"Esoteric" is the first word that comes to mind when describing Josh Tillman, the mystic muse behind Father John Misty. Inspiration for his 2012 album, Fear Fun, struck via a psychedelic lightning bolt, giving Tillman the courage to be (as clichéd as it sounds) himself. That meant embracing both his sarcastic and existentialist core, resulting in an album that feels at once honest and surreal, despairing, yet hopeful, all of it complemented by his anti-folk sensibilities and serene warbling.
Tillman's main fascination seems to be the vapidity of modern culture, the flaming Ferris wheel that's simultaneously repulsive and oddly attractive. It explains his move "on a lark" from Seattle to Los Angeles, during which the acoustic-driven singer-songwriter reinvented himself and wrote a novel, included in the liner notes of his record.
Hey Josh, how are you? Oh, hey! I forgot I have an interview right now. I'm pretty good.
The last two times you were in Phoenix, your show sold out before I could even get tickets. You must be on tour constantly. Does that "on the road" mentality fuck with your head a little? Yeah, I'd say it's more or less designed to do that. I know certain people who really thrive in that environment. I don't understand it at all. If I had my way, I would play just one show -- you know, the album would come out and I would play one mega-concert in Prague, or something, and everyone would just have to come to me. It would be one concert. It'd be fucking amazing, then it'd be done.
I'm thinking of moving to Seattle. Would you recommend it? Well, I'd have to know you a little better. But sure, Seattle's great. But everywhere's the same. America, it's the same everywhere. It's all the same shit. I imagine you're like a white guy in your 20s and you drink coffee. You know, it'll be fine.
I think I would hate living in L.A., though. I just recently visited it and it made me want to gouge out my eyes. Yeah, it's pretty bad. It's cute for a little while. But it's like . . . well, what was it, the traffic or something?
The people are just like their shit doesn't smell and it really got on my nerves. And the traffic. Well, you know, in L.A. people eat so healthy that their shit probably doesn't smell. Everyone just lives on smoothies. So there's actually a case to be made that their shit doesn't smell. But I know what you're saying. It's pretty bad.
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Do you think you would have been as successful with Fear Fun if you hadn't moved there? Well, we'd have to break down the meaning of all those words, but success is a pretty relative term. I moved here kind of on a lark. I think the thing that maybe turned you off was grotesquely fascinating to me. It wasn't so much about the place, but I thought it was kind of hilarious that I, of all people, was living here. But I don't really believe in hypotheticals, so I can't really answer that question. Sure, maybe if I'd moved, let's just imagine that I moved to Colorado instead. Or Phoenix. Let's say Phoenix. And the album was all about solar artwork and rain sticks and painted desert sand art, that probably would not have gone over very well.
I'm just wondering if it was more along the lines of who you know or something. Well, my label is based in Seattle . . .
That's true. What, do you think I got some high-powered manager who just proceeded to make me blow up?
No -- I didn't think that, but I did wonder, if that makes sense. Well, I did. His name is Xavier Croutchly. The best in the biz. He's like, stick with me, buddy, and you'll be selling half the records that Tame Impala does in no time.
That's awesome. You seem to be largely frustrated with the millennial generation, with good reason. It's refreshing to hear someone so hateful of the commercialized garbage that is being pushed down our throats. Do you think we're doomed or we'll finally get our heads out of our asses at some point? Well, everyone is doomed, including us. I think it's much like any generation. Some people will pull their heads out their asses, some people won't. I think there is going to be some reckoning, some moment of generational disillusionment.
A generation of people working retail in their 60s, lamenting the fact that their blog never took off. That'll be a dark day. I think the generation that comes after this is going to be really interesting because everything that we think is so cool, mainly our mobile gadgets and our online lifestyle and everything, will be ripe for mockery to our children. Hunched over your mobile device checking your Facebook will be like, it'll be a joke -- it'll be something my parents do. I think we're just too easily amused or something. But who knows?
You seemed to have a pretty prolific songwriting career as J. Tillman, meaning you released an album almost every year . . . Can we expect the same outpouring of material with FJM? I'm not really interested in that volume of output anymore. Well, there's two sides. Pragmatically I'm just not interested in promoting that volume of output. No one was, like, buying those J. Tillman records, so I could put them out as I pleased and not have to really worry about touring and interviewing. It was very pure.
I write a lot of songs, but I think that my standards have changed as far as what I'd like to get out of making an album. It used to be very like, Okay, here's 14 songs, make an album, here's another 14 songs, make an album and it just went at that pace. Little different now.
How did the idea for releasing your perfume, called "Innocence," come about? Well, it started as just a good idea. I have a friend who is a perfumer. I was just interested in making something simple that at the time, I didn't imagine I'd have to answer for. But now that it seems people want to know why -- if you see it, if you hold it, I think it makes sense. It's a very simple thing and I think that I've got my finger on the pulse as far as the female zeitgeist is concerned.
Good. When it first came out, I thought it was a parody. Oh, is it? Or is it? Of course, of course it's a parody. I mean, c'mon. It's definitely satirical to some extent, but it's made even more confusing by the fact that it's actually quite a lovely little thing.
Exactly. That's sort of the balance that I'm interested in maintaining, in everything I do, whether it's the dancing, the way I dance or whatever. It's all in the same wheelhouse.
I find it so interesting that you said you took a bunch of mushrooms and tried writing a novel. Because I took LSD and started writing a novel. I really do feel that psychedelics are tools for expansive self-realization. You'd be surprised -- not many musicians are as open to talking about that kind of thing. I've talked to some and they treat it like it's kids stuff. So my question is, you've said before you do psilocybin about six times a year. Do you have a particular ritual that you do? I like to be alone, for the most part, I like to be with some kind of static environment where I'm not bombarded by weird messages. Yeah, I do find it interesting. This is part of that millennial thing too. There's a certain degree of glibness that everyone has, and I think with mushrooms, everyone tends to think like that it's this hippie thing exclusively. And it's really not; it's far older than that. It really depends on the person. It doesn't have a uniform effect.
Cocaine has a uniform effect. It turns everyone into an asshole. Mushrooms, it's very, very different for different people, so I can't even discuss mushrooms in general, so I can only really discuss their effect on me.
Ever heard of the lemon tek? That's where you soak the mushrooms in lemon juice for about 10 minutes. As the citric acid extracts the alkaloids, turning the psilocybin into psilocybe -- which is what your stomach does anyway. This is just faster and you're supposed to have a quicker come up, but a shorter trip. I tried it and the stars caught on fire. It certainly wasn't shorter either. I highly recommend it. Yeah. I think, for me, I need a real long burn. I like to kind of sit and laugh for a while before anything. Language doesn't do this topic any favors. I'm going to get some dinner. I'm going on this tour in two hours, so I gotta scoot. Yeah, thanks for the time, though.
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Father John Misty is scheduled to perform Thursday, October 31, at Crescent Ballroom.