Search The Line of Best Fit
Search The Line of Best Fit
A Strange Neon Electric Place : Best Fit meets Father John Misty

A Strange Neon Electric Place : Best Fit meets Father John Misty

30 April 2012, 11:50

Sometimes the moment arrives where you just need to go out on your own. And with Fear Fun, out now via Bella Union, it looks like Josh Tillman, aka Father John Misty is doing just that. The former drummer of Saxon Shore and, more recently Fleet Foxes, this folk singer and songwriter returns to prove to us that there is much more to him than just keeping the rhythm section in check.

Although Tillman has been putting out solo records under the J. Tillman moniker for years, it wasn’t until tapping into Father John Misty that he felt he started creating the honest music that he always wanted to write. “What’s interesting about this is that you can put out records under for 10 years and never really say anything honest about yourself, you know?” Tillman explains. “That’s kind of how I felt. So I was like, ‘no more of this precious bullshit.’ I have more to say than that, and I wanted to be more direct in conversation in real life.”

Releasing J. Tillman material as early as 2005, he didn’t think music was a part of him anymore. And for someone who didn’t want to write music for the sake of writing music, Tillman needed to get out of his current situation – which at the time was drumming with Fleet Foxes – and do something new.

“I guess the whole thing started a couple of years ago, after the first round of touring Fleet Foxes’ first record came to an end,” Tillman reveals. “And I had this kind of sobering realisation that I didn’t want to make any more J. Tillman albums. I had it in my mind that Singing Ax was going to be my last J. Tillman record. I really think it’d just run its course for me. It was something that I even had a hard time reconciling with for a few years, and I’ve sort of been on autopilot with it. And that was combined with the fact that according to the world around me, I had sort of ‘fulfilled all my dreams’ by being part of this successful band, and being kind of ashamed to admit that there were ambitions that I harboured for myself that went beyond being part of a successful thing. I was really at an impasse. So it kind of fully emptied out or something.”

Needing a breath of fresh air and associating himself with his old solo music identity, Tillman “got my shit and just left Seattle in the middle of the night.”

“ was very limiting, and I felt trapped in my own adolescence, creatively or something,” he says. “The J. Tillman stuff I started recording, that was when I was 19 or 20 years old and perspectives change and experience really changes you. And all of a sudden that mode of expression wasn’t good enough anymore. It just couldn’t address what I wanted to address. So I was just at the end of a rope a little bit.”

As Tillman travelled down the coast, not only did he find the journey invigorating but also inspiring enough to write. The folk singer-songwriter’s trip down the Pacific coastline inspired him to start a novel which he worked on for six months, and which eventually inspired album track ‘I’m Writing A Novel’. “I didn’t pick up a guitar or do anything other than just write,” Tillman admits. “I was on a steady mushroom diet, and it was really kind of addressing some things, some dissonance. I was dealing with a lot of fear and self-loathing, and, I don’t know, a kind of a distorted perspective of myself. And it was during my time here that I started unravelling some of that shit and really found a useful narrative voice in this novel. There’s so much I could accomplish in terms of being funny or just this huge spectrum you can address in writing or songwriting, which at the time I couldn’t do. So then I was like, ‘Well this is it. This is actually interesting.’”

While fans would want to know what the novel was about, Tillman explains that the plot isn’t really the reason for its creation. “The point of that exercise was what your creative voice sounds like when you’re not trying desperately to make it sound a certain way,” he says. “That’s just maturing as a writer. When you’re younger, you think, ‘I want to sit down and sound like a good writer’ and you write that way. And that can kind of taint the honesty of it. At this stage, I’m not as anxious about that. I just think, ‘well, you just got to trust that you know how to put words together.’ I don’t want to answer for some weird version of myself. I feel like I recognise myself in this album, and I think other people recognise me. And people that I know recognise me in this album. With the other albums, it was this kind of hidden secret part of me.”

With the help of mushrooms and an open mind, Tillman was able to discover Father John Misty – a name that he also explains doesn’t mean much other than being a funny way “to fuck with people, and that name would confuse and delight hopefully. That’s what I was going for. “

Moving to the iconic musical haven that was home to The Bryds, Jim Morrison and Joni Mitchell – Laurel Canyon – also helped Tillman get his creative juices flowing. But it’s not because of the rich history that came with the territory; instead it is the fact that Tillman was in a new environment – one that would help him view things in a different way thus writing numerous songs that ended up on Fear Fun.

“I, for one, feel rejuvenated by new environments,” he states. “We’re all just little algorithms, you know? We have certain behaviours. It’s just fun to see the programme run in a new context, and for me, it was a lot of stimulation. And I have a really morbid sense of humour, and this place is definitely conducive to that. There’s so much stimulation and so many fucking weirdoes. It’s a really strange neon electric place, and I enjoy that. So that’s just a whole new set of stimulation.”

With all this stimulation feeding it, Fear Fun is a plethora of songs that may carry a light and airy feel but are laden with lyrics that fall into darkness. And for Tillman, each song conveys a sense of freedom from his younger self and exposes the type of man he is now – or at least what goes on in his mind.

“To me it makes perfect sense to have a certain element of contrast over the course of an album. I think it was this album where the unifying thread is like the narrative voice and kind of the lyrical idiom,” he explains. “I was interested in aesthetically stringing together what you can accomplish over the course of one album, and the unifying theory of all the songs is almost being non-musical. The identifying factor is the narrative voice. It’s the singing voice. It’s the personality behind the singing. It gives you freedom, and on this album, it’s like I can do whatever the fuck I want now. The album is kind of a curation of what I’m into and the music that I feel a kinship or a thread of continuity. It’s not just music for music’s sake.”

Fear Fun in out now through Bella Union and Father John Misty will play London’s Shacklewell Arms on 6 June.

Share article

Get the Best Fit take on the week in music direct to your inbox every Friday

Read next