Josh Tillman walked in the WFPK studio like the shaggier version of Johnny Cash, dressed all in black, still getting himself together, since he had only been awake for a bit over an hour. I myself had a sleepless night and was trying to combat the cobwebs with espresso, though I couldn’t tell if my shaky hands were from it or my nerves. The interview had only been dropped in my lap the night before, and even though the man people know as Father John Misty and I had done interviews together three times before, the stakes were still high. This isn’t a guy you can phone a conversation in on. He’s well known for his humor and lexicon as much as for his music. I especially didn’t want to fumble this one since he had recently stopped doing press after making a bit of noise for “covering” Ryan Adams’ covers of Taylor Swift. On top of that, our previous interview only happened last May and focused on his new album. So what to do? How to make it special? I couldn’t do that interview again. I’d have to take a trust fall as the only thought I had was to ask him to guest DJ. If we talk about other people’s music, maybe we can find the way to our own original conversation.
I can’t say that it exactly worked, because from the moment the mic went live, we were already off course but having a blast. What am I supposed to attribute that to? The comfort of two people who know each other? His ability to wax on any subject? An instinct that I’ve been able to cultivate? Whatever it was, it led to one of the most memorable hours I’ve ever had on the radio. It was a philosophy conversation that was well above my league, but we were always able to find the common ground and swing it back around to jokes and music. In fact, even if it had ended 20 minutes in, it would still be in my top five.
But then something spectacular happened toward the end. Josh started telling me a version of the story about his covering Taylor Swift that I hadn’t heard before. The media fire that accompanied his versions of “Blank Space” and “Welcome To New York” were only stoked more when he took them down less than a day later with a story of Lou Reed coming to him in a dream. But, what he was telling me was not that. He was telling me the real story. He was putting his trust in me, which I can’t figure out the words for how grateful I am. For every moment of my teenage years spent wondering what it would be like to be friends with my heroes, I was living one of those great moments, and I wanted to give back the respect that I was given.
All in all, it took the whole ordeal past not just a fun hang with a new friend, to worldwide news that would quickly be picked up from everyone from Pitchfork to The Guardian to Spin to NME, giving me a glimpse into his life, what it must be like to always be under that magnifying glass and amplifier. It’s pretty crazy. And ridiculous. And a lot of fun. And, as an interviewer, it also set a new high. These are the moments we dream and live for. Call it a home run or whatever, but these are the reasons we do what we do — like winning a Grammy or going platinum.
I’m sure there is a great lesson to be learned about our need to feed the media, or the media’s need for constant content, how we react to someone else’s reaction, or our relationship with our heroes. Maybe it’s nothing I didn’t know already, but I’ve just never seen it that closely. And I don’t know that I’ll dwell on it anymore beyond this piece, if nothing else because I have to get to work on the next interview. But I’m glad I got to experience it. And I’m even more glad for the music of Father John Misty — so incredibly different than most of the rest of the lot. Funtimes in Babylon, indeed. •
Kyle Meredith is the music director of WFPK and host of the nationally syndicated “The Weekly Feed.” Hunting bears was never his strong point.