One of Father John Misty's more scathing songs, “The Night Josh Tillman Came to Our Apartment,” starts out sounding like a love song: “Oh, I just love the kind of woman who can walk over a man.” This turns out to be the sweetest line on the track, which bears the Maryland-born singer-songwriter's real name. But this is no love song. "She says, like literally, music is the air she breathes," he goes on. "And the malaprops make me want to fucking scream.”
He's not singing about wanting a girl, he's subjecting her to a lyrical diatribe.
At a show last night in Brooklyn, the musician performed the song in front of a heavily male crowd that soaked it all in as Tillman wagged his finger, making it explicitly clear that he had come here to say something.
Tillman's inclinations towards sharing his disillusionment are especially evident on his second studio album, I Love, You Honey Bear, released on February 10 by Sub Pop. 2012’s Fear Fun was a rousing mix of folk and country, with a heavy psychedelic rock influence. Don’t let the saccharine title fool you: Honey Bear is significantly darker, as Tillman’s signature black humor is given room to fully unravel. (He credits Randy Newman, among other other, as an influence.) Tillman himself describes it as filled with “sex, violence, profanity and excavations of the male psyche.” With lines like “She blackens pages like a Russian romantic/Gets down more often than a blowup doll” delivered with a blues-y indifference, that may be an understatement. Other parts of it swing to impassioned sincerity, such as "Chateau Lobby #4 (in C for Two Virgins)" (below).
For all his ribald musings, Tillman has an unexpected past: He was raised in a strict evangelical household. He left home at 18 and became quasi-famous as the drummer for Fleet Foxes. But it’s his solo work that garnered the most attention - unsurprising as it’s his lyrics that seem to resonate with fans the most.
Last night’s show was held at Rough Trade (a record store) and he greeted the crowd with a nod that it was “wonderful to be gathered here in this place of commerce.” Flippant, but expected, considering that the most popular ballad off Honey Bear, “Bored in the USA,” is teeming with middle-class dissatisfaction - so much so that the recording even includes an intermittent canned jeer track. When he brought it out for an encore, the audience provided their own heckling laughter at the appropriate times.
But Tillman’s banter revealed he’s very much in on his own joke. “What’s your favorite ice cream flavor?” someone shouted when he opened the floor to “questions, comments, and concerns” from the crowd. “Despair,” he answered. The next audience member followed it up by asking him his favorite planet.
“The Earth,” he said without missing a beat. “It revolves around me.”
Photos by Mike Lawrie/Getty Images