“I’m just sitting here in my underwear,” Father John Misty said as he picked up the phone.
It was no surprise that the singer-songwriter, 32, conducted his interview nearly nude — raunch is what Misty’s all about. But it wasn’t always that way. Born Joshua Tillman to devout Christian parents, he initially had holier aspirations.
“When I was very young I didn’t have any discernible skills,” he explained ahead of a sold-out show Tuesday at First Ave. “In school, I was always putting on a show, I was very talkative, and I knew how to bullshit. I thought those qualities would make me a good pastor.”
That “dream” fell by the wayside when Misty learned to play drums and guitar at 12. Over the next two decades, his career path would lead him to record seven albums as brooding J. Tillman, a process he described as “a dark and cathartic exercise.” He also drummed for indie-folk stars Fleet Foxes for four years, a role he tends to downplay.
Last year, J. Tillman officially transformed into Father John Misty and released his debut album, “Fear Fun,” under that moniker. A smorgasbord of psychedelic sounds, from fuzzed-out indie rock to Laurel Canyon country, the kaleidoscopic collection also includes an example of art imitating life on “Writing a Novel.” Misty did indeed write a novel, one packaged with the album on two broadsheets.
“Part of what writing a novel solidified for me is that I only want to write songs and it informed the way I have to write them,” he said. “[In the novel] I gave myself permission to be funny, to be long-winded, to be absurd, to be verbose. I had never allowed myself to use those parts of me in songwriting before.”
When asked how he reconciles the saintly and the sinful sides of himself (a contradiction clearly played out on his NSFW Tumblr, where pictures of priests and bestiality coexist), Misty’s answer got lost behind a maze of verbiage.
“It’s about iconography and symbol-making … a Jungian thing,” he said, adding “It’s also a way for me to be mischievous.”
The self-proclaimed “old pervert” Father John Misty guise may be the most authentic one the musician has ever worn. Critics wonder, however, if the provocative persona reeks of a clichéd storyline: Boy rebels against religious upbringing by becoming a lewd celebrity. When asked what his parents think, Misty’s voice flatlined.
“In total honesty, I don’t know,” he said. “We don’t discuss my career.”
While Misty was tight-lipped on family affairs, he was happy to discuss his use of mushrooms:
“I have been portrayed as a partyer, but that’s not the whole story. It’s not like I take a bunch of mushrooms and write. My personal experience is that in that state, I have a very distinct realization of myself.”
The softer side of Misty seemed to emerge when discussing his titillating song “Nancy From Now On.” The music video depicts a night of pseudo pornographic sex- and booze-fueled flirtation. In the final scene, however, Misty returns home to cuddle in bed with his real-life fiancée Emma Elizabeth Garr, a filmmaker and photographer.
“Part of the video was an excuse to throw on S&M gear and play around,” Misty said. “It’s also an exploration of being newly in love with someone and the vulnerability you feel when that happens. When you’re alone, you’re not at the mercy of wanting to love and be loved, or wanting approval, or maintaining your dignity.”
Ironically, Misty seems to maintain more dignity under his current alter ego than he ever did as the demure and depressed J. Tillman.
“After I wrote this really weird thing,” Misty said, referring to his novel, “I couldn’t go back. It was a moment of personal revelation.”
Father John Misty
When: 8 p.m. Tue.
Where: First Avenue.
Tickets: Sold out.