all words: Rohan Mahadevan
Owen Pallett has been having one hell of a year. First he stopped using his former name, Final Fantasy, then he released the critically lauded Heartland in January, and has been touring non stop ever since. Pallett is making his way back into DC today with the Dirty Projectors and was nice enough to have a me about touring, being gay, and what he is up to next.
BYT: You have been touring for a while for this record. After this upcoming tour with the Dirty Projectors what is next?
Owen: Well after this national tour there are some other dates in other continents that haven’t been announced yet, that we are going to announce. Then hopefully in March I’ll take a month off or so, because I’ve been touring since last September pretty much non-stop.
BYT: The Swedish Love EP is about to drop on September 28th, were those songs hold-overs from Heartland new songs you recorded on the road?
Owen: I had a couple weeks off in June and I rented and place in NYC and did it with Rusty (Santos), cause Rusty mixed Heartland and he and I had been pretty involved intensely during the mixing process. So I was interested to see what it was like to see him as an engineer and producer, so we just recorded these four songs I had already recorded for Heartland that were left off. So rather than simply put them out a b-sides, I thought I might re-approach them, because I thought they were really good songs and I wasn’t happy with the way the Heartland sessions were sounding.
BYT: You recently opened for the Arcade fire during their Madison Square Garden show, how exciting was that?
Owen: It was interesting. I don’t usually have an ego about this sort of thing, but I typically don’t like to play first of three, because you know I am already pretty much by myself onstage with a violin- I have a lot of stuff working against me. Arcade Fire are some of my best friends and I’m so excited to play any show I can with them. It was an absolute pleasure. I just got back from Berlin where I just played with them at Tempodrom, which was really awesome as well, and I think it went better than the Madison Square Garden stuff as well.
BYT: You also collaborated with them on-stage too right?
Owen: Yes, I play the whole set.
BYT: You have another person with you on stage too, who is he?
Owen: I have Tom Gill who is a friend of mine from Toronto. He’s been playing guitar and some percussion and singing with me. I knew I wanted to have a collaborator, and nobody really presented themselves. It was just people in weird other cities that I wanted to work with and it wasn’t going to work, but then I’ve known Ton for a while and it struck me as kind of great to make music with him and It’s been going fantastic.
BYT: Your Twitter account has lots of tweets referencing pop musicians. What do you feel is the current state of pop music now?
Owen: I don’t know. I don’t think of myself as a really good train spotter or a very good music writer so I try not to do anything, but I confine my music criticism activities to the space of my twitter. But I try to be positive, because nobody likes a hater. I think it is awesome. There are so many records this year I love.
BYT: Any favorites stand out?
Owen: Well the beginning of the year, I know it was kind of unfashionable but I really liked the Omarion record, These days, like everybody, I’m really listening to that Big Boi record.
BYT: As an openly gay musician, how does that affect your music?
Owen: Regarding gay and music, I don’t actually think my music is particularly gay at all, because my music doesn’t have sex with men. My music does not have a gender, I don’t see it as being gay. I sound like I’m being condescending right now, but I just never really understood it. I’ve never felt that there has been any sort of homophobia that has extended itself in to any of my personal activities, but I defiantly think that it is generally harder for a lot of heterosexual male journalists to really identify with music that is made by women or gays. It is coming from our perspective that they really don’t understand. I get called ‘fey’ or ‘camp’ and shit like that, and there is literally nothing that is fey or camp about things I do. If there is, I’m trying to kill it. I think my music is pretty masculine actually, like pretty macho. Not in a Lemmy from Moterhead kind of way. I think people are always looking for a way to pigeonhole and artist. At the same time I think it is really important. I can’t even imagine what my life would be like if I had to walk around pretending that I wasn’t in a long-term relationship with a guy.
BYT: You have been know to do a lot of covers. What goes into your thought process for selecting a cover?
Owen: Well, my attitude towards covers has changed over the years. When I first started playing solo in 2004, when people did covers of pop songs it was seen as an ironic act. Most of the bands I knew who were doing covers were coving the greats. You know, covering Leonard Cohen, Bob Dylan; stuff like that. I was more interested in using a cover as bit of a fist bump to the musicians that I liked at the time. You know, I did a Bobby Birdman cover because he has his laptop stolen and I felt bad. I did a Joanna Newsom cover because I read some really nasty read some really misogynistic shit about her on the internet. Though I think people are much more on her side now so I stopped playing that cover. It is just a small thing. I don’t actually put that much thought in it. Sometimes I’ll just see something or hear something and I’m like I want to pay tribute to that person.
BYT: You did a cover of Guided by Voices “Game of Pricks” for the Onion A.V. Cub’s Undercover series, was that an easy choice from the remaining tracks?
Owen: It is always difficult for me to pick a cover because the format of my looping is kind of difficult and actually it is really a difficult thing to play violin and sing at the same time. Usually I have to spend some time practicing it. I had to find a song that I was actually comfortable with like delivering. Guided by Voices were my bread and butter for my late teens/early twenties, and I still have and incredible amount of affection for that music so it just really made sense for me
BYT: Will you ever break out your Mariah Carey “Fantasy’ cover out again? It is really one of my favorite songs of all time.
Owen: Sometimes I bring it out, but I don’t want to be that guy who does the Mariah Carey cover. You know what I mean? It is fun, I like doing covers but I don’t want to be known as that guy who does covers on his violin And nor do I want to spend time changing it up so often that I no time to write new songs.
BYT: Other than making your own records you do arranging for bands, and some that seem to be in a completely different style like Fucked Up. How do you select who to worth with? Does the selection process work organically?
Owen: It is kind of vague and holistic. I think the cornerstone for my impetus for doing arrangements for people is because I want to be an enabler. That is to say, I don’t approach arrangements with the idea that I want to progressive the genre of arranging. I want to be more of an enabler, and if a person is making a record and they have the option of layering some real instruments down on a track and I can be of assistance whether it is brass or winds or stings or percussion then I do so. Sometimes I do take on projects because it is a pretty sweet deal to work with Pet Shop boys, you know?
BYT: Do you have any artists you have been itching to work with?
Owen: Well it is tricky because most of the musicians out there who I idolize I either thing they could do their own sting arrangements better than I could, like Dave Longstreth, or their music would not actually benefit from string arrangements. Though there are certain people who I would love to work with. I actually find my self wanting to work with film makers much more.
BYT: Are there any in particular?
Owen: I have always really wanted to do something with Gus Van Sant, for example. Those movies he was making in the early 2000’s, especially Elephant, really resonated with me.
BYT: Your records have varied with experimentation, and it seems as you are always stretching yourself. Have you ever thought about changing up your sound completely like doing a full synth-pop record?
Owen: I have toyed with the idea from time to time. I have tried doing some private shows in Toronto when I have tried to shift the focus of my show away from violin looping. But the fact of the matter is that I feel as it is like Tiny Tim decided he was going to be playing trombone shows in stead of ukulele shows. It’s like people, come to my show because they see a violin looping show. I’ve just been mostly focusing on making that violin looping show the best possible violin looping show anyone could ever imagine. In terms of a stylistic change I have defiantly been thinking a great deal about the next album I’m going to make. My mind is so divergent about all these different and not complimentary ideas. I’m actually going to try and make two or three records at the same time, and when I have them about half-way written and demoed then I’ll pick the one I’m liking the most, and finish that one.