Nowadays Josh (aka J.) Tillman might best be known as the man behind the kit for Seattle’s Fleet Foxes, but don’t let his drumming fool you. Long before the Foxes ever harmonized a hymnal, Tillman was already well on his way to solo indie rock stardom. As a singer, songwriter, and jack-of-all-instruments, Tillman has released a whopping seven albums in the past five years, with each recording somehow trumping the one that came before. This September, Tillman will unveil his eighth album to date, the beautifully minimalist Year in the Kingdom. Carried by soft but deliberate vocals, Kingdom cuts right to the core of the folk music movement with songs that are heartfelt, honest, and unpretentious. Throughout, Tillman’s voice calls to mind everyone from Nick Drake to Sea Change-era Beck, but never loses its raw vulnerability, thanks to some purposeful and well-placed piano, cymbals, and dulcimer work.
“I’m mostly drawn to flawed music,” he explained. “I wanted people to be able to hear the space between the arrangements. Musicianship typically doesn’t really inspire me. I like songwriters whose music is transformed because of some element beyond their ability.”
This Friday, Tillman and his backing band will make a very special stop at Muddy Waters in support of the yet-to-be-released Year in the Kingdom. And as the lone mastermind behind so much of the album’s instrumentation, it’s anyone’s guess as to what Tillman’s show will entail. “Typically, I like to approach the live arrangement of a song from scratch as opposed to trying to recreate an album or song verbatim,” he said. “I like violating songs and seeing how they stand up. It’s been fun to take an album like this, with such specific tones and voicings, and just plug it into the guitar band paradigm.”
And as anyone who’s heard the record, seen the venue, or caught Tillman behind the drum kit will tell you, this is one show that’s simply not to be missed. Club Mercy presents J. Tillman at Muddy Waters Cafe (508 E. Haley St.) Friday, August 21, at 9 p.m. Call or visit clubmercy.com for tickets.