Father John Misty Has Some Thoughts About Pop Music
Father John Misty has a lot to say about a lot of things. His great sophomore album I Love You, Honeybear was both a strikingly personal work and one that took on all of the bullshit of modern society, and he’s the kind of guy who will happily hold forth on all sorts of big subjects. “I am kind of a chronic over-explainer,” as he says. Josh Tillman performed at Pitchfork Fest in Paris last night, and he took the time to sit down with Billboard’s Emily Zemler to talk about the cynicism of pop music, the duality between mainstream and indie, and other weighty topics.
Tillman recently had his own brush with the mainstream and the media’s “Eye of Sauron” when he jokingly covered Ryan Adams’ Taylor Swift covers in the style of the Velvet Underground and the story blew up online. He’s already discussed that episode at great length, but he touches on it again in this interview. “I’ll say as basically as I can that I wanted to test the limits of how far you could get people to play along if this one person’s name was involved. Thats all that mattered. It had nothing to do with me, it had nothing to do with Ryan Adams. It just had to do with this person’s name being involved. And that was good for clicks,” he says. “So I wanted to test, ‘If I put something out here that is associated with this thing that is just barely clinging to the fringes of what could be considered relevant will it get printed in wide circulation?’ And it did.”
From there, he moves on to discussing the idea of the mainstream and his relationship with it more broadly:
I’m a person who upholds certain dualities that I think a lot of musicians now view as being quaint. I’m very suspicious of the mainstream, which is definitely the height of quaint. I think that the lines have blurred in superficial ways, I think certain dualities still exist and that there’s value in judging something as objectively as you can based on its sophistication or its beauty or its dignity.
There are certain pop stars that I think are poster children for cynicism. But it would be a hard sell since they, in such a superficial way, represent the mandate of the age, like being yourself and being different and being quirky. But being a certain type of different and being a certain type of quirky. There’s a huge difference between permissible transgression and impermissible transgression. Permission transgression is to be different and to be yourself and whatever, and then impermissible transgression is to not like that person or that person’s music or what that person represents. And if you dare do that then that person’s fans will turn on you and they will destroy you…I just think that pop music is a touchstone for so much of what’s going on in the collective psyche right now. That’s what that song “The Memo” that I put [in September] is about: The ways in which we chose to entertain ourselves say a lot about who we are.
This is like the most pretentious way of framing it, the only role I can really live with is to be an outsider. I don’t aspire to crossing over. It’s very important to me that I maintain my ability to say certain things. You don’t move into that other realm without making concessions — that’s the price of admission for moving into wider exposure. I don’t think I really have to worry about it too much because the things that I’m interested in talking about and the ways in which I’m interesting in addressing those things will always prevent me from doing that…In my mind it’s just important for me to maintain these dualities and to stay on one side — and to stay on the side where I belong.
Billboard notes that Tillman dislikes “the media’s desire to intellectualize pop music”; he says “these 700-word Sasha Frere Jones Katy Perry reviews in The New Yorker make me feel like I’m living in a crazy world.”
Perhaps the most exciting line in the whole article is kind of a throwaway, though: “Tillman, who has enough material for a new album ready to record (but won’t confirm specifically when he plans to do so), wants to exist on the fringes, even if his songs translate to a larger audience,” Billboard writes. That means that a new album is still a while away, because he hasn’t recorded anything yet, but it’s definitely coming, which is good news.