Satire is easy to find in visual mediums like art galleries and movie theaters, but it’s difficult to find in music. Generally we want music to be emotionally honest and expressive, and satire can certainly throw that off, but not in the case of Father John Misty. Joshua Tillman aka Father John Misty grew up in a religious, conservative family and even played in a Christian-leaning post-rock band in Saxon Shore before making a clear and defiant departure from his religious upbringing. You can hear more about Father John’s background and artistic vision on his WTF podcast appearance, but Father John certainly has something to say about the ugly underbelly of American culture.
Speaking of visual medium, it certainly helps seeing Father John live, as in front of his dynamite band, he bounces between extremely earnest and completely apathetic in seconds. He has a sort of comical way about him on stage that helps sell the satirical element of his music, making his live show more performance art than a straight reading of his music.
This is captured wonderfully in the live debut of his new single, the cheekily-titled “Bored In The USA”, which is one of the best TV performances I have seen all year, and TV tends to be the place to watch live performance die. It’s interesting to see the crowd take in both sides of Father John’s personality. The crowd quietly takes in the first act of “Bored In The USA” like the beautifully honest ballad it is with the help of a 22(!) piece string section, and then they react with uproarious laughter to the more humorous second half of the song as if Father John was a stand up comic. It’s strange to see an audience have such genuine laughter to a song’s lyrics, but that’s just what Father John delivers with lines like “Save me President Jesus” and “They gave me useless education and a sub-prime loan on a craftsman home”. It’s a funny but really sad indictment on how we often aim for the same “American” dream mirage.
Father John reminds me of the troubled but brilliant Harry Nillsson (who is well-captured in the documentary Who Is Harry Nilsson?), someone with a startlingly beautiful voice that is clearly troubled but brilliant. Nillsson always had a humorous side to his music, but it did remain emotionally honest regardless of the occasional sarcastic or biting remark. Father John’s approach is much the same, as his debut bounced between cutting songs like “I’m Writing a Novel” and emotionally resonant songs like “Every Man Needs a Companion”. “Bored In The USA” does a little of both, which has us super excited for his forthcoming album I Love You Honeybear, which is due out February 9th, 2015.