Stand and de­liver

Fi­nal Fan­tasy may be no more, but if Owen Pal­let’s new project – a con­cept al­bum about a farmer called Lewis and a de­ity called Owen – is any­thing to go by, the imagination re­mains in full flow. He talks to Jim Car­roll

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - Music -

OWEN PAL­LETT is fast asleep on a sofa in the dress­ing-room. For the last cou­ple of days, the Cana­dian mu­si­cian has been racing across Europe on trains and planes and now, back­stage at the Union Chapel in Lon­don, the trav­el­ling has caught up with him. It seems a shame to dis­turb him, but there is an­other in­ter­view to be done so the tour man­ager gen­tly shakes him awake.

All jan­gled limbs and sharp glasses, Pal­lett has been an ubiq­ui­tous pres­ence of late in the Venn di­a­gram con­nect­ing in­die rock and clas­si­cal mu­sic. If you’ve heard a par­tic­u­lar kind of big mu­sic, one with plump strings and ex­u­ber­ently trimmed brass, chances are Pal­lett’s fin­ger­prints can be found near the scene. He’s worked with Ar­cade Fire, The Last Shadow Pup­pets, Beirut, Pet Shop Boys, Rum­ble Strips and Mika, lend­ing each an orches­tral splash and dash.

When he last spoke to The Ticket in 2006, Pal­lett de­scribed him­self as a “whore” in this re­gard – he’d ba­si­cally work with any­one who’d have him. Now, though, he’s acutely aware of spread­ing him­self too thin and be­com­ing a for­mu­laic add-on to a project in need of a cred­i­ble name.

“I love work­ing on col­lab­o­ra­tions, but I did be­gin to get a lit­tle dis­en­chanted with stuff,” he ad­mits. “I found my­self wish­ing that there weren’t those strings on that song or that brass on that track.

“I kept say­ing yes to every­one, though, be­cause so many of the projects were ex­cit­ing, but I re­alised it was tak­ing me away from my own work. Even­tu­ally, I started say­ing no. I think I just want to spend a cou­ple of years work­ing on my own stuff. I can go back to other peo­ple’s records when I’m 50.”

The fruits of Pal­lett’s most re­cent labours can be found on Heart­land. Not only is it the orches­tral pop al­bum of the sea­son, but it is also the only con­cept al­bum you will find on the shelf about a farmer called Lewis, a de­ity called Owen and sundry ad­ven­tures in the imag­i­nary world of Spec­trum.

Re­gard­less of the nar­ra­tive which stitches the songs to­gether, Heart­land has am­bi­tion, panache and truly fab­u­lous melodies in its rig­gings. It’s Pal­lett’s third solo al­bum, but the first un­der his own name. Pre­vi­ous re­leases, such as the He Poos Clouds song cy­cle about Dun­geons and Dragons, were un­der the name Fi­nal Fan­tasy – un­til le­gal ea­gles rep­re­sent­ing the videogame se­ries of the same name in­ter­vened.

“This record was meant to be a Fi­nal Fanta- new al­bum much more than he might have done.

“Be­cause re­leas­ing un­der my own name is so new, I’ve be­come quite self-ob­sessed about it. I mean, I’ve been looking at re­views for the al­bum and the English re­view­ers are shit­ting all over it. Ev­ery­where else, the re­views are so pos­i­tive – the Ja­panese re­views are in­sane. But that re­sponse brings home to me the im­por­tance that ev­ery record I do has to be con­tex­u­alised in the right way.”

When Pal­lett first started mak­ing mu­sic, it was as a re­ac­tion against what he heard around him at the time. “One of the main in­spi­ra­tions that got me into mu­sic was those post-rock bands who were around in the late 1990s and early 2000s. I sup­pose it was a neg­a­tive in­spi­ra­tion as op­posed to a pos­i­tive one be­cause I was lis­ten­ing to those bands, get­ting an­gry and re­al­is­ing I wanted to bring some­thing else to the ta­ble.”

Pal­lett is a lit­tle caus­tic about the pop/clas­si­cal cross­over which has pushed com­posers such as him and Nico Muhly to the fore. He can’t ig­nore it – in­deed, Muhly has just wan­dered into the room with fel­low sup­port acts Sam Ami­don and Beth Or­ton – but he won­deers if it’s just an­other fad. “I’ve no­ticed a lot of peo­ple talk­ing more about this pop/clas­si­cal cross­over as if the vi­o­lin had com­pletely dis­ap­peared for a few years.”

But he knows that the cur­rent pop/clas­si­cal bump is a boon for smart mu­si­cians like him. “The in­ter­net opened ev­ery­thing up be­cause sud­denly peo­ple could hear you talk about some­one and go away and check it out them­selves,” he be­lieves. “Who would have imag­ined that some­one like Nico would get to make al­bums or tour the world?”

That cer­tainly wasn’t the ca­reer path pre­sented to Pal­lett when he en­rolled for a mu­sic com­po­si­tion de­gree in the Uni­ver­sity of Toronto. “On the very first day in col­lege, my com­po­si­tional teacher told the en­tire class that there were too many com­posers in the world and that there needed to be fewer com­posers and that he was go­ing to fail the class un­til there were less than 10 of us left.

It took trips be­yond Toronto to en­er­gise Pal­lett. “It was so amaz­ing to go to New York and ex­pe­ri­ence some­thing like Bang On A Can where you didn’t hear a sin­gle note that wasn’t fu­tur­ist. It was the first time that I re­alised mu­sic was vi­tally im­por­tant. That was not how I was taught and it made me sad be­cause I knew so many peo­ple back in Toronto who were dis­cour­aged by what they had to do there. “When I look back now, I re­alise it would have been much more in­spi­ra­tional for me to be in an en­vi­ron­ment where I was sur­rounded by good mu­sic and which was not so des­per­ate. I wouldn’t have wasted my early 20s.”

He has cer­tainly made up for lost time. Yet for some­one who has worked so much and col­lab­o­rated so of­ten, Pal­lett ad­mits he could quite hap­pily go away and do some­thing else.

“To be hon­est, I have no drive. I’m re­ally ex­cited to do more al­bums, but I quit mak­ing mu­sic when I was 24 and got a desk job for a year as a pro­gram­mer at CBC stu­dios and quite en­joyed it. But some­how Fi­nal Fan­tasy be­came re­ally pop­u­lar and all of a sud­den, I felt I ought to pur­sue this. And I’ve been pur­su­ing it to the best of my abil­i­ties ever since. But I’m just as happy to quit and do some­thing else.”

Lone ranger: Owen Pal­lett, 2010. Be­low: in his Fi­nal Fan­tasy days

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