Although I try to stay away from the Internet as much as possible on weekends, I would not be serving the interests of our Bay Area readers—and indeed points elsewhere—if I didn’t post this item, this morning, so that they still have a chance to catch a great rock show tonight.
I have many times raved here on Dangerous Minds about Fear Fun, the new album by former Fleet Foxes drummer Josh Tillman, released under the Will Oldham-esque nom de plume of “Father John Misty” on Tuesday. (The album’s release was preceded by two singles, “Hollywood Forever Cemetery Sings” and “Nancy From Now On”). You can read past DM posts on FJM here, here and here.
Last night Tillman and his band played a smokin’ hot gig amid the dinosaur bones at the Natural History Museum in Los Angeles, that Tara and I attended. We were waiting in the will call line for tickets and I overheard the guys behind us talking about the headliner. It was obvious that both were musicians and that they knew Tillman. They were there for the same reason we were: “Josh’s album is like THE album for me right now,” one of them said. “I can’t wait to hear it played live tonight with a band.” That’s what I was feeling, too and my expectations were as (cough) high as I was. I have listened to Fear Fun in very heavy rotation for the past seven months—as I’ve written here before, it’s my favorite album of the year already—and I was blown away hearing it played live last night by an excellent, extremely tight, well-rehearsed band.
On Fear Fun there’s very much a “classic rock” feel, the album’s lush analog varnish being the work of ace producer Jonathan Wilson (who also plays on the album) and engineer/mixer Phil Ek (Fleet Foxes, Built to Spill). It gets said in every review that the FJM sound is a gumbo of influences like Waylon Jennings, All Things Must Pass and Harry Nilsson (and this is all pretty accurate) but live the songs have a swampy, confident, bluesy swagger that recalls the Stones circa 1972. Lanky Tillman, arms flailing like a revival preacher hopped up on goofballs, led the band through Crazy Horse-like guitar rave-ups that took the music into the stratosphere at several points during the set. He’s got a great fucking voice, too. Dude sings like Roy Orbison.
Truly, last night’s Father John Misty gig at the Museum of Natural History was a terrific rock and roll show from a band that will playing “big rooms” and rock festivals soon. If you have a chance to see the upcoming month-long tour (which travels to The Bottom of The Hill in San Francisco tonight), I highly recommend it. This album is going to be HUGE, it was obvious last night watching half the audience singing along with songs that were released just days before. (The other half of the audience, I think might have been there randomly because the show was part of the “First Fridays” concert series at the museum, but from the first song, those folks were pushing to the front, too, to check out what was happening onstage. They were won over, quickly and easily. My wife even danced and she never dances anywhere, ever).
Anyway, mark my words, this current month-long tour might be the last time you get to see Father John Misty in a 200-300 capacity club. If you trust my tastes in music, then get in on the FJM action now, it’s like seeing Neil Young live after he left the Buffalo Springfield. Seriously. Tillman’s a major American artist, as America is about to discover. He’s going to be around for a long, long time.
May 5 Bottom of The Hill, San Francisco CA
May 7 Neumos, Seattle WA
May 8 Doug Fir Lounge, Portland OR
May 11 7th Street Entry, Minneapolis MN
May 12, Schubas Tavern, Chicago IL
May 14 The Legendary Horseshoe Tavern, Toronto ONT
May 15 Petit Campus, Montreal PQ
May 16 Brighton Music Hall, Allston MA
May 18 Mercury Lounge, New York NY
May 19 Knitting Factory, Brooklyn NY
May 20 The Rock and Roll Hotel, Washington D.C.
May 26 The Mohawk, Austin TX
Fear Fun is out now on CD and limited edition pink vinyl on Sub Pop Records. Until last night, I had not seen the deluxe “billfold” packaging, which includes two poster sized print-outs of an entire Richard Brautigan-esque novel written by Josh Tillman and an amazing cover painting by New York-based artist Dimitri Drjuchin. It’s a really slick, impressively wordy package (think Thick As A Brick as a digipak) and provides more than enough for fans to get lost in Tillman’s unique literary—and mythic—rock and roll vision. Clearly the label indulged the artist, but I expect they’ll make their investment back many times over (the package makes it worth investing in the physical product). You can stream the entire album here.
FJM appeared on Late Night with David Letterman earlier this week and at the end you could tell that Letterman really liked what he heard. David Letterman seems to be someone who it would be tough to impress, but his enthusiasm post-song was pretty clearly stated, three times.
After the jump, FJM session on KCRW’s Morning Becomes Eclectic…
Fear Fun, the album by “Father John Misty” that I’ve been raving about to everyone who I’ve had a conversation with about music, on this blog—and in the pages of this month’s PAPER magazine—since last fall, is finally out on Sub Pop Records. The “Father John Misty” moniker is a deliberately curious pseudonym for Josh Tillman, better known as the former drummer for Seattle-based folk rockers, Fleet Foxes.
“Misty,” he told me, “is a horny, drunk, shamanic drifter character offering you a cup of his home-brewed ayahuasca tea.”
Trying to describe music in words is like doing a sketch of a novel, but in a nutshell, here’s what you get with Fear Fun: Blenderize Physical Graffiti, Roy Orbison, Waylon Jennings, Nilsson, Loudon Wainwright III, Leonard Cohen, Neil Young and the Rollings Stones with Hermann Hesse, Charles Bukowski and Richard Brautigan. That’s what it tastes like.
Fear Fun is a striking, often inscrutable obelisk of a album, a multi-layered work with clever, sardonic “literary” lyrics. It’s something that deserves to be listened to all the way through, as if you’re reading a novel or watching a film. Fear Fun has a dramatic arc and a certain resolution of tension by the end. The album was produced by the amazing Jonathan Wilson and engineered by Phil Ek on analog tape, so it sounds great. It’s a unique piece of art to unleash on an OCD world carrying iPods, but one that can be enjoyed in that context, too.
If this sounds intriguing—and I hope that it would—you can order Fear Fun via Amazon or pick it up at your local record emporium. There’s even a limited edition pink vinyl version. The amazing cover painting is by talented New York-based painter, Dimitri Drjuchin.
As we arrive at Tillman’s Econoline van parked a few blocks away [to smoke a joint], he explains his decision to release Fear Fun under the name Father John Misty, as opposed to J. Tillman, the moniker under which he’s released his previous solo albums. “In my mind, this J. Tillman person is a far more romanticized, fictionalized person to the world than this ridiculous name, Father John Misty,” he says. He goes on to explain how he felt distanced and trapped by his songwriting persona as he matured in his personal life.
“I wanted to bring my conversational voice and my musical voice in to alignment. The ridiculous name is about satisfying this morbid sense of humor I have that says ‘Maybe the most honest thing you can do is to just call yourself something stupid and say something real.’”
The name Father John Misty is partly a reference to cocaine, as in “Misty Mountain Hop,” and partly a reference to Tillman’s life-long exploration of religion and spirituality, which started with his evangelical upbringing in the suburbs of Washington D.C. Out of despair, Tillman considered becoming a pastor for a brief time during his youth. “I wasn’t good at sports. I wasn’t good at school. I didn’t see anything outside of Christian jobs,” he says. After becoming unglued from religion in his teens, “I was so angry and terrified that I’d been raised that way that, at some point, my number one mission became to make as big of a joke out it as I could.”
Father John Misty performs tomorrow, May 4th at the Natural History Museum in Los Angeles
Fear Fun is the seventh full-length album from J. Tillman, the singer-songwriter also known for being the former drummer of Fleet Foxes, the popular Seattle, WA-based folk rockers.
Tillman’s music has proven to be somewhat self-referential in the past, but for this outing he’s recording under the moniker of “Father John Misty.” It’s as much a character—or singular voice—that both the songwriter and performer inhabit for the project, as it is a signal that this album is a rather abrupt departure from the stern folk blues released by Tillman under his own name since 2004.
If Tillman’s previous music might have seemed like it was created by Clint Eastwood’s character in Unforgiven—had he been a troubadour and not a gunslinger—then “Father John Misty” is a character who you might think of as Neil Young, if he were to be reborn as a trickster god, like Loki.
“Misty is a drunk, shamanic drifter character offering you a cup of his home-brewed ayahuasca tea,” is how Tillman describes his musical alter-ego, a persona that has decidedly more in common with Charles Bukowski than Ziggy Stardust. “There is nothing naive or sentimental about him. He’s a loner who doesn’t see the world as being worth saving. ‘Father John Misty’ is not really even meant to be taken as a literal person, more like an avatar of mischief. He likes to needle people a little and freak ‘em out. But I could’ve called him ‘Steve.’”
“I spent eight months living in my van on the coastline, sitting in trees, writing a novel and soaking up the mythos of the Pacific Northwest, California and the Laurel Canyon sound. I was reading a lot of Richard Brautigan, Hesse’s Narcissus and Goldmund and Joseph Campbell. Ultimately I got pissed off with that, the idea that I was following in anyone else’s footsteps, or recapitulating their myth. I wanted to create my own myth as an artist and songwriter.”
Along with Devendra Banhart, Mercury Prize nominee Laura Marling and last year’s breakout artist, Jonathan Wilson, who produced the album, Tillman is clearly no longer in thrall to his Laurel Canyon fore-bearers of some four decades ago.
“What does Laurel Canyon even represent anymore in 2012? Yuppies? I resent the idea of being the ‘new’ anyone, even an artist I might happen to revere. I had no idea where I’d end up when I left Seattle, let alone a spider-filled tree-house in Laurel Canyon!”
Fear Fun was produced and recorded at Five Star Studios in Laurel Canyon by Jonathan Wilson and mixed by Phil Ek. Musically, the album’s DNA consists of such disparate elements as Waylon Jennings, Nilsson, Nick Drake and Physical Graffiti, often within the same song. Tillman’s voice sounds like Roy Orbison at his most joyous, while the music maintains a dark, mysterious and yet conversely playful, almost Dionysian quality.
Fear Fun comes out in May on Sub Pop Records. It’s already my favorite album of 2012. I can’t see how anything else could top it. It’s a complex album, both lyrically and musically, the kind of song cycle you need to listen to all the way through. Repeatedly.
Greetings from sunny Austin, TX. Well at least it’s supposed to be sunny today and tomorrow, but never mind that persistant pouring rain, Dangerous Minds will be covering the SXSW music festival all this week. I got in last Thursday and Marc Campbell and I have been roaming around Austin trying to take it all in and report back about a little of what’s going on here. It’s a loud, colorful food truck-strewn chaos of a city right now, that’s for sure. Every single square inch of Austin seems to have some sort of corporate branding.
I’ve eaten some great food, seen some amazing films and soon enough the music part of the festival wil start. In the coming days, we’ll be bringing you movie premieres (Small Apartments with Matt Lucas and Johnny Knoxville, the epic new Bob Marley documentary, the charming Grandma Low-Fi, the Bad Brains doc and many more), interviews with Indian Rope, Cloud Nothings, Daytrotter’s Sean Moeller and some “unplugged sessions” that have been scheduled with Jonathan Wilson,Father John Misty, Jenny O, Bee vs. Moth, Madi Diaz, Chelsea Wolfe, Poor Moon and the premiere of a new music video from Bay Area druid spacerockers Lumerians.
Click here to see Mirgun Akyavas’ photo gallery of Austin street art.
She’s an absolute genius at making that face isn’t she?
My favorite album of 2011 was Gentle Spirit, folk-rocker Jonathan Wilson’s masterful, nuanced paean to the Laurel Canyon sound of the early 1970s. So far my favorite album of 2012—unlikely to be bested and it’s not even out until May—is Fear Fun by former Fleet Foxes drummer J. Tillman (now recording under the moniker of “Father John Misty”). Fear Fun was produced by Wilson and my gut tells me that by the time Summer rolls around, the critics will be raving for Father John Misty in that same way they went about declaring Jonathan Wilson the second coming in MOJO and UnCut last year.
Fear Fun, out on Sub Pop Records on May 1, knocked me sideways when I heard it last Fall. It’s been in constant heavy rotation here at DM HQ since then and it’s something the wife and I can always agree on.
The first video from Fear Fun is out today, for a track called “Hollywood Forever Cemetery Sings” and it features Parks and Recreation’s deadpan comedienne Aubrey Plaza as a crazy girl who causes a bit of a commotion at a funeral.
All bloody like that, Plaza puts me in mind of a glammed-up Hollywood version of “Lung Leg,” the batshit crazy punk princess seen on Sonic Youth’s Evol album cover. If that’s what they were going for here, they succeeded.
Get the mp3 of “Hollywood Forever Cemetery Sings” at Pitchfork.
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