This 13-minute epic is a string-laden rant that begins as a biting critique of Los Angeles phoneys but in time turns into Father John Misty putting his own story under the microscope. The singer portrays himself as a self-loathing middle-aged man being taunted by the Buddhist demon Mara, who accuses him of being "another white guy in 2017 who takes himself so goddamn seriously." The tirade carries on for ten verses - "some 10-verse chorus-less diatribe," Misty sings sheepishly in the eighth verse.
Misty explained to NME that the moral of the story, "is that we all have to face the fear that we're delusional. When you write songs and put them into the world, you're vulnerable to criticism. The strange thing is, when I started doing this, I thought to myself, 'I'm not gonna be one of those white guys living in a white-guy romantic fantasy – I'm gonna take myself to task.'"
"Fast-forward five years, and when people think of a clichéd, bearded, white-guy singer-songwriter, it's my name that comes up," he added. "I set out to be a real human, not a cartoon character, and now I am the cartoon character."
The song took Misty three years to write and in that time he'd penned upwards of 30 verses. Speaking in a Beats 1 interview with Zane Lowe, the singer revealed how difficult it was to pen the tune:
"'Leaving LA' I worked on for three years. One whole year was just the first line, which I would just sing over and over and over again and the song just would not grant me access... Then I was like, 'It should be a fifteen-minute smash hit.' Once I realized what it was, it came together. But the state of mind I was in when I was writing this stuff was - I mean, I stopped drinking. I stopped smoking, I stopped doing drugs and eating meat. I went real venatic almost."
The song features a string arrangement by Gavin Bryars. Misty told Uncut magazine about working with the English composer:
"I just got his email address from a friend of a friend of a friend and sent him Leaving LA. That song was either going to have a Gavin Bryars arrangement or it wasn't going to have strings."
"Working with Gavin was incredible. It didn't be really hit home that he was in the studio until the strings started coming through the playback. I made a conscious decision to commit to whatever he had done. I didn't hear a demo of his arrangement. It was something I felt strongly about."
Father John Misty told Mojo magazine: "There's a point around six minutes in where you start getting a little antsy as a listener. You're like, there's... more?! I love the idea that it's like a dream you're getting lost in. It sounds like at that point in a song, the door that you entered in, you turn around and it's not there anymore."