Owen Pallett (formerly Final Fantasy) recently released his newest album, Heartlands.

The new album (Harvest Land) has a very strong concept throughout, can you explain a bit about that?

Owen Pallett: Well, it's kind of difficult to talk about because it wasn't meant to be a concept record, it was just meant to be a record. I was even thinking about whether or not to talk about it in a press release because I want people to figure it out for themselves. It's a almost sort of a standard love record. A series of love songs. But they are reversed. Most love songs you are singing to an object, you are singing to an "other." These love songs are the object singing back to the creator. In this case the "other" is quite aware of the limits of of where they are existing, and that is the boundaries of an album.

You said that while writing it, you "imagined putting so many notes on the pages that the whole paper turned black." Where did that idea come from?

The looping process. I don't know if you've seen my live shows, but it is electric violin, and my skill as a musician is getting in lots of parts together. So the music gets quite dense and my records in the past haven't really reflected the live show at all, they have been more spare. I wanted to make a record the reflected the manic energy of the live show.

Is it easier to take this record on the road because you perform it with looping, just as you recorded it?

It is a lot of work and I really have to concentrate. It's actually a bit grueling. I get nervous before shows, it's pretty easy to screw it up. And I am still meant to be an entertainer, so I am doing stuff that is technically difficult and I also have to appear to be having a good time {laughs}. Which usually I am.

I was thinking that the whole time I was watching. Lots of people pre-record their loops or tracks, and then perform with them, it's good to know that you feel the pressure!

There are some other musicians that do it all from scratch. But I wanted to differentiate the looping process. I actually programmed my own looping mechanism to really facilitate these new songs. Originally it was meant to be surround sound and put amps around the room so my violin would kind of come from all directions, but that ended up sounding more like when you walk into a Bose store and they are doing all those demos. It didn't sound musical, it sounded more technical.

You are actually writing the technology for the new songs that you are writing.


Are you going back on tour when the album is released?

There are some release shows planned, and we are hoping to do the tour. But it is all still up in the air. I don't know why they haven't booked it yet…{laughs} I think the booking agent is waiting for the album to be released so we can see what kind of reception it gets. We have been talking about it, but nothing has been booked yet. We are all just waiting. The record was supposed to come out last September and this tour was supposed to help the album, but it took us longer to mix then we thought. We could have still put it out in September but we would have had to rush the promo, so instead we went with later.

But of course by that time this current tour had been already booked. It would have been nice for people in the audience to be familiar with the songs that they are hearing {laughs}. It took me a little bit of psyching myself up to play these songs to a completely unfamiliar audience.

How do you think the response has been so far?

Well, it's tough to gauge. Because one of the reasons why I felt comfortable with going on tour as the opening band is because most people are unfamiliar with the opening bands anyway. This wasn't really an opening thing, it was more of a duel headliner thing.

I thought the reception was good, I just had the mind set of a band that just started off, just like a new band. And it was my first time doing a tour with Thomas, my guitarist and percussionist. He is still pretty new to the band and we haven't been making music together all that long. Originally I brought him in because I was lonely touring on my own {laughs}. But he is also an incredible musician and a great singer.

So will he become a fixture of the band or is he more of an addition for tour support?

Actually, the reason I wanted him in the band is because he is a song-writer and his songs are fantastic. He puts out records and is a fan of Final Fantasy, and I am a fan of his, and we just started to work with each other.

I was clear that I want to maintain control of the band and ease him into the working relationship. At this point is still a bit of a tutorial, but he is doing amazing. We have a plan for the next couple of months where we are just going to work on new songs and old songs.

Since you have been writing songs by yourself for so long does it help to have a new perspective brought in?

Yeah, that's why it's so great to have him. And, I don't know, I find him very charming. {laughs} It's true! I am in love with Thomas.

When I saw you preform you took your shoes off before you played. Was that a comfort thing?

It has become habit. When I was using my older loop station in order to do a fade out I had to use the side of my foot and roll down a knob. So I was adjusting my pedals with my feet, and I got really good at it too. Now I have these 10-15 switches that control the sound the violin is making. I have to hit on average a switch every two bars. So I can do it all easier with my toes instead of my shoes.

There are definitely songs that pop out on this new album. The whole thing flows as one piece but there are ones that have that "single" appeal. The song "Lewis Takes Off His Shirt" has been stuck on repeat for me.

Initially I wasn't even going to put that song on the record because I thought it kind of subverted the album a bit. All the songs are very unique, and none of them really function on their own. "Lewis Takes Off His Shirt" is just more peppy. We talked about putting that as the first song on the album, but that changes too much of it.

One a friend is like "Play me something new, play me a new song" it is really tricky for me to pick one, because the experience can't really be siphoned like that. A preamble isn't necessarily necessary, I just feel the whole album works so well as a whole. At the risk of sounding very pretentious. I feel like I made an album, not eleven singles.

What are you working on right now?

I'm working on a film score, it's really hard work. I took a break and watched an episode of "Glee." Going on tour with Mountain Goats has made me feel very creative lyrically.

I don't write all the time, I usually just write when it's like "Oh, time to make a record." I just got very inspired by Mountain Goats lyrics and their process.

I think we all just want to hear the Glee-inspired Owen Pallett song. There are definitely some intense moments to pull from.

{laughs} There are a couple of songs they have done, where I am thinking "This James Levine character has got some pretty cool ideas." They did a version of "Young Girl" that is like a Christian ministry gospel jazz. It was crazy, it sounded fucking awesome. The most complicated, proggy chord changes you will ever hear. I just can't get over the auto-tune. I've always had an allergic ear for it. I won't even listen to Kanye West. I just don't like it. I'm not ready to make a "The Death of Auto-Tune" sort of manifesto, I don't feel that way. It's just something I don't like.

It's a beautiful thing to hear people sing precisely in tune. But that's not really what the human voice is for.

What's the film score that you are working on?

It's a Nicole Kidman film called "Rabbit Hole." It's a film score you know? I do so much musical work with varying degrees of artistic commitment. When I do arrangements I try to be studious and not impose my aesthetic on the music that is being made. I want to get to the heart of what they want and work on that. So it doesn't sound like a typical Owen Pallett song, and is unique to the album, band, or film. So I end up feeling a bit like a house maid. I'm just hear to realize the directors vision. One of the things I like about it is I am essentially just a technician. Which makes it interesting to take about it in the same interview as my new album.

Heartland is high concept, me working on a year to realize my artistic aspirations, and then I go to doing chord changes to match Nicole Kidman's facial expressions. They are pretty different experiences. I am trying to keep my portfolio diverse.

Visit Owen Pallett's website.


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© 2009

Owen Pallett Interview

Marshall Rake

Photo by Ryan Pfluger