Monday, May 7, 2012

Father John Misty Discovers Fear Fun

Fear Fun is the debut album from Father John Misty on Sub Pop! If you don't know the name, Father John Misty is also known as Josh Tillman and J. Tillman. And Tillman, of course, is the former drummer for Fleet Foxes.

He unexpectedly quit the band just as they were ascending higher in terms of success and popularity. Or maybe he didn't. Even though Tillman was part of the band for three years, he always saw himself as a solo artist. He already has a handful of solo albums as J. Tillman to his credit.

Fear Fun trades drum kit for spotlight.

Listening to Tillman talk about it, he relished the opportunity to step from behind the relative security of his drum kit and into the spotlight again. As for Fear Fun and the Father John Misty persona? Those were born from a lot of pain, soul searching, and introspection.

“I lost all interest in writing music or identifying as a songwriter. I got into my van with enough mushrooms to choke a horse and started driving down the coast with nowhere to go,” said Tillman. “After a few weeks, I was writing a novel, which is where I finally found my narrative voice. The voice that is actually useful.”

After Tillman left Seattle and found himself in Los Angeles’ fabled Laurel Canyon, former hotbed of activity in the late 1960s and early 1970s, and the hallowed ground where much of the best music of these decades has its roots. It is here where he crafted a new musical persona.

“It was a while before that voice started manifesting in a musical way, but once I settled in the Laurel Canyon spider-shack where I’m living now, I spent months demoing all these weird-ass songs about weird-ass experiences almost in real-time, and kind of had this musical ‘Oh-there-I-am’ moment, identical to how I felt when I was writing the book,” explains Tillman. “It was unbelievably liberating. I knew there was never any going back to the place I was writing from before, which was a huge relief. The monkey got banished off my back.”

Tillman took his demos to co-producer Jonathan Wilson (Bonnie ‘Prince” Billy). The idea was to recreate Tillman’s rough demos in a home studio with only Tillman playing all of the instruments. But in Los Angeles, it’s not unusual for talented musicians to wander in and out of any studio and lay down a few tracks, and ultimately Tillman was okay with that. The album was mixed by Phil Ek (Modest Mouse and Fleet Foxes).

Fear Fun is melancholy Americana.

The resulting 12 tracks might be considered somewhat of a downer as Tillman’s work has always been painfully introspective and melancholy. Perhaps it can be best described as eclectic Americana. Yet, some of the clean harmonies are reminiscent of Fleet Foxes.

It seems like Tillman has reinvented himself as a reconceived Laurel Canyon compatriot, circa early 1970s. Hollywood Forever Cemetery, my personal favorite track on the album, reads like 70s-era Neil Young. Here it is being performed live at SXWS 2012, at The Beauty Bar in Austin, Texas.

While most of the tunes are sad, there is one that certainly is not. I’m Writing A Novel is perhaps the most joyful and ebullient track of all, filled with hope and promise. But it's on Only Son Of A Ladies Man where Tillman plays the Father John Misty role to perfection.

Another standout track is Nancy From Now On, fueled by an official video directed by Tillman and Amy Cargill. Those who check it out and are confounded should consider Tillman's hint: find the ring in all three scenes.

Fear Fun By Father John Misty Rolls In With 6.1 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale. 

Father John Misty followed up a May 1 Late Night With David Letterman performance with a May 3 engagement on Last Call With Carson Daly. It remains to be seen if the masses get the joke. If you missed it, Tillman writes about himself in a straightforward way, but calls it something else.

Fear Fun by Father John Misty is available on iTunes. Barnes & Noble carries the album, along with the vinyl LP version. Fear Fun is also on Amazon and Father John Misty is currently on tour in North America.
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