While spending the past year and change supporting his debut as Father John Misty, Fear Fun, Josh Tillman took a break to compose the score for The History of Caves, a short film directed by his wife, filmmaker Emma Elizabeth Tillman. The minimalist, guitar-driven soundtrack – which hews closer to the exquisitely bleak folk he made as J. Tillman than Fear Fun‘s psychedelic Laurel Canyon vibes – will be released in limited edition for Record Store Day Black Friday on November 29th.
The film follows three children coming to terms with their watchmaker father’s womanizing, and he says writing the music was rather challenging. “It’s a big responsibility,” he told Rolling Stone recently. “The music in a film does a lot. When you write a song, you want all of you to be in the song. In a score, you want as little of your identity to be present. You’re doing service to something else.”
Though Tillman doesn’t necessarily harbor a desire to write more film scores (right now he’s focused on the next Father John Misty album, which he says is almost finished) he is interested in acting, especially in one of his wife’s projects. Rolling Stone caught up with Tillman about his new music, divine love and how he scores a gig just by waking up.
Where are you right now?
I’m in a labyrinth of hallways in a music venue somewhere in the catacombs of America.
That’s pretty appropriate for The History of Caves.
Oh, that’s right! I talk in puns without even thinking. That’s where all my self-loathing comes from. I’m incapable of speaking in anything other than puns.
How did you come to compose the soundtrack for the film?
[Emma] just kind of rolled over in bed and asked me to. It’s pretty simple. I don’t have any real aspirations to score films or anything, but it was an instance where I understood her . . . I’m trying to avoid using the word “vision” . . . I understood the way in which she wanted to communicate her story.
How did she want to communicate it?
There’s a scene at the beginning where the father is playing with the kids, and you could put music in there that was “dad playing with kids music”— sprightly, fun, lighthearted — but if you understand what the filmmaker is trying to communicate, you understand it’s not that type of scene. The intent of the film was to communicate very dark things happening within a family dynamic, and that there are rituals playing out all day every day.
Did you listen to a lot of film scores in preparation?
I do listen to a lot of Jon Brion. His film scores are things I listen to for enjoyment, like the Synecdoche, New York soundtrack.
You’re releasing the score in limited edition for Record Store Day Black Friday. I’ve read some of your thoughts on materialism and consumerism, and RSD has been accused of encouraging those values, so I’m curious as to what you think about it.
Consumerism is different than consuming. It’s a state of mind where you’re trying to achieve everything, or experience everything, in life through the act of buying things. You have to choose for yourself what things are worth buying, and in large part the public has decided that music is not worth buying. There’s something interesting in drawing people’s attention back to it as a commodity, and the only way to give it physical value is to make it limited edition. It would be absurd to accuse small record stores of imbuing the culture with consumerism by releasing things once a year that are rare and have value.
Are you working on anything else right now?
I’m almost done with the next [Father John Misty] album and then I’m going to do some other things that I won’t talk about in interviews because then they won’t happen and people will be like, “What happened to that thing?”
What does the new record sound like?
You’ll just have to wait and see. It’s a little more intense. There’s a lot more going on instrumentally. There’s less of a honky-tonk presence on this album.
The first one was predicated on experiences that you had, so were there any experiences that fed into this new album?
My creative mandate currently is to write about myself. I have total access to myself, and I can be as honest about myself as I care to be, and as honest about my experiences. The album conceptually is about love, about this hilarity I’ve seen in my life between carnality and divine love. I’m interested in how a human being with all their dissonance is capable of all kinds of profound experiences, whether based in devotion or in self-destruction, and how those two things inform one another.
The last Father John Misty album was informed by some drug use. Was that the case this time around?
Drugs are a part of life for someone in my position. There were references to drugs on that album, but there were references to a lot of other things as well. It’s not a party album. I’m including details that are interesting or ground an experience in a certain time or place. Putting a reference to drugs in your songs is kind of like a litmus test for your audience: that could be what they choose to see, but that’s not all that’s going on in the song. It’s a pretty cartoonish idea that I’m taking mushrooms and then writing a song. It doesn’t quite work that way.
Have you thought about getting into acting at all?
Not acting in general, but if someone interesting asked me to do something interesting, I would love to do that.
Who would be your dream director?
My dream director? Ooh. Maybe Philip Seymour Hoffman. I’m such a huge fan of his. Or P.T. Anderson. That’s so far out of my depth that it’s stupid to even mention. Or if Tim and Eric wanted me to wear a diaper, I would do that. I’ve been asked to do some stupid shit.
I’ve been asked to play a rock star on some ABC Family fuckin’ bullshit. I’ve been asked to do some demoralizing things. I don’t know how these people got my fucking email, but I’ve definitely said no to a fair share of acting requests. I’m holding out for the right porn.
Would you ever act in one of your wife’s films?
Absolutely. That’s what I really want to do. She’s writing something right now that takes place in New Orleans. The script’s really beautiful. It’s about incest.
What role would you play?
I would play the role of an eccentric filmmaker guy. Working with someone you’re that intimate with is really interesting to me. The thing that I like about acting is it’s scary. You get inside your head in a way that can be hard to get out of. That risk , that kind of destructive element, is interesting to me. Of anyone, she can inspire that and engineer that.