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.
The video for the single “Hollywood Forever Cemetary Sings” featuring comedian/actress Aubrey Plaza (Parks and Recreation).
“Nancy From Now On”