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While most of his singer-songwriter peers treat their work as ‘serious business’, Father John Misty wields his warped sense of humour like a weapon through everything from songs to social media. Words: Tom Connick


he caricature of the singer-songwriter often outweighs even the best of intentions. Forlorn, doe-eyed, navel gazing - probably not the type to post memes of paper towel dispensers all over Instagram. Father John Misty, though, does exactly that. “I’ve always cultivated a persona through social media,” he admits, “because I’ve always had a hard time believing that people take it as seriously as they do.” Indeed, while the art of Father John Misty is pored over by ever-more intellectual bores, Josh Tillman spends his off days uploading stock photos of men taking selfies alongside such knowingly daft captions as “My mind tells me this is cliché, but my heart tells me I am fundamentally unique.” It’s a bizarre contrast.

True to his word, the covers lasted a grand total of “a couple of hours” before Josh pulled them offline. When he was approached for comment on why they’d disappeared, he made up a lie about Lou Reed visiting him in a dream. It wasn’t the first time he’d played a knowing prank on the music press – earlier this year, ahead of the release of his latest album ‘I Love You, Honeybear’, Josh uploaded a MIDI electronic version of the record for advance streaming, stating that it was a new technology titled SAP - “a new signal-to-audio process by which popular albums are ‘sapped’ of their performances, original vocal, atmosphere and other distracting affectations so the consumer can decide quickly and efficiently whether they like a musical

Josh is quick to admit he’s a slave to social media in his own, left field way. “I get wrapped up into it when I’m on tour or something,” he admits, “I’m just bored. I guess in some “ I t ’ s t h e w ay respect I do try to do… this is a pretentious word to apply to something so silly… but, there are a series of posts. I started finding SecondLife photos that represented what I was actually doing. Josh Tillman So if I was in London, I’d find a [virtual reality game] SecondLife photo of London. composition.” Yet again, it And then my friends would be like, ‘oh, I saw that you’re in was leapt upon. London!’” - he peels off in fits of giggles - “So that was good!”


brain w o r k s .”

This knowing, wry humour won’t come as a surprise to anyone who’s kept half an eye on Father John Misty’s extracurricular activities. Following up Ryan Adams’ Taylor Swift covers album with his own, Lou Reed-aping “interpretation from the classic Ryan Adams album ‘1989’” may have been leapt on like an act of cultural genius, but for Tillman it was just another way to pass the time. “I’m not sure I even believe in spontaneity any more,” he ponders on the subject. “We make these very deliberate decisions and presume that they must be spontaneous if they feel right. “But I will say that, with the covers of Ryan Adams, if you can justify spontaneity with an amount of time spent on anything – which with that particular thing was under an hour total – that’s as close to spontaneous as I guess there can be. But, that said, I did kind of know what I was doing; I did know that it would resonate. But I didn’t expect it to be as resonant as it was… which I found to be kind of disgusting.”

“Here’s the deal,” he continues. “The entertainment landscape, in order for it to be the kind of entertainment that people want, it can’t be timeless. The fact that that [Ryan Adams] thing came out that day, and turned the thing into an event, that’s what made it take off. The MIDI version of the album, that’s a far more timeless idea – and maybe it’s timely in that it’s addressing this far more drawn out conversation, but the Ryan Adams Taylor Swift thing was timely in that ‘this is the white-hot’ moment, and that’s what gets people

off these days. It’s the same mentality as a tabloid.” Talk of tabloids, smartphones and consumerism might initially seem at odds with Father John Misty’s grandiose, borderline classical arrangements and heart-rending love songs, but there’s a sense of humour that drips into Tillman’s day job too. ‘Bored In The U.S.A.’ sees an in-built laugh track used to counteract the dark lyrical statements, while his onstage set-up includes a neon sign which demands ‘No Photography’. Of course, if you want to see it, you need only search #fatherjohnmisty online. “Irony is a double-edged sword,” Tillman explains, “It can be a wake-up call, but it can also be anaesthetising.” He laments “the more toxic form of irony,” whereby people become overly wrapped up in just how clever they are, and admits he tries to veer away from that chasm. “So much music, so much culture is almost reverted to propaganda, where everything has to be a prescription for decent human living. There’s a lot of ugliness in this album, because if you’re gonna be creative you open the door of madness and you let everything in, and you have to run that risk. Or at least, I do.” Tillman’s admission of his own personal madness is quintessential Father John Misty – relishing in the harsh and twisted realities of his subjects is what pitches him leagues ahead of his singersongwriter contemporaries. “I’m not sure I can speak to what other songwriters think or how they experience that process, but I know that I just have a very attuned bullshit detector with my own work,” he admits. “I don’t aim straight for irony when I write this stuff, it just ends up being that way because it’s the way my brain works.” DIY


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