Many people still know Owen Pallett by his original stage name, Final Fantasy. In 2009, however, he retired it in favor of using his own name for his music. What didn’t change, however, was the steady progression of his densely composed electro/acoustic chamber-pop. His last full-length, 2010’s Heartland, was a universally acclaimed follow up to his break-through effort, 2006’s He Poos Clouds. Along the way, he’s used his technical musical prowess to contribute strings sections and other instrumentation to works by the likes of Arcade Fire, Grizzly Bear, Death From Above 1979, and Stars, as well as various singles and soundtracks.
Pallett will perform at Memorial Hall Saturday, May 14th as part of the MusicNow Festival. He recently agreed to answer some of Each Note Secure’s questions about the past, present, and future of his various musical projects.
[Each Note Secure] What have you been up to since your last album, Heartland, and the other EP’s you released in 2010? Do you have any other recordings in the pipeline?
[Owen Pallett] I’m working on some film stuff right now. I’ve got a new band together, too. We’re rehearsing and thinking about the fourth LP.
[ENS] You’ve arranged strings for recordings from artists ranging from Arcade Fire to Fucked Up and Duran Duran. Does this musical activity satisfy you creatively in a different way than your own musical output? Do you have a specific interest in working with groups with very different sounds from your own, such as Fucked Up?
[OP] What draws me to working on other people’s records is, specifically, a feeling of utility. Just as many musicians, producers and magazines are interested in the aesthetic of analog recording, I am interested in preserving a non-sample based recording practice. I prefer the sound of a live string quartet to string samples, for example. As an arranger, I hope to create agency for bands, facilitating a percussion ensemble or a brass quintet or what-have-you. That’s my interest.
[ENS] It’s been over a year now since you dropped the Final Fantasy moniker for your musical output. Do you find that recording and performing under your own name at all changes your approach or feeling about your music?
[OP] No. It confused people. It happened so close to the album’s release. But it passed. My band and I have been playing the best shows of our lives. Seriously, we just got back from the best European tour I’ve ever been on, with any band.
[ENS] How did you first become involved with music? What originally influenced you?
[OP] That’s a straightforward question on a crooked topic. You can’t really put too much stock into one’s “original influence”. I mean, I don’t listen to much of the same music that I listened to as a kid. I can tell you that the first three cassettes I owned, as a five-year-old, were the Bach Double, a Purcell mix that my dad made, and Bartok’s Music for Strings, Percussion & Celeste. But you won’t find any tracks and traces of that stuff in my music, twenty years on, you know?
[ENS] Your “Final Fantasy” title and the sound of a few of your compositions led me to believe that you may have been influenced in some way by music from video games. But I also found out recently that you actually had a hand in composing the music for the PC game Traffic Department 2192 back in 1994! What was it like professionally producing music at such a young age? Do you feel video game music has influenced you?
[OP] I don’t think my music has much to do with video games. “Final Fantasy” as a moniker was meant to call to mind the slavish devotion that one has to “grind”, or level-up, one’s characters in a JRPG. It also refers to the grotesquely melodramatic emotions in that specific game series. You won’t find any Nobue Uematsu quotes on my records.
As for “Traffic Department”, I spent far more time helping my brother program that game than I did write music. My brother ended up using two, three or four of my songs; the lead composer Robert A. Allen wrote most of it. So I was credited as a programmer. I was 12. I used Visual Composer, a computer based FM synthesis sequencer. It was amazing, amazing fun. I loved that program and was sad when everybody switched over to the sample-based Mod Tracker software.
You have to remember that 90% of the people working in the creative section of the video game industry are under the age of 30. And many of them are teenagers. This was especially true in the 90s.
[ENS] I hear interesting character-based stories in the lyrics of some of your songs. What kinds of stories intrigue you from a songwriting perspective?
[OP] I’m mostly interested in writing some manner of social commentary, but from a fictional standpoint. I typically cast myself as the bad guy, it makes for interesting writing. I mostly draw from old blues records for inspiration in that regard.
[ENS] What are your plans for the rest of the year?
[OP] I’m doing some film score stuff, mostly electronic based stuff that I’m hoping I’ll be able to fashion into an album. I’ve got plans for the next record but I’m not rushing anything. I’ve been touring for so long that I’m mostly focused on “seeing friends” right now than anything else.
-Interview by John Crowell @terriblesounds