ATH Intervews: J. Tillman
We had the incredible opportunity this week to speak with solo songwriter J. Tillman about his musical endeavors. Mr. Tillman talks about his new solo record Year in the Kingdom and his work with indie powerhouse Fleet Foxes. This interview should serve as a nice preview to the J. Tillman show coming up on Friday at Mohawk. Follow the jump for full interview.
ATH: You’ve released six albums and two EPs since 2005, which is a considerable, Joyce Carol Oates-like output. How do you keep such an active release schedule? Do you approach songwriting as a job, setting aside an allotted time to write, or is it more based on outside inspiration?
JT: I think of it more in terms of “automatic-writing”. It’s more of an occultic practice, I think it’s best not to try to explain metaphysical stuff like that.
ATH: Compared to the struggles with lack of faith addressed in David Bazan’s Curse Your Branches, Year in the Kingdom, from my interpretation, seems more based on repentance and redemption. How does your faith incorporate itself in your songwriting? Is there a level of intention on your part to write with these themes? Or am I just stretching to find something that is not there?
JT: Well, just as a clarification, I don’t consider myself a person of “faith”. A lot of the language I use lyrically is rooted more in an interest in subverting language, or putting it in a different context. Mythology has always proliferated in that way. People take traditions or stories from the past and reframe them in a way that’s relevant to them. Modern people are incapable of being religious in the same way pre-modern people were; we know to much about the world, whether we admit it or not. I don’t think that should prevent us from cultivating our own ideas about death. It’s unfortunate and bizarre that in the age we live in people expect literal belief if you even ruminate along those lines.
ATH: On it’s own as a song, “Though I Have Wronged You” is fairly weighty, but couple with the video it can really take the wind out of you. Did the idea for the video come from a personal experience or, knowing that it would be predominantly watched on computers, was it meant to be a wake up call to a generation raised on social networking and e-fame? It definitely makes one feel accountable for how their time is spent.
JT: I just bought a laptop within the last year, and seeing it kind of change the way I collect information about my life and identity kind of gave me the howling fantods. You obviously got what I was trying to convey. The video intentionally doesn’t have anything to do with the song, which I though would make it more effective in addressing the medium. The fact that videos have a lifespan of about 8 minutes on a website before they disappear forever makes the whole enterprise feel more about feeding the entertainment industrial complex than anything else. I didn’t mean it as a “holier-than-thou” creed, it’s a pretty potent distillation of my own fears. It was a way of condemning myself; trying to hold myself accountable.
ATH: During your time with Fleet Foxes have you grown to appreciate what you do as a solo artist? Does it make you yearn to spend more time as the principal songwriter or has being behind a drum kit offered a welcome reprieve from the spotlight?
JT: Well, the spotlight is not a place I have ever spent much time. I don’t really think of the two in relation to each other.
ATH: Having joined Fleet Foxes after the recording of the debut full length, how are the songwriting duties being handled? Will the new songs be a more of a collaborative effort or, like the previous question, are you just happy to be along for the ride?
JT: I’ll be involved in the ways that are appropriate for a drummer. Writing the drum parts for the newer material has been a huge challenge for me, I still feel a bit daunted by it, since the drum parts on the LP/EP were so thoughtful and counter-intuitive. Robin’s songs don’t exactly call for automatic four-on-the four type stuff. The other guys usually have great ideas I never would have thought of. I spend a lot of time thinking about it.
ATH: You’ve been quoted saying, “I play sad bastard music…for the money.” Can we ever expect a lighthearted J. Tillman album? A J. Tillman rendition of Paint Your Wagon, perhaps?
JT: That was certainly a joke, I must have said that at a show or something. I think of all my albums as light-hearted.
ATH: You’re fairly well known for your sense of humor. Do you have any amusing anecdotes from the current tour you would mind sharing with us?
JT: Our lower radiator hose just exploded and I’m waiting for someone to come out and fix it.
ATH: With the end of the year “Best of…” list bacchanalia upon us, we would be remiss not to ask about your best of’s. Let’s change it up though. Rather than listing favorite records/books/movies of 2009, what are some things that have brought you joy this year?
JT: I wouldn’t want to quantify those things. Thanks so much for the thoughtful questions! Take care.