Father John Misty

Father John Misty

When discussing 'Father John Misty', Tillman paraphrases Philip Roth: 'It's all of me and none of me, if you can't see that, you won't get it'. What I call it is totally arbitrary, but I like the name. You've got to have a name. I never got to choose mine."

He goes on, "'People who make records are afforded this assumption by the culture that their music is coming from an exclusively personal place, but more often than not what you hear are actually the affectations of an 'alter-ego' or a cartoon of an emotionally heightened persona," says Josh Tillman, who has been recording/releasing solo albums since 2003 and who recently left Seattle's Fleet Foxes after playing drums from 2008-2011. "That kind of emotional quotient isn't sustainable if your concern is portraying a human-being made up of more than just chest-beating pathos. I see a lot of rampant, sexless, male-fantasy everywhere in the music around me. I didn't want any alter-egos, any vagaries, fantasy, escapism, any over-wrought sentimentality. I like humor and sex and mischief. So when you think about it, it's kind of mischievous to write about yourself in a plain-spoken, kind of explicitly obvious way and call it something like 'Misty'. I mean, I may as well have called it 'Steve'".

Musically, Fear Fun consists of such disparate elements as Waylon Jennings, Harry Nilsson, Arthur Russell, "All Things Must Pass," and "Physical Graffiti," often within the same song. Tillman's voice has never been better and often sounds like Roy Orbison, "The Caruso of Rock", at his most joyous, while the music maintains a dark, mysterious and yet conversely playful, almost Dionysian quality. Lyrically, his absurdist fever dreams of pain and pleasure elicit, in equal measures, the blunt descriptive power of Bukowski or Brautigan, the hedonist-philosophy of Oscar Wilde and the dried-out wit of Loudon Wainwright III.

The album began gestating during what Tillman describes as an "immobilizing period of depression", in his former Seattle home. "Songwriting for me had always only been interesting and necessary because I saw it as this vehicle for truth, but I had this realization that all I had really done with it was lick my wounds for years and years, and become more and more isolated from people and experiences. I don't even like wound-licking music, I want to listen to someone rip their arm off and beat themselves with it. I don't believe that until now I've ever put anything at risk in my music. I was hell-bent on putting my preciousness at stake in order to find something worth singing about."

He continues, "I lost all interest in writing music, or identifying as a 'songwriter'. I got into my van with enough mushrooms to choke a horse and started driving down the coast with nowhere to go. After a few weeks, I was writing a novel, which is where I finally found my narrative voice. The voice that is actually useful.

"It was a while before that voice started manifesting in a musical way, but once I settled in the Laurel Canyon spider-shack where I'm living now, I spent months demoing all these weird-ass songs about weird-ass experiences almost in real-time, and kind of had this musical 'Oh-there-I-am' moment, identical to how I felt when I was writing the book. It was unbelievably liberating. I knew there was never any going back to the place I was writing from before, which was a huge relief. The monkey got banished off my back."

Tillman brought the demos to LA producer/songwriter/pal Jonathan Wilson, and in February 2011 began recording at his home-studio in Echo Park. "Initially, the idea was to just kind of recreate the demos with me playing everything, since they were pretty fleshed out and sounded cool, but a place like LA affords you a different wealth of talent, potential, etc than just about anywhere else. I realized what was possible between Jonathan's abilities, and the caliber of musicians that are just hanging around LA, pretty quickly. People were coming in and out of the studio all day sometimes, and other days, it would just be Jonathan and I holed up, getting stoned, and doing everything.

"I was honest with myself about what music actually excites my joy-glands when I was considering the arrangements and instrumentation," says Tillman. "As opposed to what's been enjoyable to me in the past – namely, alienating people or making choices based on what I think people won't like or understand. Pretty narcissistic stuff."

When asked about Laurel Canyon, where he eventually ended up living in the aforementioned tree-house with a family of spiders, Tillman says, "My attitude about it all is pretty explicit in the record. Given my fairly adversarial personal attitude about the music and aesthetic that comes from that place, it's kind of a huge joke that I live in a former hippie-fantasy land. I have a really morbid sense of humor."

Phil Ek (who everyone knows has worked with Built To Spill, Modest Mouse, Band of Horses, Fleet Foxes) heard the rough versions of the album in May 2011 and offered his services to mix. "Phil and I have known each other for a while by virtue of Fleet Foxes, so he was familiar with my music, but we had never discussed working together. I think he immediately recognized the shift in my writing and singing from a producer and friend's standpoint. His excitement is really evident in mixes, I think."

To hear Sarah Versprille and Daniel Hindman tell it, their Portland, OR-based band Pure Bathing Culture has always evolved naturally and at a steady pace. "That's really the path we've been on as a band, always putting one foot in front of the other as opportunities presented themselves," Versprille said. "The music just revealed itself to us as we kept going."

But for Pure Bathing Culture's second album, Pray for Rain, the band has taken a big leap forward. You can hear it from the opening notes of their anthemic title track: in Hindman's clean yet serpentine guitar lines interacting with the live rhythm section and Versprille's lucid vocals cutting through it all as she asks: "Is it pleasure? Is it pain? Did you pray for rain?" Pray for Rain is the sound of the group confidently taking a step up to the next level and finding their footing as a true band.
"We needed to make a big step and our version of that was to cut the cord from our previous albums," Hindman said of the process, then confesses: "I was nervous all the way through. It was nerve-wracking and almost antagonizing at times."

The roots of Pure Bathing Culture stretch back to 1999, when Versprille and Hindman befriended one another on the first day of freshman orientation at William Patterson University in Wayne, New Jersey. A decade later, they became bandmates when they both joined Vetiver for their Sub-Pop albums Tight Knit and The Errant Charm. It was while playing in Vetiver that Pure Bathing Culture emerged as its own entity.

"Dan was working on some instrumentals that he would make on a looping pedal," Sarah said. "One night he was out and I just listened to this loop and wrote some lyrics to it. He came home and I showed it to him. We laughed at first, as we didn't have some grand plan to start a band. It just happened naturally." That song "Lucky One," wound up in the hands of Richard Swift, who encouraged the duo to keep writing. "Richard pushed us along and became an inspiration," Dan said. Swift wound up producing the band's first EP and dreamy full-length, 2013's Moon Tides at his National Freedom studio.

From there, PBC evolved from simply being the product of Versprille and Hindman writing songs in their own home to hitting the road as a full touring band. "Sarah and I conceptualize music and then write so it's a pretty fragile state," Hindman said. "Playing live was a huge change for us."

When it came time to write and record their follow-up to Moon Tides, the duo knew what they didn't want. "We didn't gravitate towards someone making indie dream-pop records," Dan said. That was when producer John Congleton (St. Vincent, Swans, Angel Olsen, The Walkmen) reached out to the band and invited them to come record with him in his Dallas, TX studio.

"John pushed us to not make clichés, to not play into the style of other bands," Dan said. The challenges came right away as Congleton pressed the group into unfamiliar and at times uncomfortable territory in the studio. "He tricked me with the guitars on the album," Dan said. "We got the basic tracks down and he asked me to do scratch guitar and then John wouldn't let me go back and do the guitars again. He refused to do any layering."

As a result, everything on Pray for Rain is pretty much as Pure Bathing Culture actually sounds, all analog gear, with virtually no plug-ins or effects added afterwards, no hiding behind multiple layers. "There aren't a lot of tricks; What you hear is naturally what's there," Dan said.
It was a taxing yet ultimately rewarding experience when the album was completed. "It was shocking to hear what the finished product was," Sarah said. "It was like being in a vortex and then we came out with this record." She adds with a laugh something John Congleton told her when all was said and done: "You were very brave."

Sarah summarizes the Pray for Rain experience as one of "stepping into the realm of discovering who we are as a band and as songwriters," echoing a theme of the album itself, the process of change and transition. "You can find the best version of yourself in those hardest moments," she said. To which Dan adds: "You have to be backed up against the wall in order to really feel those feelings and respond to them." Pray for Rain is the sound of Pure Bathing Culture transforming from who they were to who they will be, of finding their way, ready to take steps both small and momentous on their musical path.

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