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Father John Misty Speaks,… But Not To Us

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Father John Misty

Some people find him pretentious and tiresome, others love him. I could not get a ticket for his upcoming show at the Roxy, and the scalpers are reselling tickets at $200! So I guess it means that those who love him are really serious about their loving relationship. Father John Misty intrigues me and I expect his upcoming album ‘I Love You, Honeybear’ to be good or even great, but I see Josh Tillman reinventing himself as Father John Misty, a bit as Alex Ebert did it with Edward Sharpe (and the Magnetic Zeros), they both took some pseudo-religious figures, grew some biblical beards, and although Ebert plays his character like a second coming of the Christ, Tillman is said to be confrontational with audiences.

He gave an interview to the Guardian a few days ago, and right away religion and faith is in the middle of the conversation. As Tillman surprisingly starts singing Celine Dion’s ‘That’s The Way It Is’ , the one that comes with the line ‘Love comes to those who believe it’, he declares ‘That’s one of the most fucked-up messages I received as a kid. If you’re not loved, it’s because you don’t ‘believe’ enough. It’s an exploitation of the idea of faith.’ Right away you get a taste of Father Misty…

He also explains how he found his new persona: ‘I got into a van with enough mushrooms to choke a horse and drove down the coast with nowhere to go.’ He was emerging from a deep depression and suddenly had his spiritual calling while on drugs, founding himself ‘sitting naked in a tree, hallucinating and scratching my head like an ape.’ ‘And I confronted the great cosmic joke. I’d wanted to be perceived as this spiritual person, but the reality was me running about with my pants around by my knees.’ He wants to convince us that this blend of spiritual exploration and humor is synonymous with Father John Misty. ‘You wouldn’t know it from this conversation, but I’m actually hilarious,’ he adds. ‘That’s my direct line to the sublime, and I needed to use it. In childhood, my humor had always been maligned as satanic.’

Someone who talks so much about religion, faith and satan has to have a past linked with some cult? Bingo! He grew up in an evangelical household in Maryland and it was quite extreme according to what he says:

‘I went to a Pentecostal messianic Jewish cult school where I was taught to exorcise demons from my classmates and speak in tongues, and had these insane engineered psychedelic experiences. People were lifting my arms up to worship while kids lay convulsing on the floor, talking about seeing their dead grandparents. It was flat-out insanity, and I should have been writing about that. I didn’t want anyone to know about my upbringing. It’s still a major source of pain and confusion. I didn’t get to choose my childhood, and I felt doomed. The further I get from those experiences, the more of a sense of humor about it I have. In a broad sense, I mean. I don’t think it’s hilarious or anything.’

I totally understand now, when I saw him at Origami Vinyl, years ago, before he had taken his Father John Misty moniker, he was singing very depressing songs filled with Biblical references. ‘I had an archetype in my head of what an authentic singer-songwriter sounded like, this southern gothic fantasy. All I ended up with was a bunch of half-baked analogies about the blood and the lamb that didn’t really make any sense’, he explains to the Guardian.

As everyone knows he was Fleet Foxes’ drummer before turning all Father, but he admits he ‘had very little interest in being a drummer’, and things didn’t end very well. ‘We all started hating each other. I wasn’t the worst band member – I was actually the funny one. But there were a lot of tears. The worst was the tour we did where I was the opening act. I’d play my sad bastard stuff, be ignored, then go sit at the back. There’s no better illustration of how little worth I had. I walked off stage at Shepherd’s Bush and nobody noticed.’

Oh well, was it that bad? Anyhow, he bravely quit the band but thought he would go ‘back to washing dishes,’ he explains. ‘I felt like the cowboy at the end of Dr Strangelove, riding a bomb back down to earth, like ‘Yee-haw!’’ Nothing of this sort happened of course, he picked a name that he describes meaningless, evoking ‘either a beloved childhood horse or a stripper’, and is about to release a second album under this moniker.

He is certainly a fellow hard to pigeonhole, he wants to be funny with a sort of I-am-smarter-than-you attitude and pseudo intellectual conversation about ‘image-based culture and its implications for patriarchy’ that the interviewer declares he doesn’t want to include in the interview? He sure cultivates his own myth, but admits that his new ironic song ‘Bored In The USA’ ‘could be perceived as me slapping lazy millennials in the dick’…

But he kept the best for the end, and could I be totally wrong about the guy after all? ‘We build ideas up into sacred objects – the love of a woman, the love of all women…,’ he says, ‘a career in a famous band. We have to debunk these things, demystify them. I just wanted to write about love without bullshitting myself or anyone else.’

Okay, Father John Misty does not want to build any myth, he wants to demystify them.

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