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Music

Father John Misty’s favourite songs

@TomTaylorFO

As the high priest of piano ballads, Father John Misty has furrowed himself a niche amid the current music industry. Eternally understated, he resides in a sonic jazz bar where ice clinks against crystal glasses and the chat can venture towards something akin to Humphrey Bogart in a Woody Allen movie. 

The laidback Jim Morrison of literary archetypes has self-defined himself in song over the years since leaving his drumming duties in Fleet Foxes behind. With a string of stellar anthems under his belt, he looks set to pick up his own mantle once more with the forthcoming release of Chloë and the Next 20th Century.

Thus, with that record on the way this April, we’ve taken a look back at a Rolling Stone interview where he lay down a selection of his favourite songs. The eclectic mix sums up the grandeur of his own glitzy marbled work, swirled with a lot of threads, but always crystalised with his own cinematic quality. All of this is usually held up by finely crafted pop sensibility, and that too is reflected in the inherent melodic quality in all of his choices below. 

Father John Misty’s favourite songs:

‘Let’s Fall in Love Tonight’ by Lewis

When we recently spoke to Emma Tillman, upon the publication of her nude self-portrait book, Masterpieces, she told us: “My husband and I have been together for 10 years and have grown and changed so much…Each of us trusts that the other has good intentions and that it’s all for the art.” Over the course of their relationship, that notion has frequently swirled itself into song.  

Fittingly, the relationship also started in this cosmic sense, as Misty explained: “The first time I went over to my wife’s place, she had this playing in the background. The album didn’t exist outside of a private pressing of a thousand copies or something — this was a couple of years before it was reissued. We would listen to it all the time, and it ended up being the song that Emma walked down the aisle to.”

‘On the Beach’ by Neil Young

Neil Young’s dark brooding guitar epic is an anthem adored by the likes of Nick Cave and Thom Yorke. And for good reason too, the track took two months to record back in 1974 and in that time, it acquired enough atmosphere to sustain a beach bar on the moon. 

“This song is about isolation, but ironically it’s one of the great love songs of my life. ‘The world is turning/I hope it don’t turn away’ — I really identify with that. The whole B side of this album, you can just put it on and get lost,” Misty opined of the record of the same name. “You can get stoned and go inside this little universe. And when the song ends, go back to the beginning.”

‘When You Awake’ by The Band

Taken from The Band’s self-titled debut record, ‘When You Awake’ tells the story of a young boy who receives some stern advice from a mystic figure named Ollie who tells him it’s a mean old world full of fools and that he’s probably one of them and he tells him ‘Be careful where you step and watch what you eat.’ When the boy turns to his grandfather for comfort, he receives loving reassurance but no contradiction. 

In the Tillman household, this classic record is one that is often on spin: “Emma and I both love this album — we listen to it a lot at home. It’s got all these minutiae of an imaginary agrarian life. This one is for those days where I’m in my bathrobe doing a crossword puzzle sporadically for six or seven hours.”

‘The Tea Song’ by Michael Hurley

As part of the avant-garde offshoot of the Greenwich Village folk movement. Hurley might not have achieved the same renowned acclaim as some of his beatnik contemporaries, but his passionate individualism certainly inspired the likes of Bob Dylan and Joni Mitchell and the spiritual pariah still continues to do so.  

“Michael Hurley is the songwriter laureate of some quantum-wobble alternate version of planet Earth,” Misty said of his otherworldly folk balm. “When I listen to this song, I feel like I get to be part of that world. It just fills my head with images.”

‘God is in the House’ by Nick Cave

Next up is Cave’s smiling yet scathing look at the contradictions of small-town superiority where behind picket fences the same sins that residents condemn in the city unrepentantly unfurl. That same spirit of irony, literary intent and piano balladry are profuse in Misty’s own work, but surprisingly the discovery didn’t come until late in his musical journey.   

As Misty explains: “Prior to meeting Emma, I had a blind spot for Nick Cave. I didn’t realize how funny he was. This song knocked me on my ass the first time I heard it.” He’ll certainly be pleased about that education now. 

‘My World is Empty Without You’ by Diamanda Galás

Diamanda Galás is an almost impossible artist to pin down. In fact, all you can really say about her is that she is brimming with artistry and unwavering intent and let her stirring yet openly vulnerable performances do the rest of the talking/yelling. 

It is this same paradoxical notion that Misty is allured by. “Diamanda Galas is one of the more powerful individuals walking among us,” he remarked. “She may be the only satanic gospel singer out there. The title of this song sounds like an admission of weakness, but there’s this unbelievable power and agency in it.”

‘Life’s a Bath’ by John Frusciante

John Frusciante is another individual who defies categorisation. Highly regarded as one the greatest guitarists of his era, there was so much beneath the slightly gaudy surface of Red Hot Chili Peppers that went amiss. Through it all, even his startling drug-induced demise (which he has thankfully bounced back from), a brimming artistry remained.

“Frusciante is a guy who – parallel to his hugely successful day job in the Red Hot Chili Peppers – was making unprecedently naked music on his own. That’s fascinating to me,” Misty opines. 

‘Chimes for Dreams’ by Jeff Bridges

Some artists might lack vision, but apparently Misty has already prognosticated his next three decades. “This album is what I see myself doing in 30 years,” he said. “There’s a moment on the album where he’s brought his recording rig to the breakfast table, and the interaction between him and his wife is so sweet, but also weary.”

For the album, Sleeping Tapes, Jeff Bridges applied his ever-comforting earthy tones to spoken word pieces set above dreamy soundscapes that can whisk you towards pillow-propped cloud nine in an instant. The beauty, however, is that pieces like ‘Chimes for Dreams’ have so much substance that you could listen after a jar of coffee and still melt into the wonderment and sincerity. 

‘Eternamente’ by Nilla Pizzi

As if to perfectly round off his eclectic oeuvre, Misty was determined to touch upon his own cinematic musical bent as he championed the Italian singer and actress Nilla Pizzi. All of the classy bravura you’d expect from that era in the 1950s comes soaring out of her songs. 

As Misty opines: “She’s an Italian chanteuse from the Fifties. There’s this unnameable quality that throws everything around you behind some kind of haze — this song just does that for me.”