Father John Misty has a new album coming out next week, and in the round of interviews he’s been doing to promote it, he has been an absolute quote machine. When last we heard from him, he was telling Rolling Stone that he’d turned down an invitation to audition for Stranger Things and getting deep into the way we talk about music online. And now he’s spoken with the Los Angeles Times, and he’s said some more eminently quotable things, including a vicious line about newly minted pop juggernaut Ed Sheeran.
Josh Tillman’s line about Ed Sheeran is about the way he’ll chase popular sounds: “I’m not doing what Ed Sheeran does. It’s not this cynical approach: ‘I know what these idiots will like.’”
That quote came in the context of a discussion about Tillman’s experience co-writing songs with people like Beyoncé and Lady Gaga. As he’s said a few times lately, he’s not into the process of writing for pop stars, and he related an experience about a recent run-in with an unnamed star. He says he ran into her in New York and he played her six songs he’d been working on. “She’s like, ‘OK, all of these are mine.’”
He also doesn’t like the way credit is assigned on pop songs: “I could show you songs I’ve written pretty much front to back. Then you get these emails that are like, ‘OK, here are the lyrics — your contribution is in blue, and so-and-so’s is in pink. And it’s like three pink words in a field of blue. But that’s a co-write.”
Tillman does seem proud of his work on “Come To Mama,” a song from Lady Gaga’s 2016 album Joanne: “To have a pop song that says ‘The only prisons that exist are the ones we put each other in’ — I mean, that is a case of being able to mess with the salmon run in such an extreme, powerful way.”
And he makes a very good point about the way blog posts like this one treat him: “People act like there’s this glut of artists doing what I do. I’m basically a meme at this point. But who else does this? Even when I’m writing a pop song, my values are markedly different.”
The profile starts with Tillman offering to dose his interviewer’s coffee with LSD. As with most Father John Misty interviews, it’s well worth reading; check it out here.
“Sometimes I just suck,” he says, sighing. “The truth of the matter is it has not been a good year. I have substance-abuse problems. That morning, I was completely fucked up. This was Fear and Loathing level. I’ve got these lizard men with English accents doing this Laurel-and-Hardy act on me and I just couldn’t deal with it. It’s not as if those guys were so horrible. It’s me. It’s my fault.”
When I first met Tillman, in New York two summers ago, he was in a rigorously abstinent phase, but tonight he is smoking American Spirits with a vengeance and steadily depleting a bottle of tequila. I begin to ask what changed. Last time we met you were …
“In a better place? Yeah, my life is a mess.”
“Well … it’s really personal. There was something that happened where I was like, ‘fuck this’, and I gave myself permission to go back into self-destruction.”
He also previews his upcoming tour:
Given this alarming new context, Tillman is now working out how to translate Pure Comedy to the stage. “I have spent the last six months on cocaine in my underwear writing the most indulgent musical – I’m being colloquial – with dancers and costumes and sets. The show started with six Father John Mistys dancing around a bonfire.” He shakes his head. “Completely insane.”
Now he is changing tack. “This thing needs to be direct. Pure communication. Look at my last album cycle, which started with me with a fresh haircut, yukking it up on David Letterman, and ended with me bedraggled, out of my mind with despair and panic, yelling at an audience about entertainment. I would rather take that guy out into these shows than the guy at the beginning.”
He also says, “I get sick pleasure out of going on the internet and reading about how much people hate me.”
Pure Comedy is out next week on Sub Pop. Per The Guardian, Father John Misty has already written a fourth album and sketched out a fifth.