Josh Tillman doesn’t shy away from stepping out of his comfort zone. The former Fleet Foxes drummer has been releasing solo material since 2006, but it is only now that he is really coming into his own artistic world, following the release of his album Fear Fun earlier this year.
Adopting the moniker Father John Misty, he has moved away from the name J Tillman, which he used for previous material. “In some way, it was like J Tillman, that name, described someone that I didn’t really relate to anymore.” This doesn’t mean that Tillman necessarily sees the name Father John Misty as more representative of him as a person or an artist, “I just kind of enjoy the arbitrary nature of names. The album’s obviously and explicitly about me as a person, so it doesn’t matter what you call it.”
Unsurprisingly, Tillman also has a philosophical approach to the name of his album. “There’s a total thread of continuity between those two words, because we only have fun because we’re all terrified of death. “What I like about those two words is that superficially they’re polar opposites, kind of in the same way as sex and death. Sex and death are kind of intrinsically intertwined, and Fear Fun is maybe the more like, novelty shop version of sex and death.”
With Fear Fun, Tillman has, for the first time, realised through his music a deeply personal narrative voice. Tillman speaks of an “explicit honesty” that has always attracted his attention both artistically and personally, but it is something he hasn’t been able to tap into with his music, at least not until now. “This part of me that has always been missing from my music, because I think I was afraid of being that vulnerable when I was younger, was all of a sudden was there in full measure,” he says.
Tapping into that side of his creativity required a little help though. By Tillman’s own account, he got into a van and took a heap of mushrooms. It was only then, after having hit a block of sorts and being faced with the need to rebuild, that Tillman was able to find his narrative voice. Embracing this, Tillman was able to mature as a songwriter, moving beyond the idea that there was an idealised kind of writing that he should have been producing.
Before getting back into music, Tillman wrote a novel, which has since been published on two broadsheet pieces of paper in tiny writing and packaged with his album. This novel opened up an artistic world he hadn’t ventured into before. Tillman had “a lot of fun writing that book”, largely because he had no self worth wrapped up in it. “Fun kind of became this barometric reading for whether or not what I was doing was any good.” He applied the same measure when creating his new album; “I had a lot of fun writing these songs”.
Tillman treats every aspect of his music as another layer of meaning to reach other people. His music videos don’t miss out on that treatment either. The massive benders, sex, bondage, and drugs shown in his own videos give him the opportunity to “create a context for the song”, delving into the further meaning that he wants to discover in his life.
Josh Tillman is obviously all about the frank nature of life, and the finding some deeper meaning. He’s on a quest to explore and experience this “explicit honesty” which intrigues him so much, and Fear Fun is an open and sincere reflection of this.
Father John Misty plays at The Corner Hotel on Saturday 28 July for his Splendour sideshow.