"Fear Fun" is the debut by Father John Misty, but the man behind the moniker, Joshua Tillman, has been putting out albums for the past eight years, recording as a member of Fleet Foxes, Saxon Shore and on his own as J. Tillman. These previous efforts, mostly characterized by their solemnity, bear little resemblance to his recent outpouring of manic psychedelic folk.
"I was obliged to make some changes after some realizations that I had about myself," says Tillman. "I was on autopilot for a few years with the J. Tillman thing."
On "Fear Fun," the songs ooze with an exuberance of being born again, but for Father John Misty that doesn't necessarily mean a pious awakening. Against some of the same warm quilts of harmony that make Fleet Foxes sound so comforting, Tillman sings words that are frank and funny and often deal with sex and drugs. If it weren't for this content, you could almost picture him dancing to these funky songs with some groovy monster on "The Muppet Show."
His voice is one of confidence and clarity, and against the dark decadence of his lyrics, it blurs the line between reverence and irreverence.
As opposed to the bleak and serious artwork on his solo records, the album art on "Fear Fun" is deeply hallucinogenic with liner notes inside that provide commentary and peculiar subtitles for each song.
Tillman says coming up with this part of the album was a cathartic process.
"I was just sick of identifying myself as a songwriter and subsequently like a failure of a songwriter or something," he says. "Around that time, the sound of an acoustic guitar made me nauseous, like I couldn't even deal with it, and so I left Seattle and I just wanted to get back to my humanity. And it's funny because with songwriting, you get so used to only pulling from certain aspects of your imagination or your emotional quotient. You get so used to farming from these very specific parts of yourself that at some point you start to believe that those are the only parts of yourself that have substance or worth. I was just sort of sick of feeling like a one-dimensional entity in terms of creativity, so I started writing up the book that's in the album and I wasn't beholden to these aesthetic parameters that I was musically. I quickly discovered what I perceived to be far more engaging in that medium, creatively. I was laughing a lot the whole time I was writing."
Nothing is sacred
In addition to the new name that Father John Misty has ordained himself with, “Fear Fun” teems with references to biblical figures and holy places. But Tillman says nothing is sacred here.
“Really, it just kind of aligns with my sensibilities of what I think is funny,” he says. “I do think music that is popular right now is so insubstantial, and there is very little acknow- ledgement of prevalent images or mythology. ... I know that religion is like an antiquated thing, but it still, for whatever reason, really resonates with people, and the subversion of those images resonates. It’s not out of devotion, but if I’m going to write from my conversational voice, there’s tons of that s—rattling around in my brain just from my formative years and I really get some enjoyment out of subverting conventional wisdom regarding those symbols.”