Singer/songwriter J. Tillman’s music paints languid, sadly beautiful portraits of love and life on the margins with the moody depth of Nick Drake and the country-influenced textures of Ryan Adams. Tillman first made a name for himself playing drums in a pair of indie rock bands, Saxon Shore and Stately, while attending college in New York City. In his spare time, however, he began writing material of his own, citing the music of Nick Drake and Pete Seeger, and the writings of Flannery O’Connor, as key influences. Some of Tillman’s demos found their way to Damien Jurado, who invited Tillman to join his band for a tour. Tillman played solo sets during several dates on the tour and began distributing CD-R copies of an early collection of tunes called I Will Return. During the tour, he also struck up a friendship with Eric Fisher, who produced another CD-R album, Long May You Run, J. Tillman. Both Tillman and Jurado later signed on for a U.S. tour with Richard Buckner, where Tillman once again found a ready audience for home-burned copies of his disc.
In 2006, the independent Fargo Records label released Tillman’s first properly distributed solo album, Minor Works, and Keep Records reissued I Will Return/Long May You Run as a two-disc set the same year. In 2007, Yer Bird Records released Tillman’s fourth, more elaborately arranged album, Cancer and Delirium. Although his solo work continued to garner critical acclaim, he briefly shifted focus in 2008 by joining Fleet Foxes. The group toured heavily in support of its debut album; meanwhile, Tillman continued working on his own material, releasing Year in the Kingdom in 2009. In 2011, Tillman left Fleet Foxes to concentrate on his many solo projects, adopting the pseudonym Father John Misty for 2012’s Fear Fun, a 12-track collection of new material that infused the harmony-laden hymns of his former band with a patina of Gram Parsons and Harry Nilsson-informed, Laurel Canyon-inspired neo-psychedelia. In 2015 Tillman issued a second studio album under the moniker, the caustically funny and surprisingly sweet I Love You, Honeybear. The album received widespread acclaim from critics and fans alike, and was particularly lauded for its bold use of strong melodies, ironic and ornately romantic lyrics, and stellar arrangements.
In May 2016, it became apparent that Tillman had also begun working on further material after he uploaded a new song to SoundCloud titled “Real Love Baby.” Tillman made headlines that summer when he cut his performance short at the XPoneNtial Festival in New Jersey after replacing his planned set list with a tirade about the empty values of entertainment and the rise of stupidity in popular culture and its effect on society. He then performed a cover of Leonard Cohen’s “Bird on the Wire” before abruptly leaving the stage. Later that year, he uploaded another new song onto SoundCloud, “Holy Hell,” and in late January 2017, Father John Misty announced his third album, Pure Comedy. The record lyrically touched on themes such as politics, social media, the environment, technology, and celebrity culture. Ahead of the album’s release, Tillman promoted the effort with the title track and “Ballad of a Dying Man,” along with an 1800-word essay released to his online fan club about the symbolism involved in the record. Pure Comedy was released in early April 2017. ~ Mark Deming & Rob Wacey