Published Feb 10, 2015Sometimes it's hard to figure out where Father John Misty ends and Josh Tillman begins. From his early days as a singer-songwriter peddling his self-described "sad wizard" songs around Seattle under the name J. Tillman, to the never-ending tours and late night revues as Father John Misty, Tillman has come across as flippant and ferocious in interviews, resembled both a martyr and saint on stage, and everything else in-between.
That's why — after meeting his future wife in the parking lot of a neighbourhood store in 2011, and subsequently writing songs about their joint transformation into loved ones before and after the release of his 2012 debut, Fear Fun — Tillman was nervous about shedding his intellectualized lothario persona and, in the process, sharing his personal feelings about life, love and his relationship in public.
"The first couple of times I played this album for people I just wanted to melt into the floor," he says. "With the last album, I was able to communicate certain things about myself while maintaining some degree of detachment and humour and sarcasm or whatever. That just wasn't going to work this time around."
I Love You, Honeybear, Tillman's sophomore album as Father John Misty (and second for Sub Pop) is a sentimental and symphonic feast for the senses, one that positions Tillman not only as an adept writer of love songs, but also one of the most introspective, truthful and universal songwriters of our times.
A drastic change from the folk- and pop-inspired musings found on his previous LP, Honeybear is an 11-song bombshell filled with bold and beautiful ballads, beatific rumblings on the early stages of infatuation and the seemingly uncontrollable yet manageable ways in which we look for love and try to nurture it, all anchored by his pointed poetry, soulful singing and newfound affection for the grander side of orchestration.
"I was kind of terrified of putting it all out there. And Emma [Tillman, his wife] was really pretty keen in helping me get over that and just be like, 'Look, you can't be afraid to let these songs be beautiful,'" Tillman says.
To help him sweep listeners off their feet, Tillman connected with previous producer Jonathan Wilson, as well as composer and touring violinist Paul Cartwright, to help flesh out the album's more orchestral sections. The result is a truly timeless album that transcends emotional and even generational barriers.
Still, he downplays its overarching importance, saying that if the album is indeed a success, it's because of the common themes he explored while undergoing a personal and emotional transformation with his wife.
"I do think that it's in intimacy, more so than psychedelics or whatever… where we're revealed," he says. "None of these songs to me are like cultural statements. None of them are meant to be an endorsement or combination of the culture at large or my generation. If anything I hope that by talking candidly about myself I can reach some kind of commonality of some kind of universal evidence and truth."