Final Fantasy

owen Pallett, a.k.a. “Final Fantasy,” is going to play the self-labeled “shit songs” now. We’re packed into Tonic, Pallett’s already got me wide-eyed and smiling at his talent and originality, and now it’s time for the fan favorites from Has a Good Home. With nothing but his violin, a sampler, and four or five foot pedals, Pallett’s live show is equal parts virtuosity, musical architecture, and performance art. What his latest album, He Poos Clouds, lacks in face-to-face showmanship it makes up for in impressive arranging skill and depth of vision. Earlier in the evening, Pallett put his work ethic on hold and discussed the ideas behind He Poos Clouds and what he has in store for us next.

First off, I would be remiss if I didn’t take the chance to ask: why the title He Poos Clouds?

It’s just meant to be like a kind of cute statement of emotion, but not cute, cute is the wrong word, that sounds smarmy. I mean sweet, it’s meant to be sweet. Most of my close friends, and people in Toronto in general, are a fairly sarcastic bunch, so if you’re going to say something and convince people, it’s like you have to say it in the wrong way, right? I’ve gotten a lot of flak for it, but whatever. Stephen Colbert says many more tasteless things that are just as funny. When people started complaining and saying, “I’m not going to buy this record specifically because of the album title,” I realized, well, that’s a great thing! I’m so glad, that’s an unexpected great side effect, that people who would not buy an album based on the album title are going to be scared away from this album. I don’t want people listening that are going to be that unwilling to engage in the music. In the same way, I feel like listeners, because there’s so much music out there, have stopped considering that the people who make music are living, working human beings, and as a result people ascribe a hierarchy to their music collections, and if somebody makes an album that’s worse or doesn’t sound the way somebody else’s sounds, they call it a mistake. That’s wrong, you know. Every artist listens to an album hundreds of times before they release it. I hope that people start realizing that musicians are actually groups of people who are making incredibly well-thought-out decisions.

Before writing He Poos Clouds, you stated that the album would fulfill three goals. First, you wanted to modernize the eight schools of magic in Dungeons and Dragons. Second, all songs would be for string quartet and voice. Third, anyone who heard the album would never entertain thoughts of suicide again. How did these goals drive your writing process?

[Writing for string quartet and voice] was actually what required the most amount of research. I’d start writing a song about a Dungeons and Dragons school of magic and bring the modernity to it, or bring the D&D to the modernity. I mean, it did take a long time to write those lyrics, but ultimately it was easier than writing an album about a bunch of crap. If you’re writing an album about a bunch of crap, and the lyrics turn out great, then you’re a genius. If you’re writing an album about only love songs or something, it immediately becomes easier to write. But yeah, the string quartet stuff required a lot of research actually. I had to listen to so much music. Writing string quartet music for string quartet, even though it just kind of sounds like something really simple, is actually the hardest thing you can do if you’re writing for classical instrumentations. You’re writing for four really idiosyncratic instruments that have to function as a whole. It’s tricky. It was difficult, and I don’t know if I’d do it again, because it took a lot of time.

Do you believe all artists are better off creating with specific goals and/or restrictions in mind before starting?

Well, yeah. For me, if you have that concept, then it’s already like you have a list of objectives to complete. You’ve drawn a coloring book instead of a blank canvas. It makes it easier, and frankly it makes better art in the end. It forces you to think ahead. And even though [He Poos Clouds] is about Dungeons and Dragons on the surface, it’s really about relationships and pretty mundane things like that, you know? The new album I’m working on now though is not about anything mundane! It’s all a fantasy world. *laughs* It’s going to be an entirely fictional album, which I’m excited about.

Your first album, Has a Good Home, was recorded in a week. What was that process like?

There was a lot of pressure on me because I had these songs but I had no idea how to present them and I didn’t know what I was going to do, so we just decided to do our best. We didn’t have a genre in mind. It was totally a mess, kind of like a fucking around sort of album.

And how did He Poos Clouds differ from that first experience?

With this one we had more of a process, there were more people involved. I had the string quartet, which I’d rehearsed beforehand. I spent a lot of time getting good vocal mics, because I’m not Neko Case, you know? I can’t just walk into a studio and be amazing; I’ve got to practice it a little bit.

The music from He Poos Clouds has a very theatrical and keenly descriptive quality to it. Have you ever considered scoring for video games?

I’d love to, but the thing is, I’ve got pretty high standards for video games. It’s a weird conundrum; I wouldn’t want to work on a videogame that I didn’t totally love, but at the same time the sort of video games that I totally love would be the kind that wouldn’t really need music anyway. A Castlevania game or an Ecco game would totally be what I would do.

Why did you choose D&D as a subject for this album? What intrigued you so much about the game?

The actual playing of it doesn’t interest me so much as the fact that it was created; this whole false way of looking at false worlds is awesome. The next thing that Wizards of the Coast creates shouldn’t be a gaming module; it should be a religion. They could have their own marriage rituals and their own mating practices. It would be the ultimate fantasy environment! They could make this religion that made people strong and knowledgeable and wise and really good citizens, even in the outside world, but at the same time was totally based on fictional constructs. Like Scientology maybe, it’s kind of like that I guess, but a religion that was actually consciously fictional instead of trying to convince people it’s real.

Do you think that would work?

Who cares! It’d be so amazing, whether or not it worked.

By: Jeff Shreve
Published on: 2006-06-29
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