Former Fleet Foxes drummer Josh Tillman is just as well known for his free-spirited offstage antics as he is for the warped yet surprisingly tender pop songs he records under the Father John Misty moniker. We recently spoke with the eccentric singer-songwriter about how he spends his leisure time, why he loves Jon Brion, and how he and his wife “fell in love over talking about how love was bullshit.”
You were raised in an evangelical Christian household. How did that affect you?
I remember asking my Sunday-school teacher who made God. It was the first time I ever saw someone’s eyes glaze over and robotically recite something. She said, “God’s always been.” For the Western world, enlightenment is having an airtight answer to a question. That to me is the quickest way to make yourself absurd. I think certainty is completely grotesque.
Was there anything valuable about your evangelical upbringing?
I was promised redemption and forgiveness and salvation over and over, but it never manifested in any meaningful way. It was like Charlie Brown and Lucy with the football. There’s something about my writing that keeps looking to that problem.
What’s the first song you ever connected to?
I had a Fisher-Price record player, and my parents gave me a personalized seven-inch, which said, “Dear Joshua, it’s your birthday. Happy birthday, Joshua” over and over. Having this alien object sing to me was probably my first glimpse into narcissistic cool. I also had a seven-inch of the Who’s “My Generation,” but I never liked branded rock. I also heard a Keith Moon track called “Dogs Part Two,” which is just a drum solo with dogs barking. I preferred that.
What do you do to relax?
Going to Costa Rica, Jet Skiing and whatever else makes me want to kill myself. I like to do nothing. When I worked jobs, I took the ones that were closest to doing nothing. Washing dishes, selling shoes, donating plasma – I liked jobs with zero opportunity for upward mobility. I’m always biding my time between ideas that excite me. Home, to me, is about making a space where you can do nothing beautifully.
Who’s your biggest hero you’ve met?
Half the time when I listen to music, I’m listening to soundtracks by Jon Brion. We had this party at the Chateau Marmont for my wife’s 30th, and he showed up. I dosed all my friends with 20-to-1 diluted LSD. Everyone is peaking, and Jon gets on the piano, and everyone sings “Over the Rainbow.” It was like meeting someone in a dream.
You’ve said before that LSD can be a tool.
Certain ideas that you’d be quick to dismiss can be viewed with the significance that they deserve. The last time I took a hero’s dose of LSD was at a Taylor Swift concert in Australia. She was playing in Melbourne, and I met a bunch of people from her crew at a bar, and they invited me to the show. I got my tour manager to get me some acid: “This is written in the stars. I’m supposed to go take acid at this Taylor Swift concert.”
So what’s it like seeing Taylor Swift on acid?
I experienced the show like an eight-year-old girl – as much as that’s possible for a 35-year-old man. It was holy. It was psychedelic. She fully impregnated my dilated soul with her ideology. I remember laughing uncontrollably. I remember going outside for a smoke and thinking, “I need to get back in there.“ But there was a disturbing aspect – this insistence on telling girls, “I‘m normal, don‘t let anyone tell you what you should be.“ Meanwhile, there are 60-foot-high images of her on screens. If you wanted to curate an evening with the Grand Leader, this is what you would do. It‘s a very, very false normal. And that‘s dangerous.
But you also released several Taylor Swift covers online, right after Ryan Adams did, where you sang her songs in the style of Lou Reed.
I was taking this dude to task for what I saw as a grotesque stunt and matching it with another grotesque stunt. It ironically became the biggest publicity that I’ve ever received, and that grossed me out. I had to take them down. Which then, of course, made it even bigger. It was such a comedy of errors.
How did getting married change you?
I consider myself a progressive person. But my progressive ideas were untested when I got married. My wife and I fell in love over talking about how love was bullshit and relationships were bullshit. But now we’re having those conversations again. That’s why love is so radical.
You grew up in Maryland but have lived off and on in L.A. What’ve you learned about the city?
I love it here, but I have noticed that Los Angeles is the white-hot center of hypnotic positivity. You see the word “gratitude” flying around a lot. It’s this sort of mental narcotic – this way of flattening or numbing every experience and suspending your ability to think critically. When you think critically, you open the door to madness. The people who talk about spirituality and energy and crystals are actually some of the least-spiritual people I’ve ever met.