Play Misty for us
Josh Tillman, indie-folk superstar and former Fleet Fox, is moving on once again – and it’s a lot more than just a name change. “The J Tillman thing had kind of gotten away from me,” he tells LAUREN MURPHY
I’VE JUST given Josh Tillman a friendly warning about his upcoming Irish gig: his most recent musical pseudonym may draw a crowd that he’s not used to entertaining. We have actual singing priests in Ireland, I inform him; adapting the moniker Father John Misty could prove a risky move.
“Really?” he says, unperturbed by the possibility of the front row consisting of Bible-wielding devotees. “Oh, I hope and pray that a small horde of people come, hoping for a wholesome evening of liturgical music!”
Although he was raised in a Christian household, there’s no religious reasoning behind his newest stage name; after recording seven albums under the J. Tillman alias, the Baltimore-born folk singer simply thought it was time for a change. The fact that it marked a shift in Tillman’s sound – from solemn, sparse folk to a joyful, often celebratory and undeniably optimistic full-band sound – is no coincidence, however.
As he puts it on the opening track of his new album Fear Fun, “I never liked the name Joshua / I grew tired of J”.
“I guess I came to some realisation that I had been making these albums under my own name, and for a while, they were very representative of ‘Josh Tillman’,” he says. “But at some point, I think I realised that they were no longer so. The ‘J. Tillman’ thing had kind of gotten away from me, and I think writing was kind of lagging behind where I was as a human being. I thought it was interesting that you could make these albums under your own name, but just because they’re under your own name, it doesn’t mean that you’re really saying much about yourself. The name itself – the Father John Misty thing – that’s just for kicks. It makes me laugh. And I liked the juxtaposition of this patently ridiculous name with this explicitly honest music.”
Having abandoned his four-year post as drummer with Fleet Foxes, Tillman cut (most of) his long hair, shaved (most of) his beard and . . . well, lightened up a bit. Much of Fear Fun’s lyrics are laced with wry, acerbic wit, yet countered by thought-provoking and often-melancholic elements.
“It’s the first time that I’ve ever written in my conversational voice, and it’s the first album that has any remnant of my sense of humour,” he says. “I was afraid – and I think rightfully so, for a while – to include my sense of humour in my music, because it’s a very difficult thing to pull off. I mean, obviously I don’’t want to make novelty music or joke songs or anything, but I thought I could make it work. Humour is a very volatile ingredient in music; you can run the risk of marginalising yourself to your audience if they assume that you’re just yuckin’ it up, or whatever. But I do have a very unique sense of humour, and I think that I just realised that in order for the music to be honest, I had to include that part of my personality, because it is such a dominant part of my worldview. And if I continued to omit that from my writing, my writing would never be truly honest.”