Music News

Owen Pallett Pals Around With Arcade Fire, Examines Self Vs. Self on New Album

On an afternoon in late August, Owen Pallett is on his way to the beach. He's meeting "some of the guys from Arcade Fire" there.

After scoring several films, including Her, which got him an Oscar nomination, and orchestrating the string arrangements for bands like Beirut, The Mountain Goats, and Arcade Fire, Pallett's name is well-known in the music community. Making the leap commercially might be another story.

Pallett used to perform as Final Fantasy -- yes, like the video game series -- before rebranding with his own name in 2010, preceding the release of Heartland. Though he says he doesn't regret the name change, it has affected his career, especially since he received acclaim as Final Fantasy.

"We lost ticket sales. We lost album sales," he says.

Despite his love of immersive role-playing video games like Skyrim and Ancient Domains of Mystery, which he says he often plays on tour to unwind, he found time to release an album earlier this year. is one of the better records released in 2014.

The album is powerful, dark, and intense, contrasting the ethereal and theatrical moments of Heartland. In Pallett's strong and beautiful vocalization, you can hear the pain of self-realization over his trademark lushly layered instrumentation.

The album starts on a single high-pitched violin note, suspenseful like a Stanley Kubrick movie. Add to that a layer of staccato violin providing the beat. Pallett sings, "I am not afraid, ze said, of the non-believer within me / No delight at the pain of my enemies / No tears for any friends I have lost / You are not alone, I said / It is a trial to keep my belief suspended."

When the violin breaks and Pallet stops singing, an electronic beat emerges, followed by piano, then horns and then strings. A chorus joins Pallett's lone voice. He continues, "I am no longer afraid / The truth doesn't terrify us."

It's obvious why other artists hire Pallett to add fullness to their sound, but it's nice to hear his personal musical perspective come out again.

"I was documenting parts of life that had memory resonance and really imprinted themselves on my experience," he says. "I examined this idea of self versus self and . . . when somebody's dealing with an addiction or mental health or gender confusion or sexual identity confusion or moral confusion."

Instrumentally, it's easy to compare Pallett's style to that of Andrew Bird or Kishi Bashi because he also uses a violin and a loop pedal, but the similarities stop there. He says he identifies more with Tori Amos than Andrew Bird in terms of songwriting, as she juxtaposes humiliation in her lyricism with musical bravado.

"When I started, I was always getting pigeonholed as doing what Andrew Bird does, which always kind of offended me because me and Andrew Bird, in terms of songwriting, have absolutely nothing in fucking common," Pallett says.

Really, he says, since a lot of people play violin, it's about how they present the instrument. At the same time, he notes, he probably could never tour with Kishi Bashi because it would be "too much of one thing."

On this tour, Pallett is playing with highly experimental ambient electronic act Foxes in Fiction, whom he urges people to catch before his performance. Like the "vacuum of information" Pallett created by not releasing an album in four years, he similarly hasn't headlined a show in Phoenix since perfoming as Final Fantasy at Modified Arts. Like his album was, his upcoming concert will be well worth the wait.

Correction: This post originally published with an incorrect byline.

Owen Pallet is scheduled to perform Monday, September 15, at Crescent Ballroom.

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Heather Hoch is a music, food, and arts writer based in Tucson. She enjoys soup, scotch, Electric Light Orchestra, and walking her dog, Frodo.
Contact: Heather Hoch