ABOVE: JOSH TILLMAN. PHOTO COURTESY OF EMMA GARR.
Father John Misty is the sort of musician who infiltrates his listeners’ dreams. Scroll through his Twitter page, and it is quite striking. According to fans, Misty’s dream-world doppelgänger plays “Go Fish” on trains, fathers twins, performs at the circus, and sings pop songs in Italian. Not exactly fantastical stuff, but enough that it could creep the subject out. Yet Misty, whose real name is Josh Tillman, remains unfazed. “Someone at a show in Santa Cruz told me I kept floating down out of the sky to comfort them during a DMT session. I told him that didn’t really sound like me,” he deadpans.
As Father John, Tillman is clearly up to some exciting things. Earlier in the month, he met Kid Cudi for the first time and the two “went on a spiritual journey in the studio.” But he’s careful not to reveal too much: “I don’t want to say ‘I can’t talk about it’ and make it into a big deal, but there are major labels involved.” He’s just worked on scoring his first film—a horror short involving his “lady”—an experience he greatly enjoyed. Currently, however, the musician is on his North American tour and is playing in New York with another Interview favorite, La Sera.
ABOVE: AUBREY PLAZA IN “HOLLYWOOD FOREVER CEMETERY SINGS”
Fresh—or probably exhausted—from Austin City Limits, Tillman is on the road when we speak with him over the phone. “I’m in a van with a bunch of dudes, so they get to listen to me pontificate about myself,” he tells us. His first album as Misty, Fear Fun, came out in May. Before that, Tillman released numerous albums under his own name, J. Tillman, and joined Fleet Foxes as their drummer in 2008. Father John is not, Tillman assures us, a character; the album preceded the name, and Tillman “just liked the idea of naming myself something so ridiculous.” It was time for a change; to distance himself from the Joshua-turned-J. of yesteryear. “I don’t think I could even play a J. Tillman song now… I’m not ready to return to that period in my life,” Tillman explains.
Fear Fun is very much about Tillman himself, what he terms his “real time” experiences following his arbitrary move from Seattle to Los Angeles. “There was no good reason to move there, and thus I would never have to explain why,” says Tillman. His neighborhood of choice, Laurel Canyon, was something of an accident: “I confused Laurel Canyon with Topanga Canyon… I found myself living in the middle of Hollywood,” he continues. His songs are filled with humor and satire: “Tee Pee 1-12,” recounts going “to get some work done/So our faces finally matched/The doctor took one look at me/And took a skin graft out of my ass.” In “I’m Writing a Novel,” we get the portrait of a mad author: “First house that I saw I wrote ‘house’ up on the door/And told the people who lived there they had to get out ’cause my reality is realer than yours.” His first two videos—for “Hollywood Forever Cemetery Sings,” starring Aubrey Plaza, and for “Nancy from Now On,” starring a dominatrix (who happens to be Tillman’s “lady”)—begin with a very similar shot: “They’re both face to the floor, but in one the eyes are closed and in one they’re open. I’m doing quite a bit of communicating with that one eyeball. All good things occur on the floor,” Tillman notes. It is all wonderfully silly, but it’s easy to see bits of Tillman peek out; the musician was indeed writing a novel when he recorded his album, and it’s included in the liner notes. As for the album title: “‘Fun’ is an economy based on scarcity. It is only made possible because, in the Schopenhauer sense, life is boredom.”
Handsome and a little bit mysterious, Tillman’s the sort of indie character you fall in love with in the hopes of uncovering a hidden depth of soul—the male equivalent of the manic pixie dream girl. When we ask him if he ever had an imaginary friend, Tillman slyly replies: “I did, for my whole childhood. His name was Jesus Christ. He was a really bad friend, he’d just take and take and take.” He’s an advocate of magic mushrooms as a tool for spiritual awakening, correcting us that “The thing with shrooms is that even the bad trips, they’re informative. It’s not a party drug; if you’re using it for that, you’re doing it wrong. It’s a drug for discovery. They’re like medicine, and sometimes medicine tastes bad.”
FEAR FUN IS OUT NOW. FATHER JOHN MISTY IS PLAYING TONIGHT, OCTOBER 24, AT THE BOWERY BALLROOM IN NEW YORK. FOR MORE INFORMATION VISIT HIS WEBSITE.