Final Fantasy: "people need to learn the difference between irony and satire and sarcasm"
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Ontario native Owen Pallett – sometime Arcade Fire member and previous collaborator with The Hidden Cameras and Jim Guthrie – is rather preoccupied with his own Final Fantasy project nowadays. The precocious 25-year-old won the Polaris Prize – a Canadian award for album of the year – in 2006 for his second album He Poos Clouds (reviewed here). His debut, Has A Good Home, was released in 2005 (review here).
A violinist by trade, Pallett’s music is far more than simple bow-on-strings fare: he plays his chosen instrument into a selection of samplers, using a series of effects to expand the sound. Using loops, his songs gradually evolve and become far grander than their limited parts may imply. ‘Final Fantasy’ is inspired by the role-playing computer game series of the same name - Pallett is big fan.
DiS caught up with Pallett prior to his performance at London’s Scala venue, in King’s Cross, in October.
How have you been finding sunny old England?
It’s awesome. It’s really great, although I have a real love-hate relationship with it. I secretly, quietly, love it. But I really hate the lad culture, present company excepted. I hate the incredible misogyny of the UK music scene. I’m so excited about the Long Blondes right now, because no band has existed like the Long Blondes in the last ten years. Girls in a band who make music? Totally unheard of.
People have a lot of music defining the music you play. Some reviews say that you’re ‘classical indie’. How would you describe yourself to someone who’s never heard of Final Fantasy?
Violin, looping and stupid singing.
How have the shows been going and what difference do you find between supporting and headlining?
[Headlining is] so stressful. I have to play for so long and I only have two albums and most the songs are really shitty, so putting together a set of bangers is really hard. I don’t have hit singles, or anything close to hit singles. Most of people’s favourite songs I can’t even play live. I have to do all my own looping. I try and set aside about two-thirds of the album so I can play them liv,e but invariably somebody is going to get bored or disappointed. I end up playing a few covers every night just to change up the sound a little, because it can get a little tedious.
You’ve been known to cover a lot of bands, do you enjoy giving these songs you love the Final Fantasy twist?
In a way yes, because you see a lot of people talking about their heroes, the musicians that are mum and dad, or bands who have long broken up… but fuck that. My favourite songs are the ones that came out this year. Simon Bookish is amazing and that record only came out this year.
Your live performances comprise of just you, violin and loop pedal. Do you feel looping is the best way to convey the songs live?
No, it’s not about it just being me on stage and record. I’ve had drummers and other musicians play, but in the end it’s kind of fucking shocking to people how one person can create such a big sound. So I’m just happy continuing it as a solo performer. I was thinking about totally flushing it out and getting like three drummers, which would be amazing and complement the songs. I might be collaborating with the band Beirut. We’re big mutual fans, and they’re interested in getting away from the whole Slovak sound which I’m totally interested in them doing. I think they have it in their power to be the most interesting pop band, but right now they’re relying on these hooks, so I’m super excited about the future of that band.
Do you write the songs with playing them live in mind?
It’s a balance. Often there are songs I write specifically for looping and then flush them out with other arrangements. That was the case with He Poos Clouds: five of the then songs on that were already looping songs that I converted into full-scale arrangements. Since then, I wrote one for both looping and arrangement. Two of them I only realised I could play live after the fact, if I involve the piano. The remainder I just can’t play. I can’t play ‘I’m Afraid Of Japan’ or ‘He Poos Clouds’.
When you starting playing music did you always envisage yourself starting something like Final Fantasy?
No. I’ve learned that it’s impossible to get anything done. The only time you’ll ever get anything done in music is when people offer to help you. If you’re sending your CD out and getting gigs in the typical hardcore band fashion people just don’t book shows anymore. People are starving for their art. Now the blog culture is happening it’s a totally different scene you just have to make the best music possible. Final Fantasy just started as people asking me to do shows. Straight after the first gig I did I got six more benefit concerts and stuff like that and it just led onto bigger and bigger things. I didn’t have a manager when I started and I still don’t have a manager.
I read that you write your own bios, so you don’t get anything too cheesy.
Yeah. I try and make them a little bit humorous.
People in the UK will recognise you most for your song ‘Adventure.exe’ from the soundtrack to an Orange advert. I read that you never officially agreed for the use, so what really happened?
Basically I sent Tomlab a “Maybe, just let me think about it”, but the deadline was there so they just went ahead and did it. I don’t blame them for it, and there’s no use in saying it wasn’t my fault and it wasn’t their fault, because it just doesn’t matter. Tomlab are a good label and I’m not the sort of person who wants to sell their songs to Orange Wireless and that’s the end of the story. I’ve donated all my money to charity and Tomlab aren’t doing all of it because they’re hard up on cash and they could use the money, but I think they’re giving some away too.
Although it’s not the best route, it’s still another way for people to get interested in your music…
Lots of bands do that kind of stuff, but Canadian people will fucking take you down of you sell your shit to corporations. It’s a very punk-orientated country – not punk rock, but the punk aesthetic and values. I’m not afraid of the money itself, but I don’t want to sell my songs to mobile commercials. Godspeed to them, I think it’s a nice commercial. If I could have envisaged the outcome like this then I probably would have said yes, and then give all the money away, so it’s great.
You recently won the Polaris music prize. Is it nice to be recognised for what you’re doing or do you not take much notice of it?
There are a lot of flavours in that particular dish. I don’t feel any better or worse about the album and if anything. I like the idea of recording an album and then forgetting about it and not giving a shit what people say about it. It was sort of middling to negative concerning the first album and overwhelmingly positive it was about the second one. How am I going to control this? I hope people stick with me through the third and fourth shitty albums that are inevitably going to come.
There has been a lot of attention for He Poos Clouds, some of it just for the title. How do you feel about the attention it’s received?
To me it’s just so fucking obvious! It’s obviously meant to be just saying, “I think he’s great”. Everyone was comparing it to Limp Bizkit and Chocolate Starfish, but those guys are douche-bags. But I guess the world is filled with douche-bags. They just can’t appreciate a nice, innocent album title. It’s not even meant to be ironic; people fucking label with irony so much and people need to learn the difference between irony and satire and sarcasm. Irony is something very specific that does not include sarcasm and doesn’t include satire, wit or cleverness or anything. Irony is its own thing and there’s nothing ironic about the album title.
I think in England it went across better than anywhere else…
Totally. I think so too. The States just couldn’t get it but then they’re just a big Baptist revolution.
You’ve been quoted as saying you didn’t like your debut, but thrilled with He Poos Clouds. What elements in the album do you feel differ from your debut? Do you feel a lot more confidence in your song writing ability and voice?
The way that I make records is not different to the way other people make records, but I make them more like an electronic musician, because electronic musicians, especially if they’re not making a record for the dance floor, they’re just making a record. They don’t really have anything to go on. They can’t be, ‘I want to make it like this great, old electronic record’, because if they do people will just accuse them of ripping them off, but if someone makes a record sounding like The Kinks people start getting excited. So if you’re making an electronic record you don’t have anything to go from. What does He Poos Clouds sound like? It doesn’t sound like any records and Has A Good Home doesn’t sound like any records. I have to just try and experiment and see what happens. So sometimes it’s great like He Poos Cloudsand I’m really satisfied with it, and sometimes it’s shitty. The third album, I have no idea what it’s going to sound like. I have ideas of what I want to try and if it sounds good I’ll be thrilled. If it sounds shitty I’ll be devastated but I’ll still put it out (laughs).
Are there any other plans to work with people other than Beirut?
I’m going to be doing arrangements for Dan Goldman; he’s making a record. He’s not Brazilian but he sounds Brazilian, even though he’s Jewish and comes from Toronto. Other than that I don’t know. I’m really behind and I’ve got a lot of records I’ve got to put out 7” I promised to labels and EPs and stuff like that. I’m going to take a year out and do as much Final Fantasy as possible. After that I’ve got big plans but I’m not going to tell anyone in case it fails.
Would you be interested in opera or soundtracks in the future?
In the distant future. I’m so happy now, because I feel like I can make albums now and I couldn’t before. I’d have to take another ten years to work out how to do opera properly, so we’ll see. That sounds really arrogant – I don’t really know how to make albums but I’m learning more and more with every album I make.
There has been an influx of great bands from Canada. What do you feel is special about Canada to produce such great bands?
There’s good music journalism there, and they’ll actually get behind the band if they think they’re good rather than pushing them because they’re popular. I mean, why does NME keep bashing Belle and Sebastian? They’re one of the best bands to come out of England. I would take them over the Beatles and Rolling Stones, but they continue to shit on them. They’ve got so much gold in front of them but they continue to go with the bands in fashion at the time.
Final Fantasy’s two albums to date are available now via Tomlab. The official website is here.
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