Review by Bryan Kalbrosky • Photography by Todd Cooper
Father John Misty makes more sense in Los Angeles. The splattering of ego in the crowd, the expensive male perfume and the perfectly trimmed beards properly contextualizes the former L.A. native.
I’m unapologetically fascinated by Father John Misty, the moniker Joshua Tillman settled on after his unexpectedly successful career as an indie-rock drummer with Fleet Foxes as well as his commercially unsuccessful solo career as J. Tillman.
Originally from the suburbs of Washington, D.C., Tillman has lived in New York (briefly during college), Seattle (when he was in Fleet Foxes), Los Angeles (where his career was launched as Father John Misty) and now New Orleans.
But something reportedly “clicked” when he lived in Los Angeles. “That’s when he broke through into his own personal, artistic algorithm of expression,” producer Jonathan Wilson tells Grantland. “[He was] just genuinely excited to be in the mix of Hollywood.”
Listen to the first track on his first album as Father John Misty, “Fun Times in Babylon” — Tillman croons about his new home: “Look out, Hollywood, here I come.”
Flash-forward — his prediction was right on. Tillman has performed as Father John Misty on Letterman, Seth Meyers and (most recently) Jimmy Kimmel. He’s sparked headlines like the following, in Paste Magazine: “Father John Misty is the Best Kind of Asshole.”
Performing in Los Angeles, that’s exactly how it felt. He asked the crowd what they thought of his new jacket, which has become an iconic center to his signature look. He performs in front of a beautifully illuminated light fixture that reads “No Photography” even though he jumps around on top of drum sets, gyrating across the stage, basically begging the crowd to document his incredible dance moves.
He grabbed a cell phone from a girl in the front row and took a video of the crowd with it. And he didn’t give her phone back for an entire song.
Here, then, is a musician largely confused by his own fame. Check his silly, sarcastic “Over/Under” video on Pitchfork with his wife, Emma, for a taste. Listen to his most recent album I Love You, Honeybear (2015) for more of his tongue-in-cheek (but still genuine, sometimes!) attempt at writing an album about falling in love with previously mentioned wife.
Just don’t judge Father John Misty (or rather don’t judge him too much) for his more absurd moments. For example, he recently released two covers of Ryan Adams’ cover of Taylor Swift’s 1989 (2015) album — all in the style of Lou Reed from the Velvet Underground.
Then he took the tracks down because Reed came to him in a dream (which read more like an intense, expansive acid trip) stating: “Delete those tracks, don't summon the dead, I am not your plaything.”
Don’t worry. Tillman later explained that he was trolling all of us with unpublishable gibberish that (of course) basically every indie-rock publication published anyway.
The experience of watching Father John Misty perform is not similar to the experience of listening to him on his vinyl, as I often have. It’s not quite as vulnerable as sitting alone in your room when the record spins, but maaaaaan, it’s so much more public.
I felt weird knowing people were watching me dance alone to the Father John Misty tunes, until suddenly I did not. I even bought his custom twill five-panel hat, and I rock it. Like the best kind of asshole.