Missing him at Nice N’Sleazy’s a couple of years ago is still one of my biggest disappointments, such is my admiration for his abilities.
The voice is still there, the intelligent lyricism is still there, but this record is packed with much more. Much more instrumentation and a much fuller approach to the songs. Not once on the record does a track appear where it is just Tillman and his voice. On the one hand this is a disappointment because not many people can hold the attention with such limited resources in the way Tillman can. On the other hand, it’s brilliant to hear Tillman crank it up a notch and let loose, or as he puts it ‘listen to someone rip their arm off and beat themselves with it.’ Cause at times, that’s exactly how the record feels like especially on the brilliant ‘Hollyood Forever Cemetry Sings’.
This is not Fleet Foxes (thankfully), nor is this anything like his previous work. It’s not fresh of course nodding it’s hat greatly to The Eagles, Waylon Jennings and in particular Roy Orbison but it’s a great new direction for a brilliant artist who continues to grow in stature whether that be under his own name, his current moniker or any other name he chooses to throw into the arena in the future. Definitely one to check out.