Having already conquered hearts and minds across Ireland with his previous visits, Owen Pallett returns to Dublin this week to remind us how phenomenal he is. His new album, Heartland, is a spectacular achievement, the finest thing he’s done yet. Live, he’s a revelation, forcing you to forget whatever you thought you knew about solo performances, deftly using his many instruments and effects pedals to create a sound worthy of his talent. He’s come a long way, no longer the irreverent young Canadian famed for naming himself after a video game, or for playing with Arcade Fire – these days, he’s a vaunted composer and arranger, much in demand. Thankfully, he made time for an exchange with State ahead of his sold-out date tonight.
This is your first release and tour under your own name. Does that make it a bit more personal?
No, the change from Final Fantasy to Owen Pallett doesn’t seem personal, just false. I still think of music making as a “thing” as opposed to an “arm” or a “leg”. But it was easier than having a truckload of people having to swallow a new band name like “Astonishing Superqueers” or “The Plastronauts”.
Last time I saw you, you were astonishing hushed crowds in Union Chapel [in London]. I imagine a sold-out night at Whelan’s will be a big change from that. Do you approach these kinds of shows differently?
Change up the set list, sure. I love a church gig but there’s nothing like playing to a room full of Irish people with pints in their hands.
Do you ever see there being a day when you’ll bring a band on stage to play your songs?
It gets pretty lonely onstage by myself but I hate to be the person to be all: “No blue notes!” “No syncopation!” “No jamming!” “No cymbals!!” So the idea behind a full band is rosy, but probably not going to happen. I’m just not all that good at asserting myself in a humanistic way.
Some people have been quite devoted in piecing together the plotline of the record – did this surprise you?
No. I recognize that my artistic voice is somewhat idiosyncratic. In the past I’ve felt that my shows and my albums have leaned more toward to conceptual than the concrete. i.e. the show doesn’t sound as good as a Steely Dan show, but look! it’s live looping! Or: the album isn’t as head-turning as a Lil Wayne record, but look! it’s all string quartet. Not to disparage my earlier shows or albums. But with Heartland I was hoping to create a record that could be appreciated superficially—like, in a car, on the radio—and also could be taken apart and dissected. Something that went both ways. The narrative of the album is important, sure, important to me, but it’s not meant to be the spine of the record, just something that’s there and can be investigated.
At what point did you decide that you wanted to make a fully orchestral record, that Heartland would be on a larger scale than your previous work?
Pretty early on. Like, 2006. Seeing as I was working at realizing other people’s orchestral visions, but didn’t have an orchestral record of my own, it was pretty high on my list of necessaries. It took me much longer to figure out the way I was going to approach the orchestral writing. I flirted with a dozen different ideas before settling on the “endless metronomy” that I settled on.
How have those songs changed over time?
Everything’s always changing. I’m finding new ways of approaching even my oldest songs on a weekly basis.
You’re scoring a movie (the forthcoming Rabbit Hole) at the moment – how’s that going?
I got fired. There was schedule conflict. That is, I had told the producers I had to sign off around the time my record came out, but they were taking their time getting the final cut together and we couldn’t co-ordinate. The guy who did that Tom Ford movie is doing it now, he’s awesome and the movie is awesome and I’m sure it’ll end up looking and sounding fantastic.
How do you like being on Domino so far?
Great, they are very down-to-earth. I expressed to them over dinner a concern that I had that my record might not, sales-wise, live up to their expectations. Whatever they might have been. They looked at me straight in the face and said, “We don’t care how well your record sells. We just want you to continue making the music you make.” So, basically, it was love.
You’ve mentioned wanting to dabble with traditional pop song structure on the album, as can be heard on -Lewis Takes Off His Shirt’ and -The Great Elsewhere’. Where did that desire come from?
I don’t know where I mentioned this but I don’t typically seek to make my music more deviant than it’ll already inherently be, with my violin and Harmonizers and so forth.
Is there any aspect of the album that stands out for you, something tricky you feel you nailed, or any part you that you’re especially proud of?
I’m proud of the whole thing, and I’m just happy I finished it. It was a larger project than I anticipated. It… it weirds me out, still, to think of the 30 additional minutes of music that was recorded that I simply couldn’t finish, just cause it was too much, too much. The tracklisting for the album was very different when I wrote it. I was hoping to get a bunch of b-sides and EPs done too. But the reality of getting together an orchestral project of this magnitude on my own–even with the expert help of Mio and Rusty–was more than I could handle.
Lastly, what’s your favourite music of the year so far?
I’ve been listening to a bunch of records this year, taking some time off writing. My favourite song of the year is [Joanna Newsom’s] ‘Good Intentions Paving Company’. I like listening to that record at 45 rpm, it’s mind-blowing. Album-wise, I’m really into the new Hot Chip… it’s the best feeling in the world when a band that you like becomes a band that you love. Also, Yellow Swans, ‘Chocolate Makes You Happy’, and Omarion. I’m surprising myself at how much I’m enjoying Justin Bieber. I haven’t heard a pop star sing with such a hard Canadian accent since Alanis. Looking forward to that album. I’ve been working with my computer, too, programming in Plogue Bidule and Max/MSP.
Owen Pallett plays Whelans Thursday night and Friday night – tickets are still available for the latter. Heartland is out now.