Father John Misty wrote a novel, and now he's writing love songs.
Known to many as the former drummer for Fleet Foxes, Joshua Tillman (the name he was born with) has actually been a solo artist since 2004, releasing a slew of introspective, quasi-intellectual records as "J. Tillman" that helped satisfy both his poetic and melodic inclinations. But it wasn't until Tillman started to attempt the next great American literary masterpiece that he realized he'd just rather be making music.
"Part of writing for me was the realization that I just want to make songs," says Tillman via phone from Los Angeles, fresh off an appearance at Coachella. "That's how I speak best for myself. I don't want to write novels. At best, that's what these other dalliances lead me back to, the realization that I really want to write songs and sing the hell out of them."
How appropriate, then, that the tune Tillman is best known for is "I'm Writing a Novel," the debut single from of 2012's Fear Fun, his first release under the Father John Misty moniker. The track mixes a juicy, Doors-era guitar vamp and Technicolor beats with lines about getting overly dosed by a Canadian shaman and ending up pantless — it grooves despite shout-outs to existential philosophers Jean-Paul Sartre and Martin Heidegger, which would be pretentious if it weren't balanced with such self-deprecation.
Fear Fun contrasts starkly against the woodsy, bearded harmonies of Fleet Foxes, and so does Tillman himself — whereas his former bandleader, Robin Pecknold, has been known to take the stage on a stool and hide behind ratty hair and rattier flannel, Tillman is your quintessentially charismatic frontman. His stage persona is part Mick Jagger rooster moves, part Wayne Coyne eccentricity, part Jim Morrison gospel. It's not really much of a surprise — if you had a chance to see the Fleets live with Tillman on percussion, it was hard not to notice his nearly disproportionate vigor, as he sailed away on the drums with an insatiable energy out of place amid his mellow Portlandia brethren.
Now that he's both able to fully to let his freak flag fly and happily engaged, Tillman's most interested in writing love songs — but not in the way you're used to. He's already settled on the title of his next record, I Love You, Honeybear, which will also be its first track. Incidentally, he doesn't call his future wife "Honeybear." The term, he says, is intended more to highlight the sappy, sweet side of love that he wants to avoid altogether. "The lyrics are actually pretty apocalyptic and almost kind of lewd," he explains. And that's a contrast and a conversation he wanted to invite.
"The point of the album in my mind is that I wanted to write about love in a way that wasn't banal, generic or saccharine," says Tillman. "To do it in a way that actually sounds like the way that I think and talk."
The record likely won't be out until 2014 — "I got that itch to start recording," Tillman explains. "My creative biological clock was ticking away." In the meantime, he's been working on a variety of other slightly odd projects, including a collaboration with Kid Cudi (aided, apparently, by a mutual consumption of magic mushrooms) and a television pilot, which tracks two former country singers who become involved with the Korean mafia (yes, really). Was the latter also a result of fungal hallucinogenics?
The question is greeted with a pause, and then loaded laughter.
"Well ... mostly just from being trapped in a van for eight hours a day," Tillman explains. "[Mushrooms are] for heavy stuff. Not silly TV pilot stuff."
Heavy stuff like love songs, literature and rap lyrics, maybe? Just beware of those Canadian shamans.
Fear Fun was a really good album IMO!!! But I still prefer Robin's voice/lyrics.