I interviewed Owen once before via email back in 2008. It… well, it didn’t go so well. Thankfully, over the phone, Owen was absolutely delightful. He was a really sweet, chirpy kind of guy that provided me with a very easy job of interviewing him. Definitely helped that I was head over heels in love with Heartland, his debut solo album; which has stood the test of time as one of the best albums of the decade thus far. His latest album is pretty exceptional, too. He’s just a fantastic dude. Can’t say enough good things about him. See for yourself!
– DJY, October 2014
It’s a cold, blustery day in Toronto, Canada as Owen Pallett takes our interview call, but he’s not about to let it dampen his spirits – especially with his plans over the next couple of months. “I’m really excited about the way that we’ve planned our tour,” says the 31-year-old. We’ve got a week of skiing over in Japan and then we fly down for a little summer vacation in Australia. It’s what I like to do – which is skiing – and what my boyfriend [his manager, Patrick Borjal] likes to do – which is lie on a beach!”
Pallett’s third album, and first under his own name after dropping the Final Fantasy moniker, Heartland, threatened to be the album of the year upon its release – and that was all the way back in January. With nearly twelve months since its release, Pallett still speaks of Heartland with great fondness – although he was initially reluctant to do so.
“At first, when it came out, I was kind of glad to be rid of it,” he admit. “It was a tricky record to make. But now that I have a year-on perspective, I’m feeling really good about it – I feel very proud.” The album, meticulously crafted and several years in the making, revolves around a character by the name of Lewis – a family man and farmer who abandons his life in pursuit of the love of Owen, a character that, by the sounds of things, is the equivalent of a god or deity in Heartland. It’s quite the album to get one’s head around from a conceptual point of view, with many lyrical sections requiring double takes. Interestingly, however, it was never Pallett’s intention to create such a dense, complex work – if anything, he wanted a pop album this time around.
“After I’d made [last album, 2006’s] He Poos Clouds, which was a string quartet, I knew I wanted the next one to be primarily orchestral,” he explains. “I wanted it to really pick on the characteristics of a pop record – specifically, a late seventies/early eighties synth-pop record. I didn’t listen to classical music when I was writing and working on the record – I was absorbing a lot of the pre-digital era synthpop. I really tried to make this record have the feeling of both falling apart and yet also the feeling of mechanism within that genre.”
He rattles off influences such as Can and Depeche Mode (“Particularly Speak and Spell,” he adds) as primary inspiration, as conversation steers back to the album’s characters. Despite song titles such as Lewis Takes Action and the slightly more provocative Lewis Takes Off His Shirt, Pallet himself is quick to downplay the album’s intricate conceptuality. “Conceptually, it’s not really meant to be all that highfalutin or pretentious,” he claims. “I’ve just always wanted to sing from the perspective of ‘the other,’ y’know? From ‘the beloved.’”
His explanation continues: “I simply wanted to make a record where I was singing from the perspective of the object of my desire, rather than specifically singing in my own voice. Even though I felt kind of obliged to be very specific about portraying Lewis and talking about his physical attributes – even from his own perspective – he is simply meant to be what is represented in other people’s songs by…” – he searches for the right word, before coming up with “…baby” – then laughing, adding “…or “shawty.””
Whatever the case, Owen has not only taken notice of readings into the lyrics and concept of Heartland by fans and critics alike, but fully encourages an open interpretation of the entire thing. “When I was making it, I was really trying to make a record that was not maybe necessarily accessible, but one that was going to be appealing – one that wasn’t going to scare people off,” says Pallett. “I’m really flattered when people engage with these songs.”
No doubt many within Australia have been engaging with Heartland since its release, and will be joining Pallett in celebrating its one-year anniversary when the man himself takes to stages across the country next month, including appearances as a part of the Sydney Festival. After taking his time to completely work out a highly technical multi-phonic loop station, which involves sending signals from his instruments across to speakers. Artists as diverse as Jamie Lidell and Autechre also use similar technology in their live performances, yet nothing is quite like the experience of Pallett’s music coming to life.
“I’m in peak condition!” says Pallett with a hearty laugh when asked about his current live set-up. “I’m really excited that my looping is all working now – even though it’s just piano and keyboard, there are actually a lot of channels of sound that I’m creating. When I first started working on it, I hadn’t worked out how to streamline the process and I played the worst show I’ve ever played in Dublin. People thought I was typing with my feet! It’s a pretty intense thing, but at least now I can think about talking to the audience – and maybe even smiling!”
Our conversation wraps with some good-natured humour and some back-and-forth on Australian music (“Tame Impala are Australian, right?”), but perhaps one promise resonates the most: “You guys in Australia are gonna get a good show.” He may have been around for the better part of the last decade, but Owen Pallett is clearly just getting warmed up.