The Gospel of Father John Misty
Father John Misty pulls up to the Chateau Marmont in a rented Hyundai. It’s two in the afternoon in Hollywood, and he’s hankering for some $18 cocktails. As the valet commandeers the budget sedan, Misty — the wry 33-year-old troubadour born Josh Tillman — steps out in an undersize velvet blazer with an embroidered banana pin on the lapel. He’s got on a henley shirt unbuttoned rakishly low, and his ample beard canopies his clavicles. “It’s funny how you can see their faces glaze over when you pull up at this place in a regular car,” Tillman says. “I used to come here and valet-park my old Econoline van, which was a trip.” The Chateau is among L.A.’s fancier establishments to valet-park anything, and the place holds a certain qualified magic for Tillman. In 2012, he quit his job as the Fleet Foxes’ drummer to focus on his own music, driving the Econoline from Seattle, where he’d been living, down through Big Sur, where he had a mushroom-fueled epiphany about songwriting while sitting naked in a tree (more on that later), and finally setting up shop in a buddy-of-a-buddy’s Laurel Canyon rental shack.
Tillman has hung out at the Chateau a bunch of times, he says, with, for instance, Lana Del Rey, who invited him to open several concerts; during one visit, he met Marilyn Manson. “I had this full grown-out beard, and Marilyn Manson said, ‘How long have you been a lumberjack?’ ” Tillman recalls. “He was wearing sideswept bangs and this pea-coat thing. I said, ‘How long have you been in the gay Navy?’ ”
A hostess in a black dress escorts Tillman to a patio table; a waiter named Kevin arrives, recognizing Tillman: “What’s up, Josh?” Tillman orders a greyhound and scans the patio. “I have a morbid fascination with this place,” he says. “I don’t take it too literally. I mean, I like being here and seeing Joseph Gordon-Levitt having a Cobb salad with the RZA. That’s cool.” He pauses. “I think coming here is kind of the most honest thing you can do in L.A., because the whole city orbits around celebrity, and anyone who tells you there’s anything else going on is deluding himself.” Also: “I like the spaghetti Bolognese.”
The second song on Father John Misty ’s new album, I Love You, Honeybear, is called “Chateau Lobby #4 (In C for Two Virgins),” and, as you can likely surmise, it’s hardly a straight-up ode to the hotel. Crucial to Misty’s warped appeal is that nothing about the project is straight-up: Every syllable Tillman sings, and every note he writes, has been run through an elaborate machinery of irony and self-criticism. On the lead single, “Bored in the USA,” Tillman sings about his underemployed generation, beset by consumerism and predatory loans — but he weaves a laugh track into the song to mock his lines. “There’s a lot of meta in my songs — when I’m writing, I can’t avoid the fact that I’m writing,” he says. With stylistic nods to Harry Nilsson, John Lennon and Neil Young, and featuring somber acoustic arrangements, sweeping orchestral suites and one synth jam, the album is, ostensibly, an account of Tillman meeting, falling in love with and marrying the filmmaker-photographer Emma Tillman. “We had our wedding in Big Sur, and I took her up in that tree,” he says. But the lyrics feature sentiments not found in Valentine’s Day cards, like, for instance, “Maybe love is just an economy based on resource scarcity.”
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