You Have to Watch this Father John Misty Performance on Letterman

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Last night, Father John Misty — aka prolific folk-rock singer-songwriter John Tillman and former Fleet Foxes member — went on David Letterman and sang his fucking heart out. There were lines like, “Save me, white Jesus” and laugh-tracks set to Tillman’s lamenting about subprime home loans. But there was also a passionate man mounting a baby grand in a fairly nice suit, not to mention a a 22-piece string section behind him. Fittingly, the song is called “Bored in the USA,” and it’s the first single off Father John Misty’s new album, I Love You, Honeybear (out February 10 via Sub Pop).

The album was announced on Letterman, so don’t be surprised if this is the first you’re hearing of it. It’s a pretty involved concept that Tillman wrote a letter about within the press release for I Love You, Honeybear. I’m gonna let him take it away, and will just add that there’s a bunch more info about the album’s release and FTJ’s tour over on his site.

I Love You, Honeybear was recorded all through 2013 to 2014 in Los Angeles with producer Jonathan Wilson, who I also recorded and produced 2012’s Fairly Fun with. There’s a case to be made that it sounds and acts a bit like solo-era John Lennon, Scott Walker, Randy Newman, Harry Nilsson, and Dory Previn, while taking more than a few cues from Woody Allen, Kurt Vonnegut, Alejandro Jodorowsky and Muhammad Ali. It has a decidedly more soulful presence than Fear Fun, due in no small part to the fact that I am truly singing my ass off all over this motherfucker. The album is really characterized by the scope and ambition of the arrangements. Nearly every tune is augmented by something special, be it orchestral strings, a mariachi band, questionable electronic drum solos, ragtime jazz combos, soul singers, or what have you. I’m pretty sure there’s a sitar in there somewhere. Blammo.

I Love You, Honeybear is a concept album about a guy named Josh Tillman who spends quite a bit of time banging his head against walls, cultivating weak ties with strangers and generally avoiding intimacy at all costs. This all serves to fuel a version of himself that his self-loathing narcissism can deal with. We see him engaging in all manner of regrettable behavior.

“In a parking lot somewhere he meets Emma, who inspires in him a vision of a life wherein being truly seen is not synonymous with shame, but possibly true liberation and sublimeunfettered creativity. These ambitions are initially thwarted as jealousy, self-destruction and other charming human character traits emerge. Josh Tillman confesses as much all throughout.

“The album progresses, sometimes chronologically, sometimes not, between two polarities: the first of which is the belief that the best love can be is finding someone who is miserable in the same way you are and the end point being that love isn’t for anyone who isn’t interested in finding a companion to undertake total transformation with. I won’t give away the ending, but sex, violence, profanity and excavations of the male psyche abound.

“My ambition, aside from making an indulgent, soulful, and epic sound worthy of the subject matter, was to address the sensuality of fear, the terrifying force of love, the unutterable pleasures of true intimacy, and the destruction of emotional and intellectual prisons in my own voice. Blammo.

“This material demanded a new way of being made, and it took a lot of time before the process revealed itself. The massive, deranged shmaltz I heard in my head, and knew had to be the sound of this record, originated a few years ago while Emma and I were hallucinating in Joshua Tree; the same week I wrote the title track. I chased that sound for the entire year and half we were recording. The means by which it was achieved bore a striking resemblance to the travails, abandon and transformation of learning how to love and be loved; see and be seen. There: I said it. Blammo.”