It's no easy feat to achieve success within the fickle confines of the music industry. While countless thousands of talented musicians spend lifetimes searching for a wider audience to showcase their creative wares, it's only a small fraction of those for whom their art will provide even a modicum of commercial exposure or financial independence. Occasionally though, an individual comes along who seems pleasantly disconnected from and unfazed by the politics of the business. Josh Tillman is one such man.
As drummer for Seattle based alt folk troupe Fleet Foxes, Tillman had seemingly arrived at a destination sought by so many artists—industry praise, sold out shows, legions of adoring fans. For Tillman, however, this was but one stop on the line. Tillman has maintained a steady output of material as a singer/songwriter since 2004, releasing an impressive seven LPs as J. Tillman in that period, despite having spent the last four behind the kit for Fleet Foxes.
Earlier this year, Tillman did something that would be unthinkable for many toiling and frustrated artists—he willingly walked away from the financially stable and artistically viable comfort of Fleet Foxes. Frustrated with the lack of creative elbow room, Tillman set out on his own. When he resurfaced, Tillman had lost his long hair and bushy beard, spent a few months in California, and announced the release of a new record on the Sub Pop label under the moniker Father John Misty.
Judged against his previous output, Misty's new album Fear Fun is almost shocking. Tillman wrote and recorded the album during an extended stay in Los Angeles with the help of producer/songwriter Jonathan Wilson and Phil Ek, who has worked with artists such as Band of Horses, Modest Mouse, The Shins, Built to Spill as well as Fleet Foxes. The result was a collection of songs that were a drastic departure from his previous solo efforts, which consisted mainly of hushed minor chord folk musings not entirely removed from the melodic pastoral folk sound of Fleet Foxes.
Fear Fun takes a plunge into the dark underbelly of life in Los Angeles and manages to give equal weight to both the fearful and joyous sentiment of what he found there. It is a collection of songs /that covers a lot of musical ground, from lushly layered psych-folk to several fresh takes on rollicking classic Americana country a la Gram Parsons. While the song selection on Fear Fun is decidedly schizophrenic in stylistic terms, there is a consistent voice and refreshing quality to the lyrical content that maintains the listener's interest, and ultimately these diverging elements are blended into something that is distinctly Father John Misty. Whoever that is. We may never really know, but I for one am glad he got out when he did.
Performing “Only Son of The Ladies Man” on Late Night with David Letterman:
Full Fear Fun album stream:
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