Luxury Wafers Exclusive Interview with J. Tillman, an Unshakably Sad man who Only Does Fun Things

by Landry on October 1, 2009

Benham Jones from the Luxury Wafers crew had the opportunity to ask J Tillman a few questions. Here’s how it went:

BJ: Thanks for taking the time to answer a few of my questions. I really dig your new record; it has put me in sweet moods after sour days. First and foremost, how is tour going? Are you getting much love overseas?

JT: Tour is great, I’d rather not quantify my love-quotient.

BJ: How do you keep your brain tamed and healthy while traveling? Are you reading anything good? Or are you working all the time?

JT: I actually think of a tame mind as more of an unhealthy thing. I’ve been writing a lot. I just read a book called “The Cosmic Serpent” about hallucinogens, the origins of knowledge and DNA, etc., and started a book called “RhythmMagick” about rhythm and magic(k).

BJ: Do feel more productive on the road or in the studio?

JT: Well, “the road” is an unproductive place for about 10 hours a day on average. For instance, instead of doing a million other things I should have been doing today, I watched an entire season of “Curb Your Enthusiasm” in the van.

BJ: How would you describe your live show? How do you approach live arrangements and different versions of songs?

JT: I would describe my live show as,”A hairy, drunk guy breaking tambourines and screaming about cosmic serpents.”

BJ: Do your songs continue to feel alive within you?

JT: Most of my songs are stillborn.

BJ: What was it like growing up with music the way you did in your household?

JT: Pretty un-musical.

BJ: How long did it take you to record the new album? The whole record sounds gentle, easy, unforced.

JT: I think we tracked for seven days and mixed for three.

BJ: It wasn’t your first time to work with Kory Kruckenberg. What’s your favorite aspect of creating a record with his help? How did things differ this time?

JT: I had him record a bit more instinctively as opposed to me insisting on doing everything ass-backward. Kory is an incredibly inspiring presence for me in the recording environment. A lot of engineers and producers are unwilling to let someone make their own mistakes, which is what I love about the records I love. I couldn’t imagine recording in some studio with salmon walls and leather couches and three year old copies of Rolling Stone.

BJ: You’ve always kept your sound fairly sparse and low key, but the little gestures (ala the harpsichord/out of tune honkey-tonk piano on There Is No Good In Me or the six seconds of strings at the end of Light of the Living) make my stomach drop in the best way and shine into Nick Drake/Red House Painters territory. Do you have ambitions to fill out the sound more, or do you prefer it stripped down?

JT: I probably just have a different metric for gauging when something is “done”. I like to be able to hear the space between arrangements. There’s a moment in Though I Have Wronged You when a mallet falls off the vibes and hits the floor. If there was a ton of extraneous shit going on you wouldn’t be able to hear that. It’s probably my favorite spot on the record.

BJ: What was the process and environment for writing Year in the Kingdom like? I’d imagine you had your hands a bit full while touring with Fleet Foxes.

JT: It was beautiful, we were having a really cool, bright spring weather in Seattle. My friends were just coming in and out late at night; it’s really quiet and bizarre at Kory’s place.

BJ: Some say your new album is the most upbeat of yours to date. I find it beautiful and enlightening, yet it still seems to possess an unshakeable sadness. To what do you attribute this?

JT: My unshakeable sadness.

BJ: Would you say you’re inclined to introspection?

JT: Let me think about that.

BJ: In general, not just with the Fleet Foxes tour and Year in the Kingdom, how do you feel that your relationship with other artists, either in the studio, on the road, as mutual fans… how do you feel this influences your sound?

JT: If my peers had a significant impact on my music, my music would probably be a lot more popular.

BJ: Do you think that these relationships can sometimes obscure your autonomy as an artist? There is an energy and buzz around Year in the Kingdom that really announces a new presence on the scene, and it seems like people are finally getting over the Fleet Foxes association, but it is still hard to get the Tillman bio without name drops of Damien Jurando, David Bazan etc…

JT: I don’t really know about all that. Even if that is the case, should I care?

BJ: What kinds of plans do you project for yourself in the next few years and beyond?

JT: I’d like to just drive around.

BJ: What’s your favorite thing to do for fun?

JT: I only do fun things.

Buy Year in the Kingdom (9/8/09, Western Vinyl). Previous J. Tillman.

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