The transformative effects of romance, intimacy and self-acceptance form the backbone of Josh Tillman’s second album under the moniker Father John Misty. From his home in New Orleans Tillman looks back with Chris Familton on the two years it took to write and record I Love You Honeybear.
“I think I have some clarity in terms of what was going on that I didn’t have at the time. I think I went into the process thinking I was doing one thing and once the album was done I think there was an initial shock where I was horrified at the reality of what I’d actually done. I told myself going into this thing that there was all this talk that I was going to make an album about love, that it’s wasn’t going to be cliched and I was going to take down the white stag of writing love songs. It was just garbage. On the other side of it I now realise I’ve made this vulnerable album about myself. “
“I could have stayed where I was with Fear Fun and to be honest that was part of what made this album difficult to begin with because I did want to keep with that way of thinking and method of working because it had worked. I can admit that that was the only success I’d ever really had. In a creative sense I was thinking I’d done it, all I had to do was just stay there but it was miserable and just didn’t work. The arrangements wouldn’t stick and the soufflé wouldn’t rise. At some point my wife Emma told me that this is a different type of song and you can’t be afraid to let these songs be beautiful. That was the lightbulb moment for me. This thing is going to succeed or fail on that. People will either want to hear a beautiful song from me or not hear a beautiful song from me.”
For all the soul searching and personal self-help that Tillman subjects himself to there is a sense of imagination and exuberant creativity when it comes to the diverse arrangements and instrumentation on the recordings.
“To some extent there was some kind of freudian bartering going on in my subconscious. I can be this vulnerable but I’ll get away with it by creating this huge schmaltzy din, this Disney kind of orchestration. That’s my sound, this conflict between sincerity and self-criticism. There are these competing voices. The voice of confession and me wanting to own my own experiences and feel my own pain. Then there is this competing voice saying “Are you serious, are you really going to write that?”. It’s chaos, this relationship between the lyrics and the music.”
Many people thought Josh Tillman was taking on a character when he took on Father John Misty but the reality is he was revealing his true experiences and emotions in his songs.
“If we’re going to stick with this theme of transformation, I’m writing about a different me. There is no Father John Misty character or something. It’s Josh Tillman who is a human who evolves and changes. Part of why I wanted to keep some of the more grotesque parts of the album was because I wanted there to be context in these songs, if they are about transformation people need to know what or where that change comes from. It’s not a fantasy, there is no fantasy on the album.”
this review was first published in The Music