Father John Misty Embraces the Absurdity of Being On Stage

Josh Tillman is a man of excess. The artist known these days as Father John Misty has spread the gospel of sex, drugs and letting the gregarious times roll during the last year while promoting his first release on Sub Pop since his personal ordination, Fear Fun.

Before Tillman's last show behind the drum kit for the Fleet Foxes in January 2012, he packed up his van and headed to L.A. on a quest for self-exploration. Halfway there Tillman's narrative voice famously emerged while he was high on 'shrooms and naked in a tree, as chronicled in the song “I'm Writing A Novel.” That led to the name change, as well, which ironically helped him ditch his vanity and write more honestly about his experiences that apparently include shady shamen, cemetery sex and S&M.


OC Weekly caught up with Tillman to chat about why after seven somber solo releases under the name J. Tillman and a successful run with Fleet Foxes he decided to start from scratch and get all Misty Schmisty. We didn't call him Nancy.

OC Weekly (Arrissia Owen): How do you characterize the difference between Father John Misty and J. Tillman?

Josh Tillman: It's like frost in a pond. If you are a lifer, creatively, you change. And, with me any change that happens in my music can be pretty directly attributed to a change in my life.

My desire for catharsis — the pain of my primal scene as a child or something — music doesn't really serve that function for me anymore. Maybe it will for me again one day and I will address it. But it's been kind of like a Jungian return to the fascination of the child. That's where the humor, the dancing and the liberty and all that kind of stems from. It's kind of a reclamation of my pre-20s state. But I think the J. Tillman music is an apt expression of a decade of personal turmoil.

There's a lot of talk about your dance moves when you're performing on stage. After learning more about you and watching clips of you on stage, it seems like a celebration of where you are in life right now.

Yeah, it's really a huge difference. Anyone who has known me over the last 15 years has seen me dance like that either at a party or at a really inappropriate moment. I get a real thrill out of that for some reason. So it makes sense to me that it's worked its way onto the stage. It's like pure apathy and pure stupidity kind of wed in holy matrimony. There is something innately absurd about being on stage.

There is something kind of in my mind, like, this is ridiculous, patently absurd. So in that way, I am sort of embracing the absurdity in it. I take what I make very seriously, but I kind of have a hard time imagining myself as a performer person.


You've obviously had a great year, playing some huge festivals and doing the late night TV circuit. What was the biggest highlight for you?

The highlights usually manifest in very unlikely places. I'll define it as a moment of gratitude, and those don't happen often. The big experiences fly by quickly. It's the things between those experiences where you think “Hot damn, I've really done it for myself. I am glad I am here and that I am doing this.” That sort of happens when I write songs.

I remember when I wrote the song “I Love You Honey Bear” (since Fear Fun) and felt real gratitude that I had taken these risks and that because I took the liberties that I did I am freed up in these ways. I am open to these beautiful strange subconscious aspects of myself because of it, and I feel real gratitude that I did what I did when I did it. That's the mushy answer but nonetheless.

Father John Misty performs with White Fence, Saturday, June 22, 7 p.m., at the Glass House, 248 W. Second St., Pomona, 909-865-3802; www.theglasshouse.us. $20. All ages.

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