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Interview: Father John Misty 

Josh Tillman talks about moving to New Orleans — and his new album, I Love You, Honeybear

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Photo by Emma Tillman

Josh Tillman is the enemy, or in his words, "the gentrification angel of death." Tillman and his wife Emma moved from Los Angeles to New Orleans in 2013 for a lost weekend that honeymooned into two years in the Crescent City. But Tillman — aka Father John Misty, whose acclaimed 2015 album I Love You, Honeybear (Sub Pop) is a grand love letter to Emma and ritual diary-burning — will not be "that guy."

  "I feel there's this tendency for someone who has some kind of profile to move into town and within 72 hours they're dancing in a second line and just ... I would be annoyed, personally," Tillman says. "I love it for a lot of reasons that don't make sense to most people when they think about New Orleans, you know? I kind of like the spooky quietude. There's this real heavy, slow vibe. I just wanted to kind of drop out."

  Here, Tillman plays his piano, rides his bike and works on his book while Emma writes a feature-length screenplay.

  "We have just been kind of like hermits for a year," he says. "We're sort of the conjoined Boo Radley in our neighborhood. We're so obviously from California, it's ridiculous... 'King Hipster moves to town.' I get it. I've never called myself King Hipster before. I hope that one doesn't stick."

  Father John Misty performs Saturday, April 25 at the Civic Theatre during a busy weekend for concerts.

  On "I Went to the Store One Day," Tillman remembers meeting his future wife and the horrible gut-twisting of true love one year later. Sucked in by delusions of grandeur of a picturesque New Orleans, where the couple can finally live the solitary married ideal, he sings, "Let's buy a plantation house and let the yard grow wild until we don't need the signs that say, 'Keep out' / I've got some money left and it's cheaper in the South."

  "I'm very much acknowledging that fantasy between two people," he says. "It's sort of meant to sound like that uninformed fantasy speculation. But there's this rampant Chipotle-ization happening in every American city."

  Honeybear follows 2012's Fear Fun, Tillman's first as Misty after a career as J. Tillman and member of Fleet Foxes. On that album, Tillman comes to terms with ending his romantic aspirations as a tortured singer-songwriter. And he's tired of analyzing it.

  "So much of the vibe of that whole thing was subversion and antagonizing the idea of being a performer, antagonizing the audience for being an audience," he says, laughing. "That's sort of how I was giving myself permission to be a performer, to be loathing of the whole enterprise. In that song 'Now I'm Learning to Love the War,' it's asking this existential question of, 'What am I going to do? I'm taking up these limited resources, I'm taking these people's time. What am I going to do with it? Is it just glorified navel gazing?' Asking questions about questions and running everything in circles. I'm f—king sick of it. In terms of a performance, I have to come to a place where it's like, 'Look, asshole. This is where you are. This is your reality. You can either do something with it or you can just keep jerking off.'"

  Tillman isn't shy on Honeybear, which he describes as a concept album about himself. Accompanying rich arrangements and folk- and rock-influenced pop songs are frank details, unglamorous journal entries and the dumb things one does in love. His specific, funny, dark and dense lyrics and piano ballads update Harry Nilsson and Randy Newman as he learns to live with his past and settle for a simple, sincere and selfish love. He awaits the impending American family life on "Bored in the USA," accompanied only by a piano and canned studio laughter. "Holy Shit," which he wrote on his wedding day, stares down the universe. He bitterly remembers "The Night Josh Tillman Came To Our Apt." in which he sings, "She says, like literally, music is the air she breathes / And the malaprops make me want to f—king scream / I wonder if she even knows what that word means / Well, it's literally not that."

How does he relive that night-after-night onstage?

  "I had f—king no idea at first," he says. "I am so vulnerable and exposed. The jig is up. There's no mask. I think going into the performance, going into the first couple of shows, I was like, 'I guess I'm supposed to sing these songs for Emma every night?' and I tried that, and it was horrible, because there's a lot of angst in these songs that I'm fairly loathed to revisit. And also because Emma and I have moved on. ... I don't want to turn these shows into some kind of tomb wherein the bones of the years 2011-2014 reside and I charge admission to come check them out. ... There's something about creating this psychodrama between me and the audience that gives the thing vitality. ... I don't know why that makes sense, and I think a lot of people leave the show feeling like they've been riding the bus with a pervert."


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