ACL Interview: Father John Misty
Saturday, 3:15pm, Austin Ventures stage
In his national TV debut – performing a spectacular, full-band rendition of "Only Son of the Ladies Man" on Late Show with David Letterman – Josh Tillman did jazz hands. Twice.
"It's only jazz hands for a lack of a better phrase," he scoffs from his home in Los Angeles. "I forgot I was supposed to stand up there forlornly, doing my best to portray the bruised angel that I am inside."
After touring with the Fleet Foxes and a decade of stark solo recordings, Tillman rechristened himself Father John Misty for his Sub Pop debut earlier this year, Fear Fun. Abandoning his works of quiet desperation and contemplation, Fear Fun captures his grand awakening with Laurel Canyon soft-rock, a strong literary streak, and grandiose pop arrangements that suggest Lee Hazlewood's production work. It's one of the finest and most refreshing albums of the year.
"For a long time I thought honesty or truth was permanently embedded in the plaintive, mournful aesthetic I was employing," Tillman observes. "I was putting my impulses at odds with what I created to make those J. Tillman records. I reached an impasse where I was just fucking sick of that. I thought, 'I'm not second guessing my instincts anymore to fit into what people expect from a singer-songwriter.'
"It was really about pure identity: Who are you right now and what do you want to say?"
Tillman settled on the moniker Father John Misty mostly for comedic effect, a sly nod to the Source Family ("I just think those dudes are hysterical"), but he's clearly embracing the character. He carries himself like Jim Morrison in his dark, shaman period, engaging his audience with wry, and at times rambling, stage banter.
"The only things worth doing are polarizing," he says. "I can only get the kind of audience I'm interested in by alienating a certain amount of people. Really, I'm trying to appeal to myself in the same way that all great boxers only fight themselves."