When we last checked in with Father John Misty, a.k.a. Josh Tillman, the former Fleet Foxes drummer was readying an album, novel and feature film. While he released the first two, packaged together as 2012’s excellent Fear Fun, Tillman’s workload has hardly lightened. His current projects include I Love You, Honeybear -- the forthcoming followup to Fear Fun -- a TV pilot called Pure Gold he’s shopping around, and most recently, a collaboration with Kid Cudi which appears on the rapper's recently released album Indicud. In-between tracking his second solo LP, Tillman explained to Hive, “I was supposed to go in and demo but, before you knew it, we started chasing the record. I think we’ll be done sometime in the fall and then take some time off for the washing and the scrubbing.”
How far along are you into the followup to Fear Fun?
Thirty Percent? There are about six songs that are 80% done. This album is definitely going to be a bit more technicolor. The songs are more maximalist. It wasn’t until I started working on this stuff that I realized Fear Fun is a pretty minimal record. On a lot of the songs there’s not much more than three or four components -- like on “Hollywood Forever Cemetery,” there’s a drum part, a guitar, a bass synthesizer, and a vocal.
What other instrumental components are you bringing in?
There’s a lot of keys happening; piano, cello, organ. Keefus Greene -- the guy who played the piano on “Nancy From Now On” and a couple of other tunes on Fear Fun -- is the biggest collaborator in this album. I would rather listen to him play piano than just about anyone else. It’s been really fun working with him on the arrangements.
What topics are you exploring on this album?
The subject matter is definitely more intense. It’s all about love and sex and death. I think lyrically it’s a little bit more refined. I’ve had a chance to expand and develop what I want to achieve lyrically. It’s called I Love You, Honeybear and that will be the first track on the album. I’m very proud of it thus far.
Does the record have a central narrative or a thread that runs throughout it?
Every song is about love in some kind of context. There are songs about my love for my fiancé, but the idea is to write about love without it being banal or stupid. Most of the people singing about love in our culture are like 14-year-old kids who don’t have anything other than a rehashed cliche to say about it. It’s what I want to write about but it’s not a cultural warrior moment or anything. I realize that if you say that the songs are all about love, what that elicits in peoples’ minds is in some way ephemeral or light, when I view that topic as being pretty intense and gory.
Who are some artists that have tackled love well in your eyes?
Bill Withers comes to mind. He’s someone who talks about love in this very plainspoken, real-ass way with conversational language. Leonard Cohen, of course. All of his best songs are about love -- and there’s a case to be made that all of his songs are ultimately about love. A lot of John Lennon, like “Jealous Guy” -- that’s a real fucking love song about someone’s vulnerabilities and insecurities.
Will you be looking at all sides of love, or honing in on a specific kind?
There’s sexual humiliation, sexual misadventure, and there’s ballads about Randy Newman-style devotion. I hope this album creates an uneasy alliance between these tunes. You can’t talk about love without talking about sex and you can’t talk about sex without talking about death -- that’s the guiding principle for the album.
Are the songs biographical?
Yeah. It’s more biographical than Fear Fun. These songs are truer to my nature. There’s much less in the subtext on this album.
So, what’s one of the sexual misadventures?
You won’t be able to miss them once the album comes out.
Do you have a title down?
It’s called I Love You, Honeybear.
Will that track be on the album then?
Oh yes, track one.
You also had a guest spot on Kid Cudi's new album. What conversations did you and Cudi have leading up to recording the track “Young Lady”?
We didn’t converse much. He heard my music in a vintage boutique store in Hollywood that a friend of mine [owns]. She was playing the album in the store and he asked her what it was. She told him and he ended up sampling it and then I got an email from his management. But I did go into the studio with him for a day, put down some backing vocals, and we just kind of tripped out.
"I get along really well with rappers because rappers like to pontificate and I really like to pontificate."
When you say tripped out, do you mean taking mushrooms together?
Yes, he thought it would be very funny. It was hilarious. We were goofing around. The studio is in Burbank -- this weird sterile modern recording studio -- and we were just laughing our asses off. The funniest part of the story to me is that I walked into the room and [he] just held up this brown bag and was like, “Yo, I heard you were coming into the studio today and I was like, ‘I gotta get some mushrooms. I’m gonna do some mushrooms with Misty’.” It really was us sitting around and geeking out to music and bullshitting. I get along really well with rappers because rappers like to pontificate and I really like to pontificate. We just stood around and pontificated and laughed hysterically.
The last time you spoke with Hive you said you had a story being boarded out for your next novel. Are you still working on it?
That was total pie in the sky talk. I’ve been so busy writing music. But I did write a pilot for a TV show called Pure Gold with a friend of mine. It’s about a washed-up country duo who get tangled up with a Korean crime syndicate and then the Korean crime syndicate ends up getting tangled up in the country industry. That is getting shopped around right now to some networks. Writing a TV show was something I had never done before, so that’s where I was devoting a lot of my extracurricular time.
For more Father John Misty check out his conversation with Matt Pinfield on The Hivecast: