It’s not the kind of thing you expect from an audacious singer-songwriter, especially one known for a disarming wit and an artistic back story built on a naked hallucinogenic episode in a tree.
Father John Misty’s grandiose new album, “I Love You, Honeybear,” is largely about falling in love and getting married and all the weird and wonderful moments that go with that. Nine times out of 10, records with this depth of introspection/narcissism are about divorces, breakups or breakdowns.
Granted, his acclaimed sophomore LP isn’t all doe-eyed puppy love. It’s spiked with a lot of F-words and Grade-A FJM lines. Like the one in the honeymoon-inspired single “Chateau Lobby #4,” where he sings, “I want to take you in the kitchen / Lift up your wedding dress someone was probably murdered in.” Would you believe it’s a damn sweet song, though?
Asked if it’s harder to write about the upside of love than the downside, the man who would be Misty — real name: Josh Tillman, age 33 — said the new songs all came to him rather easily.
“Writing the record wasn’t the challenging part,” said Tillman, who plays a sold-out First Avenue show Saturday, his first of three big Twin Cities gigs over the next half-year. “The aftermath of it was hardest, and wrestling with the idea of what this record might mean for my ego.”
Always a wry cut-up on stage — he even cracked jokes when he was just a drummer in the non-jokey Seattle folk band Fleet Foxes, circa 2008 — Tillman shows an even sharper wit in interviews.
When he found out he was talking to me in the middle of the South by Southwest Music Conference two weeks ago, for instance, he talked as straight-faced as a news anchor about how the Austin megafest “is so great. It’s finally giving so many hardworking bands an outlet to match up with the right sponsorship and advertising brands.”
Calling from his adopted home of New Orleans — he originally hails from Maryland — Tillman at least sounded sincere when he talked about the finer points of his new album. Written in the aftermath of his wedding to filmmaker Emma Elizabeth Tillman, “Honeybear” is loaded with real-life, sometimes awkwardly exposed personal details about their first meeting, courtship and marriage.
He recollects his first few times at her place in “The Night Josh Tillman Came to Our Apt.” And a night he got jealous over a guy hitting on her in “Nothing Good Ever Happens at the Goddamn Thirsty Crow.” The record ends with the plain line Emma said to him when they met: “Seen you around. What’s your name?”
“To be frank, a large percentage of the appeal of these songs, I think, is in divulging those personal details,” Tillman said. “I worried about whether or not I was exploiting something special. Was there a price to pay for this level of intimacy? And I really worried about sounding like a pussy.”
The latter concern helped shape the sonic approach of the album. Instead of adding a dark edge, he and producer Jonathan Wilson loaded up many of the songs with elaborate strings. “The way the songs are arranged is what I wrestled with the most. Some of those most ornate arrangements are me putting a wink on all this,” Tillman explained.
Nowhere is that “wink” more obvious than in the first song to go public from the album, “Bored in the U.S.A.” A gushing piano ballad about American misery and hypocrisy, “Bored” includes a canned, sitcom-style laugh track during some of the song’s least funny moments. Tillman drew a perplexed reaction when he debuted the song in a quirky performance on “Late Show With David Letterman” back in January.
“It was my first performance back after taking a year off, and it was hard to strike the right kind of hubris for it,” he said. “There was a little bit of, ‘Who the fuck do I think I am?’ afterward.”
That laugh track, he said, “was just instinct” and fell in line with the way he has used humor in his act since his first Father John Misty album, 2012’s “Fear Fun.” (Before that he issued a handful of folkier, less funny records as J. Tillman.)
He said his sense of humor was born in an “antagonistic, self-loathing space” that could be traced back to his upbringing in an ultra-conservative evangelical Christian household. He has likened his parents’ church to a cult in prior interviews and admitted in our talk, “I’ve only scratched the surface on it in my music.”
Tillman certainly got creative with his stage banter at the 2013 Basilica Block Party. “Dear God,” he said at one point in his set, pointing to a red-cross-adorned box at the side of the stage, “If you’re so powerful, why do I need a first-aid kit so close to me here?” Tillman performed in Minnesota a half-dozen times behind “Fear Fun.” He’s due to play here two more times this year, too, including a sold-out outdoor concert May 30 with Alabama Shakes on Minneapolis’ refurbished Hall’s Island, plus a third gig to be announced later. Assuming he’ll keep up the shtick, Tillman was asked to explain his droll ways a little more clearly.
“Of course, you never want to have to explain humor, because then it’s not funny, but for me it’s tied to my original ‘moment of clarity,’ ” he said with a slight affectation. That moment he referred to was his supposed transformation to the Father John Misty character while tripping on some mushrooms in the woods around California’s Big Sur.
“When I was sitting naked in a tree, trying to recollect myself, I realized I needed to start writing. It was as if the great cosmic joke was on me, that being a songwriter was going to give me access to some heightened existence.”
He continued, toning down the cosmic talk but not the irony, “When I was a kid, I was always trying to be funny, to the point where nobody took me seriously. And then when I became a songwriter, I was trying too hard to be taken seriously. Now look at me.”
Father John Misty
With: King Tuff.
Where: First Avenue.
When: 8 p.m. Sat.
Tickets: Sold out.