This piece originally appeared in print in So It Goes, Issue.9, Spring 2017.
Father John Misty is not a man.And perhaps not even a father.Whatever he/she/it is, the music under that banner is created by the multi-talented Josh Tillman, whose previous output has also included stints as drummer for Seattle folksters Fleet Foxes, as well as himself, J.Tillman.
Having first risen to prominence in 2012 with Fear Fun, Father John Misty followed up with 2015’s lyrically brilliant I LoveYou, Honeybear. Both of these hinted at the mixture of wicked earthy humour – ‘Good luck fingering oblivion’–, experimental musical arrangements and self-reflective cycnicism that pervade his early contender for album of 2017 – Pure Comedy – a record shot through with observational genius and flaxen harmonies.
So It Goes contributing editor Brianna Lance caught up with the man, the myth, the legend for the most incendiary interview yet printed in these pages. Read on for more about demons, hope and being a Nickelback apologist.
Brianna Lance: Hello. How are you?
Josh Tillman: I’m good.
BL: Where are you?
JT: I’m in Los Angeles.
BL: How was Europe?
JT: It was good – six hours of interviews every day.
BL: And then here you are again today doing more.
JT: When I had the marketing meeting with the label, I asked,‘What do you guys think about no interviews this time? ’The psychic energy in the room immediately evaporated.Then, ‘OK maybe just a few,’ and now I’m just talking about Nickelback with the NME. How about just the New YorkTimes?Then fast forward to me repping Nickelback. I said I want this on the record, Father John Misty: ‘I ride for Nickelback.’ It really set the blogosphere aflame.
BL: I don’t think I really know what that means to be honest with you.
JT: It means that you are a 35-year-old narcissist who Googles himself.
BL: You Google yourself?
JT: Well it’s tough when you have
a record coming out not to Google yourself. Really the problem is that I deleted my accounts, I took the red pill. Are you familiar with that? So we’ve been on the phone for four minutes and I’ve referenced Nickelback and The Matrix.
BL: We’re doing great.
JT: Yeah this is going well. As long as I don’t engage, it’s really for the best for everyone.
BL:They need someone to stand on their side, so at least you’re doing some good work.
JT: Just always had a thing for the underdog you know.
BL: Are they the Australian ones? I think I get them confused with someone called Silverback.
JT: Oh no, that’s Silverchair darling.
BL: Oh. Nothing made me laugh harder than when someone showed me that you had stolen a crystal, it was maybe one of my favourite things I’d ever seen.
JT:That really captured the imagination
of the zeitgeist in a way that I never could have imagined.
BL:Technically you’re stealing from hippies,and hippies think,‘Well,they needed it more than me,’ so the fact that someone would get uptight about it is just so...well it’s just an amazing contrast.
JT: Right, this was the joke. Basically using New Age speak to justify theft
of a crystal. If everything is random phenomena, and if my pocket is a random phenomenon, then if a crystal happens to find its way in there, and my pocket happens to walk out the door. Who even knows what a door is?
BL: Exactly. So do you want me
to actually ask questions? I don’t know how formal you want this to be and how bored you are already by interviews.
JT: I’m pretty good, I just had a really great conversation with someone from the Czech Republic.
BL: Now I’m going to feel like I’ve really let you down.
JT:All my best interviews just get thrown into a black hole. For people in America, my main demographic given that I speak the language, the only perception of me they’re going to have is of a crystal-thieving Nickelback apologist.That’s what people are into here, they just fucking love it.
BL: I think that’s a great image, you should keep it. Is America your main demographic? Where are you the most popular?
JT: Here, the UK, Scandinavia and Latin America.
BL: Latin America has such a good audience
JT:Yeah. Not so hot in Germany but I think it’s picking up.
BL: One day. Latin American music fans are like no other fans on earth.
JT: It’s true, there was some cultural lockdown right around the time of Nineties rock, so I hope no one from Latin America reads this painfully ignorant interpretation of Latin American politics, as I understand
it got vacuum-sealed into this rock era, and it’s still the biggest deal if you have an electric guitar and bangs.
BL: Maybe you should have bangs?
JT: I would look ridiculous with bangs.
BL: I don’t know what constitutes bangs. Do you have to have certain lengths to qualify?
JT: I’m standing in front of the mirror now giving myself bangs and it’s not pretty. I’ll send you a picture.Wow, with the moustache...
BL: Only with me do you get this level of stimulating intellectual conversation.
JT: I look like someone involved in pizza-gate right now. I look like one of John Podesta’s child-raping wizards.
BL: I feel like that’s a good comedy trick, I think there are many films with male comedians when they’ve chosen to go for bangs to get better laughs.
JT:Yeah, well, it’s like that whole beta male, bangs, hooded sweatshirt thing.
BL:All men with bangs.
JT:Their whole ‘Aw shucks’ beta male act when really they’re all crushing pussy like total degenerates.
BL:Always, it’s always the weak ones who have latent misogyny.
JT: Exactly.The patriarchy is everywhere. BL:You don’t have to tell me!
JT: It’s in this conversation; it’s even in your understanding of feminism.
BL: 100 per cent.
JT:Your feminism is completely infected with patriarchal ideology.
BL:Yeah of course, well I also grew up in Texas, so it’s like a virus I have that I can’t get rid of.
JT: Right, it’s why liberals want a feminist state, because they’re addicted to the idea of a benevolent daddy who makes everything OK.
BL: I didn’t have that kind of dad.
JT: No, me neither. I hope you realise that I was being 100 per cent facetious.
BL: No, I understand but I’m not being facetious when I say that it’s this thing that you can’t really imagine what it would be like without.
JT: I really like the SCUM Manifesto written byValerie Solanas.
BL:Who shot Andy Warhol?
JT: Right, and it’s just really funny. It’s again like those soft beta males who have the most sickening pervasive form of misogyny. She really takes hippies to task in the book:‘Yeah, they all want to move out to some farm in the middle of nowhere where no one can see what they’re doing, so they can fuck sheep, and count beads or whatever it is they want to do.’ Even that whole Walden Pond ideal, it’s not about community, not about any kind of empathy, it’s more,‘Let’s move out to the middle
of nowhere and arbitrarily claim that I “own” some big piece of land and just have a bunch of daughters.’
BL:When you look at a lot of those weird outsider hippie cults, they’re all led by some strong male force. How’s that different?
JT: I grew up surrounded by these totally charismatic hypocrites who always got busted sleeping with the church secretary, or it turned out that they had some kind of giant illegal boat embezzlement business in Florida. These are real cases; I’m not even making this up.
BL: Points on creativity for boat embezzlement.
JT: Nautical embezzlement, I have no idea how that works.
BL:They’re really trying to bust into a market that’s never been busted before.
JT:This guy’s name was, no kidding, Ray Otis Hope. He went by Ray O. Hope.
BL:Wow, what a great name.
JT: One day, Pastor Ray was going to prison.
BL:You grew up around a lot of religion didn’t you? What kind of religion?
JT: My parents subscribed personally
to a fairly generic form of Protestant/ Baptist/very nebulous Evangelical church. Presbyterianism was OK, Baptist was OK, yet Seventh-day Adventist
was extremely suspect. I went to a Baptist church when I was a kid, then when I was in third grade I went to an Episcopalian school, which was very weird to me, because all of a sudden there were robes and incense and weird communion wafers.
BL: Sounds great.
JT: Episcopalian is essentially Protestant Catholicism, where they have all the trappings of the Catholic liturgy and all that stuff, but they believe that you’re saved by faith and not deeds. I was kicked out of that school and went to basically a branch of this Pentecostal messianic Jewish cult called Etz Chaim: Tree of Life. Etz Chaim means Tree of Life in Hebrew.
BL: So is it called Tree of Life:Tree of Life?
JT:Yup.There were around thirty kids, the school basically met in the gym of a Presbyterian church during the week. My graduating 8th Grade class was me, and a girl named Elissa Kinny. We were the only two.
BL: How did they manage your education? Did you just learn with the 9th Graders? Or have to just go read by yourself?
JT: 6th, 7th and 8th Grade were combined, so I didn’t really get a formal education. I was taught Zionist propaganda and snatches of Hebrew but there was no real science.There was some stuff we were allowed to learn, but we weren’t allowed to learn evolutionary biology. I was never taught what the Second WorldWar was until high school.
BL: Because I grew up in Texas, it feels like they kind of stopped teaching history at the SecondWorldWar as
it was a really good place to stop for America.‘We’re are doing really good here, we look like heroes, we’re just going to stop.’
JT:Yeah we joined the war solely for PR reasons.The main emphasis of the school would be what you might call spiritual development. It came to light when I was in 8th Grade that I was possessed by demons.
JT:That was why I was so bad at school and misbehaving.
BL:They actually told you that? How did you process that?Were you just like,‘Fuck you’ or were you genuinely freaked out?
JT: It’s not a binary experience, your instincts say one thing. I was a very detached kid, but then I’ve only grown up in this bubble, for lack of a better term, from the time that I was a kid. That is just reality. 8th Grade is right on the cusp where I was just starting to feel like everyone was completely insane – when that became a likelihood or a possible explanation. Maybe it
is that everyone except me is completely insane.
BL: I want to get the full picture of what was happening.Were you in a small town? Or a normal sized town and it just happened to be this weird subculture that you were exposed to?
JT:That’s what kind of what makes it weirder, that this was happening in a
suburb of DC.This was like the suburbs’ suburbs.
BL: Do you have a good relationship with your parents now? Do you talk to them?
JT:We don’t have a good relationship and we don’t talk.
BL: Sorry that’s really personal for an interview.
BL:Wait can I put you back on record?
JT:Yeah, yeah sure.
BL: I’m putting the recorder back, go ahead.
JT:The demon possession went like this. Every Friday the pastor of the church’s wife would come and try to cast the demons out of me.At some point
it became really comical.When you consider that for them this is so heavy, this is the physical reality of what this looks like, and how it feels or doesn’t feel for me. Contrasted with this fucking insane-o nightmare world that you must live, where children are. In some immutable place inside me I knew that there were no demons inside of me.
BL: I’ve met you, you seem pretty demon-free.
JT: I guess for most of my life the things that people take really seriously have been funny to me, there’s something absurd about it.Then the things that people find funny are incredibly tragic to me for the most part. My whole
life people have been telling me that they can’t tell if I’m joking or not. I’ve developed this tone deafness. If you think about my records there will be, at least what I’m shooting for, some beautiful music. But then there’s some lyrical sentiment or really banal way of
saying something that strikes people as in congruous. You either get that or you don’t, and it can be really polarising because, for instance, if you look at the title of this album [Pure Comedy], it is an incredibly rude and dismissive assessment of the human condition. For me, when you fall in love with someone, you fall in love with the things about them that are fucked up, so to me this album is really a love letter to humanity.You see the freedom in absurdity.
BL: I could be completely misinterpreting it but it seems like there’s a very serious message in your music that’s almost made more palatable and interesting by a lot of sarcasm and humour. If you’re watching something that’s absolutely sincere, I find that people have a harder time taking that in.
JT:There are people who can only deal with absolute sincerity, and they feel like they’re being made a fool of
if there’s any kind of wink in it.With Pure Comedy, I had an interviewer ask me the other day why I waited to the end of the song to have this message of empathy. I just thought, ‘You and I are on two sides of this thing, where do I even begin?’ I think for them the song would have made more sense if the chorus was just me singing ‘each other’s all we’ve got,’ like the chorus is where the message of hope should emerge. These are just some bizarre learned values in popular culture.
BL:The ‘normal song equation’.
JT: It’s true that with my writing I start from these clichéd, really big questions that I’m categorically unqualified to address, and I’m aware of this! So with the last record, I thought,‘Ok, what is love?’Then I go,‘Oh my God, did I seriously just ask that?’
BL: But everyone asks that, that’s what’s so amazing about it.
JT:And that rub, that friction is where the music comes from. With this record it was no different. I asked myself,‘What does it all mean?’That’s why I get called pretentious, because it is pretentious,
it’s totally pretentious.To start from this place creatively where you’re thinking, ‘Maybe, I could pull this off.’
BL: I feel like every artist has to have something in them, whether or not
it’s very small and they deny it and it causes them a lot of self-abuse as a result. Some part of it must be about thinking, ‘People want to know what I have to say,’ otherwise they wouldn’t do it. I think that sort of narcissism in people is a positive thing because it gets them to produce.
JT: There is such a thing as healthy narcissism, but we have to define the word first. I think a lot of people think it’s pathological self-love or something.
BL: We’re not saying you’re a clinical narcissist, we can take that off the table.
JT: I have narcissistic disturbances. Narcissism is a total lack of self- awareness. Narcissus does think he’s pretty hot shit, that’s why he fucks over the fairy, and the fairy curses him. He’s standing in front of this reflective pool, and it’s not because he’s so into the way he looks, it’s that he’s convinced that the moment he walks away from the pool and he can’t see the image anymore, he ceases to exist. He forgets that he is himself, and that you can be yourself. Now we defer to the image.That’s
the narcissism of this age, if you took a fifteen-year-old’s Instagram account and deleted it while they were asleep, they’d wake up in the morning...
BL: ... and be like,‘I don’t exist’.
JT: Exactly, their friends would be asking,‘Where did you go?’
BL: I saw the most beautiful parallel to every artist I’ve ever met the other night. I was at my friend’s house and her daughter was there, who is five. Something really upset her and she started crying; her first reaction was to go to the mirror and cry into the mirror, which was the most amazing, sincere thing I’ve ever seen.That’s art, she’s art.
JT: Exactly.With me, I can go into this next room, pull out one of my albums and I can go ‘that’s me’.That thing is more me than I’m capable of being me sometimes, this thing is more honest andtruetowhoIamthanIamalot of the time, when I’m afraid or too desperate for approval.
BL: I think the will to create comes from you seeing things differently and having no idea how to actually talk to people about that difference of perception.
JT: Right, right, part of the reason why I didn’t want to engage with social media anymore is because I have always, very naively, been under the impression that my music was the truth of who I am, and that these peripheral distractions of social media were just these additive things. I started to realise that my story was being viewed almost solely through how I engaged with social media. I only engaged with some kind of goofy comment on social media, so I was being viewed as a human feedback loop that believes in nothing. But when you listen to my music you notice that I maybe care too much, or that I’m actually pretty... I don’t know, when people call me cynical it upsets me.
BL: I don’t think you’re cynical at all if that makes you feel any better.
JT:Thanks. If anything I’m just way too innocent and believe that there are ideals in the world, that we shouldn’t settle for these grotesque counterfeits.
BL: I actually find you to be incredibly enthusiastic about ideas, which I think is part of your charm.
JT: That and the bangs.
BL: Bangs first but that goes without saying. I think people have a tendency to look down on sarcasm, however I love sarcasm. Someone could just hand you a present unwrapped and be like, ‘Here you go,’ but it’s so much more fun when you get to unwrap it.
JT: It really is and always has been an expression of intimacy. In my childhood, it was used very antagonistically against me. I think that’s part of why it’s so intimate to me; for people who don’t have that relationship to it – again this is the tone-deaf thing – it can be incredibly threatening.
BL: And people who don’t understand it, just people at face value who take it for what it is.Which is their fault!
JT: Yeah, just stupid people’s fault. I will say this, there’s a current wave of liberal, cultural revolution that really freaks me out, as it bears such resemblance to the Christianity of my childhood.There was a big emphasis on what you thought, and for example a sexual thought was the equivalent to a sexual sin. Thinking about having sex with someone was really about the same thing as committing adultery. What freaks me out about a lot of liberals is that they will go to any length to impress upon you their purity of thought, the rightness of their thinking.What that does is ironically create some weird form of soft bigotry.This is dangerous territory but look at the Grammys. People say,‘Black music is so much more authentic than white music,’ and hidden in that sentiment is basically that all black people are the same.
BL: There are so many levels of racism in that statement.
JT: But it’s viewed as a liberal virtue to be able to recognise the wonders and the intricate lattice of the black experience compared to the mouth- breathing slobbery that is being white.
BL: As a woman I have a really hard time when people go for the whole women-are-smarter propaganda.The whole point of what I’m fighting for is so that no one thinks they’re better than me, so why am I allowed to think that I’m better than someone else.
JT: The whole point of women’s suffrage was that women could engage with
the real world in a real way, and being part of the world, ironically, means not being protected. Sure, women were being excluded from political discourse, but also protected through this insane network of puritanical correctness, this weird construction of women as so much purer and so good that they just need to be covered up.
BL: Also it’s like being protected from the outside world but being able to be abused internally.Where we can go out and be hyper-protected and meek but at home it’s different, only allowed to be kept in a certain way.
JT: Inversely, in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries in this country and in Europe, if men got caught having been beaten by their wife, there were
all kinds of insane norms like putting the man on a horse backwards and riding him around town to publicly shame him. Patrolmen would come and bang pots and pans outside your door at night if your wife beat you.This whole insane history of countless ways to take someone’s immutable qualities, be they gender or race, and hold them to an impossibly one-dimensional norm. What worries me about the liberal mentality, they will carve people up and segregate them.‘Black women vote this way,’‘white people vote this way.’ It’s completely insane.
BL: Even with corporations, it’s as if what is most important is everyone’s behaviour pattern as a group.
JT: In the same way, a black person who voted for Trump may as well have put been put on a horse backwards and
run around.They did that at the risk of being completely ostracised.
BL: Everyone is pro-diversity as long as it’s their idea of what diversity is.
JT: Well they’re pro-diversity as long as it doesn’t mean intellectual diversity.
BL: People have a really hard time empathising with everyone.
JT: Over the last forty years we’ve had this one style of middle-management technocrat, looking at data and deciding that they don’t need to engage in politics.They can just cut deals and they’re looking at infographics that tell them that these trade agreements are working out really well for the American worker. Meanwhile, the Midwest is turning into a fucking wasteland full of poisoned water, empty factories and opiate addiction. Weird elite freaks who lack all empathy, exactly what the liberal culture is all about.They’re going,‘We don’t need to go to Michigan because our fucking graphs say that we’re good!’ Completely disconnecting from the plight of working Americans, that to me is the exact opposite of empathy.
BL: In general, there has been and still is this whole cultural problem where everyone is so focused on themselves, their lives and their own experience. The idea of even bothering to fight for someone else feels intense for them. I feel that shifting a little bit and people are taking a stand for someone who might not have anything to do with them. It’s cool, but also difficult as there are lots of disenfranchised people that still no one really cares for.
JT:Absolutely, revolutions are very rarely cultural revolutions.There is a huge unrepresented population of this country. More than half the people in this country didn’t vote, either because it’s just so irrelevant to them, or they’re at fucking work.
BL: Probably both.
JT:The revolutions are always fought by people who have nothing to lose, the left has everything to lose. For everything that they’re saying about how shitty things are, we actually like the way things are and we want to see minor tweaks, people to be a little nicer. I’m painting in really broad strokes and don’t want to offend anyone, I’m just riffing here but if you look from a macro perspective, the left and the establishment, including Republicans, globalists and nationalists.We have everything to lose, but there’s a huge population that has nothing to lose,
and they will fight.They will have a revolution.The people on the right
are having their revolution right now, they threw the most reckless Hail Mary imaginable. Electing Donald Trump, that is something people who have nothing to lose do.Throw a Molotov cocktail, unbelievably reckless. If nothing else it’s a pretty impressive referendum on these elite globalist freaks too busy dabbing with Ellen to go to Michigan.‘Send Lena Dunham!You know what, don’t even send Lena Dunham, let’s just do a webisode it will be fine.’
BL: People get caught up in ideals and forget the whole point of progress as trying to educate everyone as a unit together.You exist, I exist, we all exist. What’s best for all of us?
JT: I am on the left, I just feel like the last ten years, the problem with having such an incredibly charismatic man such as Obama is that it creates a side effect. It only mattered that he was electable. Attempting these policies and a certain
form of very idealistic bi-partisanship made it so that the only electable Democrat was Obama, and it’s really easy to fall into this line of thinking, ‘He’s got it.’ He handed the country over to this beauty pageant child rapist. I don’t think that was the time to be the ‘cool’ president.
BL:‘This toupee-wearing sex offender is literally replacing me at my job!’
JT:That was the time for fucking politics, blue collar, but they fucking used politics and dirty tactics against Bernie Sanders.That was the only
time they decided to roll their sleeves up – they despatch Bernie Sanders when they had Donald Trump on the horizon.We completely underestimated the media’s inability to get rid of him, which we usually count on.That was the big moment, everybody thought
that [Grab them by the Pussy] was the end of the road for him, that’s why that was this big rallying cry.That was a moment of psychic trauma.
BL: I think it’s crazy that it didn’t deter the voting public, it’s something that most women have experienced so personally. Such a personal thing where this person had done what every bully you know has done.And then,‘You’re going to be President!’
JT:You can’t lead a nation of women if that’s your mentality. But all the women who voted for him were saying,‘Look, have you ever been around a man? They do that,I don’t care.All I care about is securing the border, defeating ISIS and creating jobs and blah, blah, blah.’The point is that was in the political narrative of the past, the moment when we thought,‘OK, bye, bye, done.’You don’t
come back from that but this guy is just a zombie freak who powered through, that was the most disturbing moment. He is some kind of political super virus, anything you throw at him just makes him stronger.
BL: I was so surprised that people didn’t make a bigger deal out of the fact that he was being tried for racketeering. That’s large-scale fraud.
JT:There are more powerful forces
at play, when your culture is totally predicated on the idea of success at
any cost, those things just don’t resonate. They get away with it every time, Dick Cheney or Halliburton.There’s something at a cellular level that makes success so admirable. Success at any cost happens all the time.
BL: I figured,‘Yes he’s a sex offender, but he’s also defrauding the public.’ Is that not a big deal?
JT: Look at Bill Clinton and Alan Greenspan defrauding the public for eight years, this fucking technocrat bullshit again.‘Our algorithms say everything is on the up,’ while American manufacturing is swiftly exiting the country,‘but our graph says quite the contrary and it’s working politically.’ Then he got taken down by a blow job, while South Korean markets are crumbling to the ground based on
our loan sharking, the fucking blow job comes out.That’s what rocks the creative imagination.
BL: People were so surprised, but this has always been happening.The Native American population hasn’t gotten
a break since we got here. I’m really happy that everyone is aware about everything, but you can’t just lay it on these people as it’s been happening for lifetimes before us.
JT: I had this infamous meltdown in Philadelphia, I saw you the next day!
BL: I didn’t know you had a meltdown. I knew that you didn’t sing at a show and you just spoke, but I didn’t know what you spoke about.
JT:You can just Google it. It was advertised as me lecturing the crowd about evil. Granted, I was not in my right mind. It’s been a really hard year and that was probably the critical mass when I was pretty out of control.You can put that on the record I don’t care. I had a very visceral reaction to watching him get the Republican population with the creative underclass. Everyone was just making these glib jokes. I thought if this was our reaction to this fucking waking nightmare, then we are truly fucked.We are complicit, helping this happen. So when I got in front of this audience in Philadelphia the day after, everyone is sitting around in lawn chairs drinking wine coolers, pretending like everything was OK.The way I see it, we entertained our way into this nightmare, and no small part is due to the fact that the Vietnam War ended when they put these atrocities onTV. They put these images in American homes, and people knew they could not continue this.Then there was a political outcry and the war de-escalated.You fast forward to now when you put this fucking psychic vampire onTV and people want to see more of him, more of this.That’s where entertainment becomes a state of mind,an externality.
BL: People do now use the grotesque as entertainment, wildly violent things. Intense rape scenes, suffering used as entertainment, it’s so bizarre!
JT: Do you remember that horrible X-Men poster, a giant monster strangling Jennifer Lawrence?
BL: I don’t remember that, no.
JT:We need to imbue art with the significance it deserves, instead of just chalking everything up to
entertainment.When I got up on that stage and said entertainment is killing us, it is killing our spirit and ability to change things. People just thought that was ironic coming from an ‘entertainer’.
BL: So much of what anyone does is about their intentions. It’s crazy that people can’t read that. If you open your eyes and actually look at someone you can see intentions so clearly.
JT:This is about widespread spiritual death in this country.Your spirit is the only dependable place to gauge these things.When you’re constantly applying the narcotic of entertainment to the human spirit, it starts to atrophy.That line in the album,‘The only thing that makes them feel alive is the struggle to survive, the only thing they request is something to numb the pain with until there’s nothing human left.’
BL:That’s so true, a bunch of these creatives who were there that night, probably half of them actually spend any effort being creative, most of them spend most of their time drinking at
a bar. Numbing whatever’s going on inside of them and that’s why their reaction is numbed.
JT:There’s the song on the record called ‘The Memo’.A lot of these songs came out as these one-sentence ideas, and with that one I was thinking about
the idea of a memo that’s been passed around the halls of power. It’s like giving people a step-by-step guide of how to control people. It’s a real soufflé of stupidity, narcissism, of these word games that we’re playing now, Orwellian semantics like calling art entertainment and entertainment art.That distinction has served us really well, but now there’s no difference and there’s a price to pay when you don’t make a meaningful distinction between those words.
BL:It’s such a hard dilemma.Say you want everyone to be more culturally
educated and you want them to be more in line with their spirit, more in line with art over entertainment, that’s also trying to control the way people think. Do you let people destroy themselves?
JT:You know, I became really obsessed with caffeine. I wrote this album
in a completely sober state, and I
was stripping away more and more substances to see how far I could go with this thing.Then I got to caffeine and I was reading all these books about it, I was just like ‘God, what is it about the human experience that we find so loathsome?’When you think about the human ingenuity in taking this hard, red bean from a bush and cultivating these means to extract this drug out
of it.There is something in us that really wants to get high. Caffeine is an insane high!
BL: Sugar, caffeine and nicotine are the three big ones.
JT: How can there be enough of a market to sustain this limitless amount of variety of one product? It’s truly mind boggling. There is something in this cycle of numbing and addiction that has proved terrifyingly effective. This makes me sound insane, but I think pop music is also a factor in this. When I was working on these pop albums I would say,‘I thought for the second chorus we could change the lyrics,’ and there was this immediate reaction of,‘No, no, no.You can’t
BL: ‘Focus groups say that choruses need to stay the same.’
JT: People can handle more than they’re given but nine times out of ten they won’t ask for more than they’re given.
BL: All of a sudden everything is focus group and data tested, so record labels dictate the form because they know what ‘works’.
JT: There are studies where the brain has a pleasurable experience when it knows what’s coming. I noticed this when I put out Pure Comedy.There were a lot of people saying this song has no melody.That’s because that melody at the beginning of the song is one giant melodic phrase, where it takes sixty-four bars for it to resolve at the end, but there is an identifiable coherent melody in there. But people’s attention span is now so short that by the time they get to the sixteenth bar they have forgotten what they’ve heard and cant recognise how the melody is changing and evolving.
BL: But doesn’t that just blow your mind, as classical music is the music that’s been around the longest, which is set in that structure.
JT: Exactly, what is wrong with
our culture today if it’s not that
we can’t remember anything? We can’t remember what happened
four years ago, we think that racism just re-emerged.When Obama got elected there was the most disgusting outpouring of racism that we’ve seen for a really long time in this country in the public sphere.
BL: I think people can’t remember things because so much information is being shoved down them all the time.
JT: Because there are shorter and shorter bursts of information.When Lincoln was campaigning they would do four hours of oration, then people would go home for dinner and come back for four hours for the other side. Now you have thirty seconds to answer a question about foreign policy or whatever it may be.
BL: I was even thinking just about my schedule – I have to go on vacation to read a book. I literally have to schedule vacations so that I can read a whole book.
JT: So there’s this very cruel irony where we think that we have more information.Yes, we may have more available but a) what is the quality of that information and b) how much of it are we actually understanding?
BL: Fair point.
JT: I think you have to start with your cultural expectations about dignity, kindness or empathy, or wisdom. It’s
so near sighted to think that we own more information, that somehow we are making wiser decisions about where to take our culture. I am now two hours late for band practice.
BL: Oh my god! Sorry. OK, go! Everyone I know uses the phrase band practice and I love it because it sounds like you’re going to play the tuba at high school.
JT:‘It’s my solo project!’
BL: ‘It’s my tuba solo project, I’m the front of the drum line!’
JT: I was in marching band.
BL:What did you play?
JT: I played the snare drum.
BL: Of course you did.
JT: That was the deal, to be in jazz band you had to be in the marching band.
BL: I bet you were a star.
JT: I was since it wasn’t exactly every day that you had an incoming freshman play snare drum.
BL: See, success already at a young age.
JT: I was the lead singer in the marching band.
JT: No, there was no lead singer in marching band. I went from that Pentecostal cult demon academy straight into a public high school for the first time in my life, that’s a whole different story, oh my god.
BL:We can do an interview part two.
JT:Yeah, we should just put this voice memo on the Internet.
BL:Yeah I think we should.Well they’re actually going to transcribe it for us.
JT: Oh my god they’re going to be halfway through and be shouting, ‘Shut up you idiots!’
BL: No, they’ll like it and I’ll tell them to like it. Ok I’ll see you soon. Have a great band practice. Bye!
Photographer: James Wright
Styling: Mar Peidro & Julia Chu
Interview: Brianna Lance
Special thanks Susan Traylor.