LONDON – Josh Tillman was in Japan when he made a life changing decision: to quit as drummer of Fleet Foxes and finally pursue the sort of music he’d always wanted to make. His swan song came in Tokyo.
“I remember the gig was oddly unceremonious,” he says. “Those experiences rarely deliver.” Tillman feared obscurity beckoned: how wrong he was. He reinvented himself as singer-songwriter Father John Misty and returns to Japan next week as folk-rock’s A-list errant provocateur, boasting three acclaimed albums, songwriting credits for Beyonce and Lady Gaga and, as of last month, a Grammy award.
His latest record, 2017’s “Pure Comedy,” peels away the layers of modern life. A 75-minute opus, its lush music slowly unfurls as Tillman empathetically dissects the human condition with sharp satire. That it aligned with the era of U.S. President Donald Trump seemed apposite. “But I’d be willing to bet that in 20 years’ time the album will not be remembered as strictly an artifact of the year 2017. The timelessness of the themes will continue to unfold.”
If its scope sounds overbearing — and Tillman’s high ideals are divisive — then his recent London shows were revelatory: a bells and whistles, euphoric trip, with Tillman’s arch swagger front and center.
“It’s such a different thing performing the songs, because what they mean is different to when I consider them in an interview, when I’m triangulating the songs against the culture and the critical reception,” he says. “They still feel good to sing.”
Japanese fans caught their first glimpse of Father John Misty at last year’s Fuji Rock Festival.
“I thought it was fantastic. Everyone told me before the show, ‘Now bear in mind, no one’s going to clap,’” he recalls with a laugh. “It was one of the more exuberant responses we’ve had. Or maybe it just felt that way compared to the expectation. I’m looking forward to going back.”
Father John Misty plays Umeda Club Quattro in Osaka on Feb. 13 and Tsutaya O-East in Tokyo on Feb. 15 (8 p.m. start; ¥7,000 in advance). For more information, visit www.fatherjohnmisty.com.