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Father John Misty
Former Fleet Foxes drummer Josh Tillman’s debut album as Father John Misty has already been awarded the Uncut Album Of The Year prize.
But it must also be the recipient of a slightly more unusual accolade – for containing the longest footnote in record packaging history.
Anyone scanning the lyric sheet for his album Fear Fun will see a mysterious asterisk attached to fourth song I’m Writing A Novel.
Flip the massive map-sized lyric sheet over and there is the first of three giant closely typed pages – the novel in question which inspired not only the song, but a whole new approach to writing songs.
“The process of writing the novel was like a kid with a new toy,” says Tillman. “It was like a major excavation of my subconscious.
“I had spent a long time cultivating one style of writing [what he has previously described as ‘wound-licking songs’] and I had got to the point where I was deeply dissatisfied with it.
“I couldn’t see where there was to go after I made [last J Tillman album] Singing Ax.”
He found writing a novel was giving him a lot more creative freedom – and the ability to write in a more natural, conversational style.
“I was allowing myself all these creative liberties and indulgences that I hadn’t previously,” he says. “There was an absence of the aesthetic parameters I had set for J Tillman albums.”
He puts his earlier, more earnest approach to songwriting down to being a younger person who wanted to be taken seriously.
“I needed to convince the world of my honesty and sensitivity,” he says. “I could be natural and funny, but I just assumed there was no artistic validity.
“I was really pleased when I was writing the book that my humour and actual conversational voice was coming out – but there was a lot else coming out simultaneously that had truth and humanity, which really dwarfed my previous attempts.
“The novel is very abstract – it’s almost got a Naked Lunch vibe to it. It’s my own personal Wasteland.”
What inspired the novel, and latterly the album, was a decision to go on a long road trip “with enough mushrooms to choke a horse”. The experiences from the trip formed the basis of the songs on Fear Fun.
He admits in interviews people have accused him of following an age-old cliché in going on the trip. “I get that, but I always ask those people whether they have ever done it,” he says.
“It’s an amazing cliché, but I’m trying to portray my experiences with a lot of levity, with equal parts innocence, guilelessness and fun and equal parts self-loathing, humour, sarcasm and satire. There is a way for those two to co-exist.”
He also admits that there is something devilish about producing some of his most personal music under a pseudonym. “I really desecrated my name, so I can’t use it any more!”
Running throughout the album, alongside the discovery of his creative muse, are strange tales of funerals, nightmares, and the political costs of making art in Now I’m Learning To Love The War.
The music is very much of the loose Laurel Canyon style of country rock which reached his height in the 1970s, with touches of latter-day surf’s up-era Beach Boys.
Album highlight Hollywood Forever Cemetery Sings is a much more experimental beast though, using just a tambourine, drum beat, electric guitar and bass frequency to tell a tale of twisted love at a funeral.
It ended up on the album pretty much in the form that Tillman demoed it, with little influence from producer Jonathan Wilson.
“The song sold itself,” says Tillman. “It’s so simple, but when something is simple and it works it is so gratifying as a writer.”
Now the focus is on reproducing the album live with Tillman backed by “a traditional bar band”.
“We have been touring in the US and Australia for six months,” he says.
“The band is really firing on all pistons.”
He’s looking forward to returning to Brighton, having last played here with Fleet Foxes – the band he left in January this year to focus on his solo work.
“I remember having a good afternoon in Brighton,” he says. “I watched someone play sitar on the lawns; there was an unbelievable density of beautiful women around.”
Support from No.
- Blind Tiger Club, Grand Parade, Brighton, Friday, November 30. Doors 7pm, tickets £10. Call Resident on 01273 606312
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