Owen Pallett Talks Scoring Movies, Making Records And Hating Pop Music.
Owen Pallett is on fire.
Not only is the virtuosic string player an accomplished singer-songwriter, but, just last year, Pallett also added Academy Award nominee to his ever-growing, ever-colorful resume thanks to his collaboration with William Butler (of Arcade Fire) on the score for Spike Jonze' Her. Speaking of Arcade Fire: Pallett spent part of this past summer opening for that similarly Canada-sprung outfit — one to which he's contributed various violin arrangements over the years — on tour.
But, this week, Pallett is taking a break from all that to once again push his own musical output, including his spring-released In Conflict. And, on Friday night, the performer once known as Final Fantasy will do so here in Dallas by taking to The Loft for what is sure to be an alluring, intimate offering.
In advance of that performance, we reached out to the musician to talk about his newest musical direction, the process behind scoring Her and a new cover tune he's been working on that he promises will leave audiences slack-jawed.
I want to first talk about the new record. Where did this one come from? What was its inspiration?
For my writing process, I have to set aside time for it. I'm on tour with Arcade Fire right now and I can't write. When it comes time to write, what I do is I set my alarm to wake myself up after five hours of sleep instead of my usual six. [I] have this moment where [the] alpha waves are still going in [my] head. Then I dose myself with a lot of coffee and sit in a cafe and what I do is write. I usually [listen to the] entire discography of a musician that I like. It's just like this magical thing that happens to your brain that somehow makes you feel enough about yourself to write lyrics.
Sounds like a pretty relaxing process.
[Laughs.] It's not relaxing! It's manic! Over-caffeinated, typing furiously, just flash-carding songs. It's nuts!
And, this time around, you worked with Brian Eno.
The thing he was involved with the most, actually, was his imprint on my songwriting and record-making process. I heard my first Eno record when I was 12. I guess I heard Taking Tiger Mountain — and I was actually obsessed with him and loved his music and listened to those first four records constantly throughout my teens. I think that's kind of like the real pinnacle of his involvement — just the fact that he, like, is giving me with his music the feeling of freedom and the ability to sing with my weird voice. In terms of what he actually did on the record: He was talking in Mocho Magazine about how Heartland, my record in 2010 came immediately on his radar, and he invited me and my band to come over and play a festival he was curating in 2011. So we flew over to Norway and played his festival and we put on a really good show, a really big set. As you know, big sets are big and sometimes really good, but this one was really good and he was [excited] about it and he bonded with my bassist over esoteric music stuff and then when I saw him again, I wanted him to do some backing vocals because I knew he was very into the idea of backing vocals and I hear his backing vocals on every record he works on and I just asked him if he wanted to sing on it. And he ended up contributing a hell of a lot more than just backing vocals.
You've never shied from exposing your influences and you're no stranger to covering some really great songs. Your take on “This Modern Love” is my favorite, but I'm curious to know: What are some of your favorite songs to cover?
To be honest, when I look for songs I'm going to cover, there's a lot of funky goals and concerns — y'know, stuff that I know that I can loop and stuff I know I can sing, and, other than that, kind of thinking what's going to be in the set and be really good with it. Now with my band, the vibe has changed where I don't think covering Simon Bookish or John Cale makes as much sense as it once did. We tried to do a Sky Ferreira cover but it wasn't really working and I actually kind of woke up one day and realized I hated pop music. So I'm looking elsewhere now. I have a fucking amazing cover that is gonna just blow your mind, and I can't tell you what it is because I don't want to jinx it.
I can't wait to hear it.
It's the best, best possible thing that you could ever imagine. Singing with Arcade Fire for this past year has raised my voice; my range is wider and now I can hit the notes I need to hit. I can get the kind of scream that is needed to get it really blur the song. That's gonna be the fucking best. I can't wait for you to hear it.
So, speaking of Arcade Fire, you worked on the Her score with William Butler.
I've always been curious about this and I ask a lot of musicians who score parts of or an entire feature because it's always different, but for Her, did you guys make the music first or did you watch scenes and then kind of get a feel of where you needed to push the sound to go?
Well, the thing with films now is, because computers have made both music creation and editing so much faster and malleable, directors and producers actually kind of like to over-cook things. And part of that over-cooking means that musicians are often scoring to unfinished movies because everyone knows they can do the work again, y'know? So, yeah, that’s basically what is happening. I don’t think it's a bad thing, over-cooking something. I think it's actually ultimately kind of a good thing, I mean, we're not going to get any Bernard Herrmann-changing scores, but it also means they're going to be bigger, there's going to be a greater amount of interactivity between the score and the picture and that's what's happening with Her. Long before I even knew that Arcade Fire was working on that film, Win [Butler] and Regine [Chassagne] had read the script and, I was told, making music that they felt was going to be suitable for the film. They shot it, and the music changed; I'm pretty sure that “Milk & Honey” and “Supersymmetry” were actually written before the film was shot, but then lots of other stuff were written nearly a week before they locked picture.
Between your current solo work, your past work as Final Fantasy, your contributions to arcade fire and, now, your work in film scores, you've accomplished a whole lot — so much so that, if someone hasn't heard any of your music before, it might be a bit of a daunting task to know where to start. Where would you recommend someone begin with your catalog? Is there a particular song you might suggest?
Probably “On a Path,” to be honest — or even just the new album in its sequence. “Riverbed” was the first official video to come out, but it's also tucked in at the end of the record because I really feel the record is meant to be listened to in sequence and “Riverbed” is meant to kind of be the action sequence towards the end of the record.
Awesome. Thanks for your time, Owen. I'm excited for the show — and to hear that cover song!
I’m looking forward to being back in Texas.
Cover photo by Peter Juhl. Owen Pallett performs Friday, September 19, at The Loft. Get tickets here.