Father John Misty - aka Joshua Tillman - is a somewhat enigmatic rock & roll persona. Tillman played drums with noted Seattle band Fleet Foxes
from 2008-2011, having joined just after their first album was recorded. Fleet Foxes is known for its poetic, melodic 'psych pop' (psychedelic pop) rock that carries an ethereal quality lent by lead singer Robin Pecknold's tenor voice. In 2011, Tillman set off on his own to create a solo project that was also poetically lyrical, but darker and more straight rock and roll in style. Tillman, who had been releasing solo albums since 2003 as J. Tillman, began to release his own music on the same record label that had brought Fleet Foxes to indie rock fame, Sub Pop Records.
He dubbed his new act "Father John Misty," also sometimes going by the initials FJM.
According Sub Pop Records, Tillman is vague about his transformation into Father John Misty and the meaning of the name:
"When discussing 'Father John Misty', Tillman paraphrases Philip Roth: 'It's all of me and none of me, if you can't see that, you won't get it'. What I call it is totally arbitrary, but I like the name. You've got to have a name. I never got to choose mine."
He told Under the Radar magazine, "To me [Father John Misty] just sounds like some weird old pervert."
Lyrically, Father John Misty frequently delves into the classic rock subjects of sex, drugs, and darkness, so much so that it sometimes seems that he's presenting a caricature of the genre, or of himself. He has long been crafting the persona of a cantankerous, contrarian lothario. He said, "I like humor and sex and mischief. So when you think about it, it's kind of mischievous to write about yourself in a plain-spoken, kind of explicitly obvious way and call it something like 'Misty'. I mean, I may as well have called it 'Steve.'"
Inspired to leave his home base of Seattle, FJM was offered space in a home in Los Angeles. This new location is referenced in many of the songs on his 2012 album Fear Fun. On moving to Hollywood, Tillman told Under the Radar magazine, "I'm not romanticizing it classically. That's what you hear in a Joni Mitchell song, is a classical romanticization. That is beautiful, and I love it, but that's not what I'm doing. I'm going, 'Look at this hilarious mess!' when I'm singing about it. That's an important distinction."
In May of 2012, Father John Misty went on a 'twitter rampage' against the music ratings, reviews and news website Pitchfork after their mostly positive review of Fear Fun criticized the album's lack of syncopation being divergent from the lyrics' messiness. He received additional press for this outburst of 20+ angry tweets, in which he called Pitchfork "America's leading lifestyle blog for virgins."
Father John Misty is an artist who uses his writing, musicianship, and connections to filmmakers and actors to produce music videos that are like mini-films. Dramatic, erotic, deeply sad, haunting, and sometimes hilarious, Misty's music videos convey the old Hollywood feeling his music strives to evoke. The music video for "This Is Sally Hatchet" is a throwback to the Grind-house and Blaxploitation genre films of the 1970s and '80s, in which sexualized black actresses like Pam Grier went on violent and vengeful rampages. Like much of Fear Fun, the song evokes a Los Angeles that is both past and forever immortalized in Hollywood-inspired art. "Nancy From Now On" features Tillman being both loved and abused by a beautiful dominatrix, rumored to be played by his girlfriend in real life. The video for "Hollywood Forever Cemetery Sings" stars Aubrey Plaza, an American actress in the film Safety Not Guaranteed and on the television program Parks and Recreation. In it, Plaza has a very public freak-out at what seems to be a funeral gathering, and Tillman rescues her. "I have a really morbid sense of humor," Tillman said.
Tillman is based in the Laurel Canyon neighborhood of Los Angeles, California. The area is known for its hippie artist enclave that has included the likes of Joni Mitchell, Graham Nash, and Frank Zappa.
FJM was created in order to be a more authentic alter ego. Tillman no longer records under the name J. Tillman, and says that he's glad he doesn't and won't in the future. His personas are united as Father John Misty. "There's no dissidence anymore. That just takes this huge weight off me," he told Under the Radar.
In October of 2012 Father John Misty performed on Jimmy Kimmel Live, garnering more national attention for his music.
In keeping with his creative control-centered approach, Father John Misty and Sub Pop made the unusual decision to stream his 2012 album Fear Fun in full on Youtube. It is available on Sub Pop Records in the US and Bella Union in Europe.
Misty was raised in an evangelical Christian household, and while he no longer believes in God, he admitted to NME, "I still talk to him a lot."
Father John Misty sees songwriting as coming close to being a religious experience. "When I first discovered that, I was like, 'Oh, so this is the feeling of transcendence everyone was talking about," he said.
During a 2017 appearance on Late Night with Seth Meyers, Tillman revealed that there's very little meaning behind his Father John Misty moniker.
"I can't imagine someone who calls themselves 'Father John Misty' to have a good reason for anything, " he said. "All my favorite singers have kind of showbiz names, like Nina Simone or Serge Gainsbourg or [Josh] Groban," Tillman jokingly added. "There's no way Josh Groban is his real name, come on. Next you're going to tell me that Tom Cruise is a real name."