INTERVIEW: Owen Pallett (CAN), December 2010

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.

INTERVIEW: Final Fantasy (CAN), December 2008

This one’s a bit odd. I interviewed Owen Pallett twice – once via email and once over the phone. This is the first of the two, and one that I begrudgingly put together. I felt like he was really rude in his responses and didn’t give me a great deal to work with. By great contrast, by the time I interviewed him in 2010 he was really sweet and kind and thoughtful. Maybe it was just a matter of losing tone over the medium of text? I don’t know, but I felt I did alright here, given the circumstances. I still love this man like it’s going out of fashion. Apparently, he’s going to have a new record out soon. Make it so.

– DJY, July 2013


The name Owen Pallett on its own may not mean anything to your ears. It may, however, be a case of famous-by-association for many music fans: the Arcade FireThe Last Shadow PuppetsGrizzly Bear,Fucked Up and the Hidden Cameras are just some of the acts Pallett has worked with. He is very much the background player, rarely taking to any kind of limelight.

When he does get the time to create his own music, however, it is under the moniker of Final Fantasy (yes, after the video game). Back in 2005, as a self-described “nobody”, he quietly released his debut record, Has a Good Home. Then, in 2006, Pallett wowed critics with a baroque pop masterpiece follow-up, with possibly the most inelegant, antithetic possible title for such a work – He Poos Clouds. Just because it’s been such a long time since that record, however, don’t think for a second Pallett hasn’t kept himself occupied.

“Since He Poos Clouds came out, I’ve done [we can assume, at this point, he has taken a deep breath before continuing] a film score, three classical pieces, two Final Fantasy EPs and a 7”, and orchestral/string arrangements on 15 different albums,” he recalls of the past few years in an email response to FL’s questions. “I’ve also learned how to cook Thai food, which caused me to gain 5-10 pounds.”

Even amidst so many projects, Pallett still finds the time to tour Final Fantasy, which is making its way to Australia this December. The live Final Fantasy experience is that of a unique loop pedal system centralised around Pallett’s predominant instrument of choice – the violin. Owen claims that a former bandmate was responsible for introducing him to this distinctive layering technique.

“Matt Smith, of the band Nifty and my former band, Les Mouches, is pretty much 100% responsible for introducing me to looping,” Pallett explains. “He guided me through expanding my set-up, and his own looping shows with Nifty are a blessing and an inspiration.” He also notes that he no longer uses loop pedals. “I’m doing multi-phonic looping now,” he notes. “Lots of fun foot-tapping and amplifiers.”

Not just Pallett’s own work appears in his sets, either. Final Fantasy has also paid homage to several other acts, notably recent visitors to our shores, Bloc Party. A video of Pallett using his looping system to coverSilent Alarm cut This Modern Love has been viewed over 100,000 times on YouTube, and came about through mutual appreciation of one another’s work.

“Kele [Okereke, BP frontman] cited my first album as one of his favourites of 2005, which was a major compliment, considering I was a real nobody. I really liked Silent Alarm, so I started covering This Modern Love.” He also notes that when he finally met Okereke for the first time, the two were so nervous that they “had a stutter festival.” “Stuttering begets stuttering,” he states. “Did you know that?”

Don’t be expecting any further covers from Pallett if you happen along to any of the upcoming Australian shows, however. “There aren’t any new songs I’m that excited about,” he confesses. “I like [The Dream’s single] Shawty is a 10, but that was last summer. Besides, everybody is doing the novelty covers these days. The novelty has worn off.”

Another thing you probably won’t see Pallett do anytime soon is discuss his sexuality in depth. In an interview with Toronto music magazine NOW back in 2005, he stated in passing that being a homosexual, and even identifying as a queer artist, did not necessarily equate to “gay” music and/or themes. “As far as whether the music I make is gay or queer? Yeah, it comes from the fact that I’m gay, but that doesn’t mean I’m making music about it,” he ruminated to writer Sarah Liss. A request for him to reflect on this mindset at this stage in his career, a few years down the track, surprisingly, leads to a dead end. “No answer for this,” he says, before dubiously adding: “I’m not interested in  ‘gay.’”

Regardless of what the man may be currently interested in, one can safely assume that his upcoming shows (which includes an appearance at the Meredith Music Festival) will be some of the most talked-about of the festival season. Don’t miss your chance to see one of the great young minds of modern music at work.