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The Night Tripper: Father John Misty’s mischievous, apocalytic ‘Fear Fun’

Art by Dimitri Drjuchin

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.

Aaron Frank writes in the LA WEEKLY:

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

Previously on Dangerous Minds:
Father John Misty: The Misguided Ayahuasca Tea Session

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Father John Misty: The Misguided Ayahuasca Tea Session
09:36 pm


Father John Misty
Fleet Foxes

Painting by the amazing Dimitri Drjuchin

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.

More Father John Misty mischief after the jump…

Posted by Richard Metzger | Leave a comment
Fleet Foxes off-shoot Poor Moon live performance with Dangerous Minds
01:17 pm


Fleet Foxes
Poor Moon

After playing a series of house parties using whimsical handles like Rabbit Kingdom, Peppermint Majesty and Cookie Mask, Poor Moon finally settled on a name taken from an old Canned Heat song. The band consists of lead vocalist/principle songwriter Christian Wargo (Fleet Foxes, Crystal Skulls), Casey Wescott (Fleet Foxes, Crystal Skulls) and brothers Ian and Peter Murray. Poor Moon began in the form of a long distance collaboration when Christian and Casey were touring the world with Fleet Foxes and the Murray brothers were living in the Bay Area, gigging as The Christmas Cards.

They are joined by Jonas Haskins on bass and Jason Merculief who is playing a floor tom and percussion.

The contribution of their audio engineer, Jared Hankins—who came to the session armed with two road cases of reverb units and other assorted mysterious electronic boxes—needs to be pointed out. The delicate, echo-drenched gossamer that you hear on this recording is not, I repeat, not what was audible to the naked ear in the studio. Each member of the band was plugged directly into the soundboard (no amps, they wouldn’t have fit!) and then into Jared’s gear. Only he knew what the actual sound was like during the recording as he had the only headphones that were plugged into the sound board. Poor Moon’s Christian Wargo told me “Jared brings so much to live sound I wouldn’t consider letting anyone else twist knobs for me. I write music taking into consideration what Jared can do to it live. What he brings to the table really affects the whole experience. A lot!”

In the video below, the six members of Poor Moon and their instruments, audio wizard Jared Hankins, plus our own crew crammed into our bus-housed “TV studio” at SXSW (which was about the size of a large elevator). The songs are “Phantom Light,” “Clouds Below” and “Come Home.”

Poor Moon’s debut EP, Illusion, is due out March 27th. Poor Moon is currently touring with Lost in the Trees.

Posted by Richard Metzger | Leave a comment