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Father John Misty doesn’t do fame well

Father John Misty performing at a festival in Denmark in 2015.Gregers Tycho/Polfoto via AP/file

Father John Misty does not inspire a lot of ambivalence. The singer-songwriter is free with his words and his often-barbed observations, packing his albums and his interviews with bons mots and provocative assertions about organized religion, drugs, other famous people, and his own struggle to avoid spontaneously combusting in the glare of the spotlight.

Born Josh Tillman, he was raised in an intensely religious household where even secular music was forbidden. Tillman, now 36, spent years laboring behind a series of low-fi albums ranging from bedroom to chamber folk and played drums with Fleet Foxes before leaving the Seattle group, rechristening himself, and releasing three albums (so far) as Misty. The second, “I Love You, Honeybear” was a big commercial breakthrough.


“Pure Comedy,” released in April, was a bigger one; it even prompted his appearance on “Saturday Night Live” while animated by a chemical cocktail that he later acknowledged to Rolling Stone included LSD. Before that, he famously cracked up onstage at a music festival outside Philadelphia, accosting the audience with a lengthy diatribe and then playing just two songs. With intensely self-conscious lyrics (“[M]y latest cover piece/entitled ‘The Oldest Man in Folk-Rock Speaks’ ”), it’s unclear sometimes where the performance spectacle begins and ends.

He spoke with the Globe on the phone from Los Angeles, where he lives with his wife, photographer Emma Elizabeth Tillman. He plays Blue Hills Bank Pavilion on Wednesday.

Q. “Pure Comedy” sounds pretty bitter but it’s deceptively humanist, isn’t it? I hear it as being about the connection that’s necessary to enable the tribe to survive, and the things that keep people from having that connection.

A. The ironies I’m listing in that song I view as being counterfeit. And they’re comical.

I just did an interview where a girl was saying that she’s had more sex to this album than any other album she’s listened to recently. And I was like: That’s the point of the album! If you can look at the world and go: Why would we propagate the species, why would we move forward, why fall in love when you look at this horror show out here? But that’s just our human nature. That’s our instinct. We’re incredibly adept at moving forward. And we do that on faith. That is faith.


Q. Who is Father John Misty, in relation to Josh?

A. It’s a contradiction, ultimately. And the truth at the center of this contradiction is that it is all me and it is also a farce.

Q. Is there some extra level of permission to be, almost, more yourself while you’re inside of that farce?

A. I think for people that enjoy what I do, whether it is having maybe some lack of patience with a really banal interview or having a meltdown in Philly or dancing the way I do or saying the kinds of things I say in my songs, they look at it and say: I could see myself doing that. And then for the people who despise me, they look at those things and are like: I would never in a million years conduct myself that way.

People have a hard time believing that’s the way I conduct myself, that those are actually my instincts. But I can tell you that they are. That’s just the way I am. That’s what makes sense to me. But if you remove that from the equation then you get a totally contrived, artificial guy who’s just trying to growth-hack his way into fame.


Q. How much of your work is motivated by a sense of grievance?

A. Oh wow. It’s got to be a pretty healthy percentage. “Pure Comedy” is a good example of my greatest hits of grievance with the human experience.

Q. Since you’ve been getting so much attention, have these last couple of years been good for you as a person? Is it healthy?

A. I was just talking about this with my brother. No, it’s not healthy. The highs are too high, the lows are too low, the propensity for being hyper-aware instead of self-aware increases. I am not good at being a famous person. It does take a toll. I was talking about some future version of me that owns a stationery store and just imagining us having drinks 10 years from now and me saying: God, remember that whole music phase? Remember how miserable I was? Jesus.

I do think there is a way to do it. But it isn’t gonna come from a critically acclaimed album or from a commercially successful album or from writing the perfect song. That’s where a lot of the danger is. You start to think that you can leverage your personal failures with your professional successes. And so you start to run a spiritual Ponzi scheme on yourself. The bottom will fall out if you live that way.


Q. How’s it going lately?

A. 2016 was really extreme. The bubble did burst and it did kind of look like that Philadelphia meltdown and other stuff that people just will never know about, outside of what maybe they can piece together in my next album. It’s hazardous. Especially if you’re like me and there is that certain undercurrent of grievance.

The circumstances of my life are better now. But I’m still just kind of maintaining. At some point I am going to have to address fundamental issues that I have. But I don’t have time right now. I’m just on tour. I have my rules, you know, that help me maintain.

Q. What rules?

A. You just have to isolate yourself a little bit. You have to protect yourself. I’m the last guy at the party. That’s sort of who I am and I have to protect myself from that guy.

There’s a certain amount of darkness in me and there is a burden to bear in figuring out how to navigate that. In my song “Smoochie” there’s that line “concealment feeds the fear” and I think that’s central to navigating your own darkness — how to do that without concealment. Concealment is when it turns into lying and it turns into addiction and all that stuff. In terms of understanding my struggle with this, that’s maybe the most forthright thing I’ve written about it.

Father John Misty


With Phosphorescent. At Blue Hills Bank Pavilion, Sept. 13. Tickets $35-$45,

Interview was edited and condensed. Jeremy D. Goodwin can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @jeremydgoodwin.