Owen Pallet was funny and charming when Anaya Latter spoke to him on the phone about his upcoming tour and new album Heartland. He promises no light shows, but amazing music that is great to get drunk to… For a sense of Pallett’s sense of fun and a taste of his music check out this video from blogotheque.

Heartland is a very grand album that listens like a soundtrack, if only for the variations in emotional range that it navigates. What inspired this album?

Well, that’s a nice question. Everyone’s saying where did you get your ideas and I don’t really know how to answer that  – I just thought of them myself…  But what motivated the album really was that I guess I did have a political idea behind it that I think is best described in the content of the record itself. It was really meant to explore the idea of music making and album making and sort of like an expression of a larger faith in humanity or something. Like I’m a pretty cynical person but I wanted to make this record kind of as like a statement of positivity. For all of [the album’s] y’know, violence and shittiness.

Do you ever visualise landscapes or places when you are playing, that inform the music?

No not really— that sounds nice but that doesn’t happen to me no, I have to admit when I’m writing I’m mostly kind of like getting into conceptual quandaries, thinking about the nuts and bolts and the math of what’s happening.

You have chosen with Heartland to set up a fictional narrative – do you think of music as a form of storytelling?

No I don’t think of it necessarily as a form of storytelling…  I think music is a very malleable form it can exist completely in the conceptual realm or it can exist in the narrative realm. If you were to be kind of Robert Ashley, and just have a lot of words or a rapper for that matter; or it can exist in the abstract realm where there’s no music and no concept – it’s just kind of meant to be. Aural shapes. For me I feel much more in common with conceptual realm. I don’t know it’s pretty hard to describe.

What was it about the video game Final Fantasy that drove you to take the name? Do you ever play it?

No I haven’t played it since a teenager. No. Yes. I don’t want to talk about it. (Cue interviewer apology) No, it’s fine, it’s cool, I just I have a lot of positive and negative associations with it and when I first had that name it was… it wasn’t meant to be a kind of fan boy sort of thing you know. It wasn’t being like “Oh my god I totally want to bone Cloud Strife or something” it was just [that] the music was coming from this position of isolation. Because I was practicing these loops in my basement, and I spent this whole summer of 2004 not leaving my basement, all I did was practice down there and I didn’t get to see my friends very often and I’d just sit inside and not get much sun and that experience reminded me very much of the experience of being an adolescent. Especially when I was growing up in the country and it was like you know when you grow up in the country you have this idea that you might be milking cows or something like that but actually you just spend a lot of time watching TV and riding bikes and playing video games. So I would have these long winter nights where I would just kind of be in my room playing Final Fantasy games, and that coupled with adolescent hormonal crap going on and what I thought at the time with Has a Good Home and the really melodramatic content of the lyrics. Isolationism and melodrama [are themes] I continue to play with now. Most of the songs that I’m writing now are not very social songs. It’s not like these are fist-pumping sing along jams although I would love to be able to write one of those one day.

How has working with bands like Grizzly Bear and Beirut and Arcade Fire influenced your solo work, if at all?

It’s interesting… I’ll be honest with you. I’m trying to be positive and shit but honestly, seeing the course that many of these bands have made and decisions that they make and the sort of lifestyles that they lead, working with them and touring with them has kinda led me to have a very non-expansionist policy with my own music. Which isn’t to say that I’m not hoping that my music can be before a wider audience. I feel as if the most magical moment, the real essence of being a musician starts to gets a little lost as soon as you have to start dealing with light shows and shit.

What I’m trying to say is touring with The National and Arcade Fire, being there as a small part of the success of Arcade Fire this year and partaking in the joy of the really successful The National tour in the US; I really appreciate working with and respect the motivations of these bands and I will always be there to help them, but I’m also really happy I can be a tourist of that big band success. Because I don’t think I can deal with it, you know?

There comes a moment when a band have to do that tour where they suddenly need figure out a light show. Like there was a stage where I was ‘Oh my god, should I get a light show? I’m kinda pulling large crowds now and I don’t have a lighting tech what does this mean?’ Eventually I was just like you know what? I’m going to stay non-expansionist – no fucking light show. So I’m sorry but I don’t have a light show for the shows in Australia… but they’re going to sound awesome, they’re filled with triumph of the human spirit! (laughs)

Did they have ideas on what they wanted from you, or were you able to be quite free in your arrangements for them? What was the creative process like?

It depends from band to band. Some bands, Arcade Fire mostly, use me as a sounding board, so not only am I reflecting their ideas back at them, making suggestions but also sometimes kind of putting pen to paper and scoring. Whereas other bands can have no idea what they want, but just that they think they want something and so I try and suggest what that might be. That involves scoring the entire score, producing the parts myself and sending it back to see if they like them. Grizzly bear was like that – they were like “here’s our album what should we do?” And I basically sent it back to them I was like don’t do anything it’s fine.

Comparisons are odious – who would you describe as your polar opposite in the music world?

Polar opposite? Um I don’t know. I don’t really kind of think in those terms. I don’t want to shoot anyone down, you know? The very first time I got compared to Andrew Bird I was like Really? His songs are so different from mine! It sounds like he’s coming from a completely different perspective. When I think about who am I more likely to be compared to, I kind of don’t really think about that stuff anymore.

I actually feel interestingly enough Meiko Meully [?] is one of my best friends and lives in New York and does a lot of arranging and works with a lot of the same bands as I do he and I are so different in our approaches to writing and we’re both mutual fans and constant cheerleaders of each other. It’s interesting that somebody who has similar tastes, and uses some of the same equipment as you can come up with such radically different material. He is probably my polar opposite.

On tour, did you find any countries that really resonated with you or where people responded really well to your performances?

Right now I’ve been feeling that way very much about Portugal and Ireland in particular, every time I’ve gone to Ireland I’ve always played the consistently best shows of the entire tour. I don’t know what it is. I think actually secretly I make music to that’s really good to get drunk to. You know what I mean? Most places I go to and they put me in a church or some shit and it’s like oh cool, I can rock this… But when you get to Dublin everyone just shows up completely hammered and the show’s amazing. And I don’t know, I guess the secret about the music I make on my own is that that it’s actually just really good music to get wasted to!

Saturday 15 January
Thornbury Theatre
with special guest Jessica Says

Tickets $42+bf and available via: www.handsometours.com,
www.thethornburytheatre.com, Polyester (City and Fitzroy),
Eight Miles High (895 High St, Thornbury) and Basement Discs

Sunday 16 January
The Toff in Town
with special guest Jessica Says

Tickets $42+bf and available via: www.handsometours.com,
Moshtix 1300 GET TIX (438 849), www.moshtix.com.au or
Moshtix outlets including Polyester (City & Fitzroy).

Saturday 22 January
Fly By Night
with special guest Jessica Says

Tickets $42+bf and available via: www.handsometours.com,
www.flybynight.org or phone (08) 9430 5976

Tuesday 25 January
Old Museum (Studio)
with special guest Jessica Says

Tickets $42+bf and available via: www.handsometours.com,
www.oztix.com.au and all OzTix outlets

Get unlimited access to the coverage that shapes our culture.
to Rolling Stone magazine
to Rolling Stone magazine