Q&A: With Fleet Foxes Drummer J. Tillman


BY JAMIE DAVIS J. Tillman, or Josh as he prefers to be called, is most widely known as the drummer for popular indie-folk rockers the Fleet Foxes.  However, since 2005, Tillman has been steadily releasing a steady stream of solo albums that traffic in the same kind of woodsy, peaceful easy feeling that has made the Foxes so beloved by the skinny jeans crowd. He has released six albums in four years, and is currently touring his most recent release, Year in the Kingdom — yet another gorgeously somber acoustic affair, with heartbreaking lyrics and immensely sad instrumentation and arrangements. Needless to say, I was expecting more of the same from last night’s show at First Unitarian. The show was held in a tiny chapel, which is fitting considering Tillman’s often-biblical lyrics, and the fact that less than 100 people showed up insured that it was a suitably intimate affair. For the first few songs I got exactly what I expected. However, in between releasing the album and touring for it I’m guessing he listened to Sonic Youth for the first time and realized “Ohhh, so noise is good…”  Often, he took a formerly sacred sounding, glacial track, and tacked on a massive reverb-drenched feedback outro. Incredibly loud, especially since I was seated two feet away from the man himself, it was a spiritual experience. The noise seemed to be everywhere, bouncing off the stomping drums as the incredibly talented pedal-steel guitarist reeled off dreamy leads. This happened at least four times throughout the night, and each time was more powerful than the last. Needless to say, this man is a musical force to be reckoned with above and beyond Fleet Foxes. Earlier in the day Phawker got a chance to interview Josh over the phone. We talked about musical influences, the importance of Pete Seeger, and of course when we could reasonable expect a new Fleet Foxes record.

PHAWKER: You’re obviously heavily influenced by the older folk artists, I was wondering if there were any more recent artists that have impactedj_tillman3.jpg how you make music?

J. TILLMAN: I’d say that really for the last two years books have been more more of an influence than music. I’m really pretty heavily influenced, not necessarily aesthetically, but pretty influenced by my brother and my girlfriend — both of them make music — and then obviously just having a lot of friends that play music.  That tends to be an influence in that I think being surrounded by creative people.  Sorry, that’s not a very sexy answer.

PHAWKER: Now, you have said you’re inspired by church music, any specific pieces of church music or composers?

J. TILLMAN: I think the reason that I was influenced by that was because it was really all that was around for the vast majority of my upbringing, but I think that something I took from that is that the emphasis in sacred music is more empirical, its more experienced based. It’s like a transcendence thing, like the music is a means to another end, and ya’ know be it spiritual or intellectual or otherwise.  So in that way it’s an influence on me, but again not really aesthetically.

PHAWKER: You have mentioned in the past how important Pete Seeger is to you, could you tell me something about Seeger that most people don’t know?

J. TILLMAN: Well, when I was at Newport folk festival this last year I was talking to somebody in his camp that was telling me about, I think it was the year before or something, he had captured this moment where he didn’t know he was being watched and he had like, taken a bite of an apple, like in the middle of his set or something,  and by the time he came back to the apple there was all these ants crawling all over it and he said that he jtillman_1.jpgwatched PeteSeeger just like gently blow the ants off the apple without harming a single one of them.  I just thought that was so amazing, like yeah, pretty amazing.

PHAWKER: Now can you tell us anything about when the new Fleet Foxes record will coming out?

 J. TILLMAN: Well, I mean we’re gonna be working on it this year, I’m doing quite a bit of touring, and the rest of the guys are just kind of relaxing.  So you know, it’s gonna be a little while, Robin’s working on some other stuff, and I’m working on some other stuff, and everybody’s still making music, but yeah, we’re just kind of taking it easy for a little bit.

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