Father John Misty has previewed plenty of material from his forthcoming third album, Pure Comedy, so far: "Two Wildly Different Perspectives," "Ballad of the Dying Man" and, of course, the title track. But while listeners might have noticed a certain darkness throughout, there's much more across the album's 75-minute runtime to delve into. When Josh Tillman refers to the record as "lyrically dense" during a recent conversation with Exclaim!, it's something of an understatement.
You'll have to wait until April 7 for Sub Pop to release the record in its entirety — and until Tuesday, March 7 to read the Father John Misty cover story in our April issue — but today we're pleased to present, in Tillman's own words, a preview of Pure Comedy. Here are seven things Father John Misty wants you to know about his third album.
1. He's asking bigger questions, and with his trademark self-awareness, but that doesn't make his findings any less genuine.
"This album deals a lot with the fact that there isn't a whole lot in this experience, in being a human, that is new. Everything comes back around. And these kinds of clichés, if you want to call them that, I think inform the work of just about everybody that I really love.
"A lot of the time, those are artists who end up getting saddled with the 'pretentious' tag, whether that's Terrence Malick or Charlie Kaufman, Kurt Vonnegut. I think that, in my work, you hear somebody asking these questions. On the first album it was 'Who am I?' and on the second album, it was, 'What is love?' On this album, it's 'What does it all mean?'
2. Pure Comedy is more sprawling than his first two albums, less about "tracks" than composition and arrangement.
"I wanted to make music in the studio, instead of making tracks, so for the first time, I got a rhythm section together instead of just Jonathan [Wilson, producer] and I playing everything. I got a rhythm section together, we rehearsed for months, and then we got into the studio, and tracked guitar, bass, drums, piano and vocals, all live.
"Some of my favourites, you know, if you listen to Hunky Dory or something, the best songs on that record are piano, bass, drums and hand claps, and they sound massive. It just feels a lot more deliberate."
3. Tillman's childhood played an influential role.
"When I was growing up — especially when I was a teenager — I had this sense that as soon as I got out of the house, and out of the church, then I wouldn't live in 'crazy-world' anymore. And then I got into the 'real world,' so to speak, and realized that it was just as convoluted and insane as the church. I started seeing parallels all over the place, a lot of religious thinking that people just didn't call religious thinking. That made life very isolating, you know? And I still feel really isolated to a certain extent; I still feel like I can't quite connect with a lot of people."
4. He has a fascination with Calvin and Hobbes, and Calvin's worldview is not unlike that of Pure Comedy.
"I was so much like Calvin when I was a kid. Down to, like, really intense anthropomorphizing toys and stuff. I was sort of depressed in the same way that I think Calvin is, and I just sort of felt like everybody else seems to be able to do this shit that's being asked of them, seemingly effortlessly, and I just cannot get it together.
"I wasn't cruel like Calvin was, but I was just always in trouble. I had this really hyperactive imagination, and I really just liked to be alone. There's a philosophical worldview in that strip, and I think one of the main messages is that most people are lying to themselves. I mean, children are just these little hypocrisy-finding machines, a lot of the time. They're incredibly sensitive to hypocrisy or petty injustices, or you know — it's why kids are always screaming that something's not fair. And I was about as intense an example of that as you're likely to find.
"When you look at the title [of Pure Comedy], you can look at that title and it would be easy to say, like, 'What a shallow, dismissive, cynical summation of human life.' Or you look at it, and you can, I think, be liberated… I find great liberation in the absurdity of all this. Because that means that you can make your own meaning. And I really think that, that is just the mandate for every human. And that's what Calvin does in that comic strip."
5. Pure Comedy is Tillman's most personal record yet.
"I had written these songs and had this realization that was like, 'This album can't be about humanity if there's not a portrait of a living, breathing human being smack in the centre of it.' It's like, 'Okay, we're taking this really macro view of humanity, this really kind of reductionist view; now we need to go deep into the fears and humanities of a real human being, to give it perspective.'"
6. Technology ≠ "Progress"
"Human civilizations have been entertaining themselves in disgusting ways all through human history — I mean, whether it's lighting Christians on fire, or whatever. We have to consider that maybe there are ways in which we entertain ourselves now that are equally as disturbing.
"The internet was supposed to be this new democracy, a utopia of information where everyone had a voice and we were all inter-connected, and we would experience true democracy — and it turned into pornography, followed only by outrage."
7. Pure Comedy is not as negative as it might seem; like laughing, it's meant to be cathartic.
"It's existential, which is maybe a bit too dignified of a word for it, but I mean, it really is a love letter to humanity.
"When you fall in love with someone, you don't fall in love with the parts of them that make sense, or are explicitly beneficial; you fall in love with the fucked up, and the wounded, and the bizarre. Those are the things about people that you fall in love with, what solicits your empathy. Because you recognize those same things in yourself. And it's an incredible relief when you realize that those things that make you flawed exist in other people. And that if you can have empathy for them, maybe you can have empathy for yourself, too."
Father John Misty will further preview Pure Comedy on Saturday Night Live on March 4. Listen to "Ballad of the Dying Man" below.