Published Jan 19, 2015Josh Tillman is not the man he was when he released his debut album as Father John Misty back in 2012. Since meeting his future wife, Emma, by chance while on a routine trip to a neighbourhood store in 2011, Tillman has undergone a transformation from the self-indulgent Lothario found on Fear Fun to become a self-assured performer — whether he's opening for the Eagles of Death Metal or for recent touring partner Lana Del Rey.
It comes as no surprise that his new album, I Love You, Honeybear — a collection of songs detailing the love for his wife and the sometimes not-so-romantic dalliances that lead him to her — is his most personal and profound set of recordings to date.
"With the last album, I was able to communicate certain things about myself while maintaining some degree of detachment and humour and sarcasm or whatever. That just wasn't going to work this time around," Tillman tells Exclaim! "I was terrified of being sentimental. I was kind of terrified of putting it all out there. And Emma was really pretty keen in helping me get over that and just be like, 'Look, you can't be afraid to let these songs be beautiful.'"
Recorded throughout 2013 and 2014 in Los Angeles with producer Jonathan Wilson (who also co-produced Fear Fun), the album — out February 10 via Sub Pop — finds the 33-year-old singer-songwriter trading in the folk rock sounds of his previous LP for more symphonic arrangements. Whether it's the bobbing beat found on the mariachi band-assisted "Chateau Lobby #4 (in C for Two Virgins)," or the broad symphonic strokes of "Bored in the USA," I Love You, Honeybear is a spectacular achievement, not just in terms of the album's all-out scale, but because Tillman was able to pull it off with none of the tracks feeling forced.
"I think a lot of the ways people use strings is just purely for bluster," he says, "like, the second chorus comes around and it's, 'How do we take this up another notch?' And that's not my thing at all."
Splitting duties on the symphonic side are Tillman, Wilson and violinist Paul Cartwright, who worked on the majority of the album's arrangements.
"Paul is just a real genius and being able to come in and listen to my very obtuse directions and come out with stuff like that is just unbelievable," Tillman says, adding that Cartwright will be joining his band on their upcoming tour. "A lot of the string arrangements, a lot of the melodies are so distinct that even with just one guy playing it and then the rest of the arrangement being represented, it's eerily close to what's happening on the record."
Strings aside, perhaps the strongest part of Tillman's new LP is the power of his vocals. In the press release and bio (which he wrote, unusually), Tillman describes I Love You, Honeybear as having "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."
"I think I just wanted a different tool," he says about his new and improved vocal prowess. "Last time around I think I was taking up that real estate with vocal harmonies, big 'oohs' and 'ahhs' and stuff. This time around I didn't really want to hear ten of me, you know? For the sentiment and lyrics and everything in these songs I wanted a very singular, like, a man singing, and not a big wash of impersonal voices."
According to Tillman, that'll come across not just on record, but in his live show as well.
"I can't talk about this without sounding provincial, but I just love singing and I really do love performing," he says. "The deeper the material gets and the more I have something to say, then the more vital the performing becomes. Since this material is so personal, I think it's just going to make for a far more intense performance."