Owen Pallett is having a monster year. After a pair of critically acclaimed albums under the Final Fantasy moniker, the Canadian composer and violinist released the second album under his own name, "In Conflict," this spring. He has also been traipsing around the globe with longtime colleagues Arcade Fire, squeezing in solo shows with any time off. And not that the Polaris Prize-winning performer needed any more accolades, but in January, he was nominated for Best Original Score at the 86th Academy Awards for his work on the Spike Jonze film Her.
Composer/violinist Owen Pallet chats with SoundDiego about his new record, Arcade Fire and getting small
Published Sep 13, 2014 at 11:20 AM | Updated at 1:44 PM PDT on Sep 13, 2014
On the heels of his recent birthday, the charismatic and brutally honest performer, who will be at the Casbah on Sunday, took some time to chat with SoundDiego from his hotel room in Seattle.
Scott McDonald: Between the Arcade Fire tours and your own stuff, I imagine it’s been a crazy year.
Owen Pallett: I’ve been touring the new record off and on for a few months now. Basically, every time that Arcade Fire took a month off to go home and reconnect with their dogs and wives, I hit the road.
SM: Are you exhausted yet?
OP: I love my job, I love playing shows, I love long drives. I’ve been a touring musician since I was a teenager, and I came up in a time when I was on the road and there was nothing but the radio, CD-Rs, and books. The fact that now you can f---ing Facebook chat with your friends in the middle of the desert makes it not so bad. I actually love it. I’m always telling people: Start a band with your friends and you’ll have nothing to complain about. It’s just me and my buddies, and we’re travelling all over the place. It’s great.
SM: Any difference now that you're going out under your own name?
OP: The name change had to happen. And I’m glad it happened when it did. When I named my band Final Fantasy, it was meant to be a hilarious middle finger in the air. Instead, what followed was a whole swath of nostalgia-based band names and I thought, "Oooh, I don’t want to be a part of that." So it came at the right time. But there haven’t been significant changes beyond that. This whole project is rooted in tenets of honesty.
SM: Tell me a bit about working with Brian Eno.
OP: This is the first time I worked with him, and I’m a huge fan. The thing about Brian Eno is that he means something different to everybody. So many people are inspired by his strategies or his production techniques or his podcasts. For me, there’s always been something incredibly inspiring about his songwriting. He writes in a way that makes all of his songs sound incredibly powerful. And I see an incredible amount of similarity between Eno and other artists I adore, like Morrissey and Xiu Xiu. All of their songwriting is this strange alloy of honesty and wry humor. They’ve unlocked the way forward for me and the way that I want to write lyrics. Because I never thought I wanted to be a songwriter. It’s nothing I grew up with. I didn’t spend my teens writing songs or anything, it just happened one day. I realized that there were these songwriters who were sticking to me, and it was then that the door opened.
SM: Other than the vocals being more up front, it seems like there aren’t too many differences between "Heartland" and "In Conflict."
OP: That was the only difference. People are saying that it’s more personal and all this, but we just turned the vocals up higher in the mix [laughs]. I used the same orchestra, but you may notice that I used a different rhythm section. And it was all recorded live off the floor. That was a big difference from "Heartland," which was built from click tracks and overdubs. And mixing the vocals higher has been something that I’ve always been somewhat resistant to, just because most of my favorite records have been recorded that way. But I was persuaded. I had everybody tell me to mix my vocals higher, so I did. And it works. I am a better singer than I was 10 years ago, so where I once thought it was my weak point, I’m now feeling like it’s pretty strong.
SM: You work with so many different people. Any upcoming projects you can talk about?
OP: I’m going to work with Villagers, who are on Domino [Records]. And I’m on the Foxes In Fiction record, which is coming out in a few days. He’s actually on tour with me and is absolutely worth coming out early for. He is the f---ing best. But I’m not doing too much other than that. I’ve actually had a lot of changes this year. I feel like I’m coming out of this weird period of adult puberty [laughs]. There was a moment when "Heartland" first came out that my message changed. I got drawn into this world of having a publicist and booking shows with Goldenvoice and playing Coachella. I don’t think I recognized it at the time -- I thought that was what bands were supposed to do -- but I’m starting to feel like there’s a sickness there. This is all just a long way of saying that I’m much more interested in getting back into local and DIY-oriented stuff. I’m feeling like I want to get back to working in those realms. In touring with Arcade Fire, I’ve seen what money can do. I’ve seen the power of Live Nation. I’ve seen what it takes to move 30,000 people at a time. It’s really f---ing amazing and really f---ing powerful, but it’s also something that I have an incredible urge to not be a part of [laughs]. Instead, I’d like to re-focus on moving 200 people at a time. It’s been a wake-up call and very important for me to remember my roots. And my roots are at Blocks Recording Club, which is a worker-owned co-op in Toronto that put out my records for the first six years. And it’s closing down now because all of the people there have moved onto other things. And now [Brooklyn rock club and musicians work space] Death By Audio is closing down, and I’m incredibly bummed out about that. Anyway, you’re asking me who I’m going to be working with and instead I’m telling you that I’m going to be focusing on getting back to a more underground base of working and shows. Ha!
SM: Well, you know both worlds, so it should make it easier to have that luxury.
OP: Yeah, but I want to turn my back on those other models. I’m promoting this tour right now and so I’m paying attention to the interviews, and I’m making Facebook posts and s--- like this, and the thing that I’m realizing is that when I play shows, I know half the people in the audience. The other half is beautiful queers that I don’t know [laughs]. This is really where I’m at. This is where Ben Frost is. This is where Sharon Van Etten is. This is where celebrated indie artists exist right now -- half the audience is their friends. And instead of seeing this as a problem, I want to extend it. I want to meet more friends. And I’m not trying to be cynical or bite my tongue, but I feel like the gap is widening between the A list and the B list. And I’m committed to making a stronger B list. Does that even make sense?
SM: Of course. I get far more magic in an audience of 175 than I do at some big amphitheater show.
OP: Exactly! This is what I’ve been saying for f---ing ever. There are people out there who crave smaller models. The big models work for one band out of a thousand. And it’s hard for me to talk about, while at the same time saying, "Hey, San Diego, please f---ing come to my show [laughs]!" It’s hard to talk about it without seeming ungrateful. And I’m absolutely not. And I’m not looking at any of it in a negative way. I’m focusing on all of the immense positives that are there. Everyone wins when there’s love and excitement and enthusiasm for a scene.