Songs from the Cult

    When he left Fleet Foxes early this year, drummer Josh Tillman posted a brief official statement to his Tumblr.

    “Back into the gaping maw of obscurity I go,” he wrote. “Tokyo is my last show with the Foxes. Sorry if I was distant and obtuse if we ever met. Have fun.”

    It’s a somewhat ambiguous farewell for a guy who’s been with the platinum-selling indie folk success story for over four years, but Tillman has always been clear that he was more of a hired musician to the group than a collaborator. He’s channeled his own, decidedly more cryptic brand of songwriting over the last eight years, with seven full-length releases under his J. Tillman moniker. And now, as Father John Misty, Tillman has a new band, a new sound and a new answer to the irresistible call of obscurity.

    Tillman spoke with the Guardian last week about his upcoming performance in San Diego May 2 and his new album, Fear Fun, which drops May 1 on Sub Pop.

    Josh Tillman: Hold on let me turn the Tchaikovsky down a bit.

    The Guardian: How’s it going?

    JT: Good, man. I’m just doing my morning pacing. I got bit by the proverbial dog last night, so I’m trying to remedy the bite with some hair from it that I collected.

    G: You’re playing at the Casbah on May 2nd. Is this the first show on the tour?

    JT: Well it’s the first show in front of an audience. The night before, we’re doing Letterman or something. That will technically be the first show.

    G: How do you feel going into it?

    JT: I feel strong. I typically like to work by myself because I don’t really like people that much. But this tour is with a full band and all the dudes are great. And these tunes lend themselves to the live setting more than shit I’ve done in the past. Most of the records I’ve made don’t really make sense unless you’re alone in the pitch-black dark, listening to headphones with, like, a human skull with a candle on top of it.

    G: You’ve mentioned that you’re exploring new musical ground, and this is also your first release since you’ve left Fleet Foxes and ditched the J. Tillman name. Would you say this is a transitional record?

    JT: I wouldn’t call you out on the transitional thing. I’d say the album was symptomatic of a larger, creative transition. Artists are people, and just like people they get a little older — they collect some new experiences, they collect some new realizations — and in order to be honest, one has to reconcile with these things. That’s not a very sexy answer, but shit changes and shit gets older and shit gets wiser and shit gets less vain.

    G: I like the song “Hollywood Forever Cemetery Sings.” Would you call that your first single off Fear Fun?

    JT: I mean, yeah, let’s call it a single, man. A fuckin single. Let’s call it a hit single.

    G: I think that honesty you’re talking about really comes through in the song, and you get a very clear image of you as the narrator. Is there a specific true story attached to that song?

    JT: Yeah. Well there’s only really one person in that album, and that’s Josh Tillman. That song is inspired by a few instances. One of which was, after being more or less estranged from my family for a decade, my dad’s dad dying. [My dad] called me when I was in the middle of a tour and just said, “Look, I don’t care where you are or what you’re doing, you are getting on a plane and coming to this funeral.” This was the first one I had attended, and I was just really unsettled by the culture of the funeral. It’s just an unbelievably anesthetized, white-wash treatment for commemorating a fuckin life. It made me want to rip the place apart — just knock over the casket and go crazy. A couple months later I found myself at this party at a graveyard, and I ended up canoodling with some young lady. That was the first time I had been to a graveyard since that funeral, and I just felt like this is the real shit. No one at that funeral talked about the joy that the young version of my granddad got to feel when he was messing around with some beautiful girl.

    G: I think for anyone that’s lost someone and been to a traditional funeral, that’s a totally relatable image. And you got to play that out in the music video for the song, where you have this character, played by “Parks and Recreations”‘s Aubrey Plaza, just trashing a funeral and kicking shit over.

    JT: Yeah, I met Aubrey at a party, and she asked me to come do a walk-on sort of thing in this movie she was doing, but I was on tour. And then I just started thinking, well I would really like to work with Aubrey. She’s funny but she also has this undercurrent of melancholy and borderline anger. To me, those are the funniest people. You don’t have to listen to much of my music to realize that’s what I’m into. So I wanted Aubrey to come play me in this video. And she just brought this really cathartic performance to it.

    G: I read that you’re working on a project with Matthew Houck of Phosphorescent.

    JT: Well… Matthew and I — you could describe us as running buddies. We like to go make mistakes together. We just have this open conversation that one day we’re going to make this duet album [laughs]. There are no official plans, but it will happen. Mark my word.

    G: Anything else in the works?

    JT: Right now I’m really getting into this video thing. I got to work with John Ennis from “Mr. Show” and I’ve just done a lot of comedy and film stuff lately, kind of out of nowhere. We’re going to do an animated video. It’s in the early phases, so I don’t want to spoil the surprise, but it’ll be in that Adult Swim world of animation. I’m a big fan of that shit.

    Father John Misty will perform at the Casbah on Wednesday, May 2. Har Mar Superstar is set to open. $12 at the door.

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