Gory yet sentimental artist Father John Misty reinvents indie folk genre

Gabrielle Wilkosz

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Ah yes, Father John Misty: the man who needs no introduction. That is, unless you’ve never heard of him.

Up and coming American musician Josh Tilman, also known by his stage name, Father John Misty, is all the rage in a rapidly changing indie folk rock community: more specifically, a community that thrives on lesser-known musical talent, only to discard bands when they hit the mainstream. (Au revoir Arcade Fire and Foster the People…)

Previously the drummer in folk band Fleet Foxes, Tilman broke out into a similarly successful John-Denver-meets-your-coked-out-uncle solo act. Now, with about one million monthly Spotify followers, Father John Misty may have assembled his church, but his songs sure as hell feel like the doctrine of a commune.

In his most popular song “Chateau Lobby #4 (in C for Two Virgins)” Tilman sings, “Emma eats bread and butter / Like a queen would have ostrich and cobra wine / We’ll have satanic Christmas Eve / And play piano in the Chateau lobby.”

See what I mean about the coked out uncle?

Not surprisingly, Tilman’s entire discography as a solo act, including his latest album, “I Love You, Honeybear,” contains what I call a mangled sugar-and-poison quality, a musical sound reminiscent of your first love or a favorite childhood memory. Then all of a sudden, Father John Misty is singing about how great the wedding dress of a murdered bride looks on his girlfriend.

Another instance of this sugar-and-poison phenomenon comes from his song “Misty’s Nightmares 1 & 2” where he sings, “I need a warm hand over the water / Ever since I lost mine in the fireworks disaster.”

Considering the real Father John Misty has two hands — which he happily uses to strum ironic guitar by the way — once again the Addams-Family-inspired lyrics catch audiences off guard. But for Tilman and his impact on musical genre, it’s not just that audiences are puzzled by the chaos of the music. Rather, it’s the effectiveness to which the formula works.

Despite garnering strong influences from ‘60s folk, Tilman’s act as Father John Misty brings musical audiences more than his predecessors like Nick Drake or Woody Guthrie could offer in their time. By creating similar guitar-and-horn melodies, Tilman gives himself the freedom to express himself through stylized lyrics intended to shock and soothe audiences.

But Tilman’s style doesn’t have to be specific to his music. I’m willing to bet that other artists in the near future will follow in his footsteps, cross-pollinating zany lyrics with gentle rock-a-bye refrains and a dramatic spectrum of lyrical poetic imaginings.

The strength of wit, soul, determination and skill required to create “I Love You, Honeybear” proves just how much moving forward potential the indie genre has as a whole. It’s beyond a doubt these tracks flourish in the creepy, tainted world Tilman creates for them. And similarly, I expect other artists too will find their way into this influential way of composing music.

For Father John Misty and all his followers, the indie folk genre may never be the same. As for me, I look forward to hearing lyrics with a strong literary quality whether I’m listening to Tilman sermonize about murdered brides and wedding dresses or fireworks gone awry.

Like the greats before him, Tilman proves that true artistic genius makes audiences pause, raise our eyebrows and think, “God save us all.”