Interview- Commodity market: Tillman more than a Foxey fad
"I think I could really go for an ice cream right now," says musician J. Tillman, "but just one of those Ben and Jerry's small cups, with the spoon built in. If I get a pint, I'll just go through six episodes of Battlestar Galactica in one evening and ruin the svelte, homeless-looking figure I have."
The Seattle-based musician may be behind the scenes of the mega-hit indie-folk band Fleet Foxes (since drummers are usually overshadowed by their bandmates); but don't count this rhythm-maker out just yet. He recently released his eighth solo album, Year in the Kingdom, to critical acclaim and seems perfectly happy with his solo work.
"I had played with Casey [Wescott] and Christian [Wargo] before, when the scene was small and everyone was buddies," Tillman explains. "At the time, I felt like I was just playing with friends, but then it got all huge and took over my life."
Whatever his inspirations, Josh Tillman is an artist who wants to play what he wants.
The Hook: You've recently gained fame with Fleet Foxes and have been quoted saying, "I've been wanting this for fifteen years." What's your idea of success?
JT: It's bizarre– this is what I wanted, and now it's here.
The Hook: What is with Fleet Foxes and beards?
JT: Six years ago, when I moved to Seattle, I had a beard, and everyone was trying to do the rock 'n' roll thing with leather jackets and black hair, and people would come up to me and ask, "Are you going to shave that beard off?" Now, random people are like, "Awesome beard, man!" and girls come up after shows and say, "I want to grow a beard!" It's ridiculous. In three years after this folk sh*t is over, I'll still be rocking the beard.
The Hook: How did your proclivity to music all begin? Was there ever anything else you wanted to do?
JT: Josh Tillman at thirteen wanted to be in the NBA, not in an indie-rock band. I played power forward, but I'm not very good, so that's prohibitive in tryouts. But also at thirteen was when I started playing drums–- and the tides shifted.
The Hook: In the past, you did an interview with a blog posing as "Jesus Christ"–- do you have a relationship with religion?
JT: I have some religion, but I'm not reductionist about it. Religion is maybe the greatest distillation of human creation over human history, the ability to create abstractions and mythologies. Making music feels similar to automatic writing in the 1800s. [laughs] That interview was years ago!
The Hook: Well, a simple Google search on your name turned it up.
JT: Stupid Google. I just read a big New Yorker article on Google, and it really turned me off. The owners seem infantile–- having million-dollar hobbies, like para-sailing on the moon and rollerblading to work. I don't trust anyone like that.
The Hook: So what are your million-dollar hobbies?
JT: I read a lot. Maybe giving interviews.
The Hook: There's been a lot of confusion as to the origin of your sound–- it's often classified as "southern," yet you're immersed in the Pacific Northwest. How do you balance those images?
JT: It's hard to respond to things with no basis in reality, so I usually just say "Yeehaw."
The Hook: How do you maintain an intimate relationship with your audience as your concert attendance size and overall popularity grows?
JT: You feel more obligated to give the people what they want, when really, it's your prerogative as an artist to tell them what they want. But I guess that's what happens in a commodity marketplace.
The Hook: Have you felt like a commodity lately?
JT: It's depressing, so I'm trying to make sense of it, combat it, be self-deterministic.
The Hook: Well, isn't that the point? Isn't music a vehicle for self-expression?
JT: It seems counter-intuitive, but you should reclaim your own experience independent of the local audience's experience.
J. Tillman plays at the UVA Chapel, Thursday, November 19. The show starts at 8 pm, and tickets are $10.
Share your thoughts on Tillman and the Foxes in the space below by 11pm on November 15; the best comment (funny, insightful, whatever) will win you a free pair of tickets to the show! Be sure to use a real email address so we know how to contact you. The winner will be announced on November 16.
Update [11/11 5:18pm]: Tillman has specifically responded to this article.