"Blissfully Nerdy"

An Interview with Owen Pallett

by C.L. Chafin

3 February 2010


What is the role of fantasy in your work?

What is the role of fantasy in your work? Your music conjures its own world, both lyrically and musically ... is that something you’re conscious of maintaining?
Yeah, absolutely. I mean, all music does that, in a way. That Strokes record makes you think you’re clubbing in New York. With this record, I was kind of thinking about a lot fantasy films, and fantasy books that I’ve read ...

Anything in particular?
Well, one thing I was really into while I was working on this record was Ted Chaing, who’s a science fiction author who’s only written like 10 short stories, but every one of them has won some massive Hugo or Nebula prize or something. And he’s an extremely conceptual writer, like Twilight Zone episodes, where the story is really just a vehicle for some concept he has.

He has this one incredible story which takes place in a sort of an alternate version of our universe, where the tower of Babel still stands, and people have been building it higher and higher to try and reach God. And there’s a moment where a mining team is called to go up the tower, and they have no idea why, but they climb up the tower, and it’s so high that it takes them six months to reach the top. And as they’re going they pass the moon, and they pass planets, and they’re still going up. And they realize that the reason they’ve been called to the top of the tower is that they’ve hit rock, and they need miners to mine upwards. So they start working, and they work for like a year, and when they break through to the other side, water starts rushing through. And so one of the miners swims up, and when gets to the surface, he sees the base of the tower. It’s a really beautiful short story. It’s an inspiration to me.

How is the record working out live? How are you performing it? With an ensemble, or doing it solo with looped violins?
Just the loops, yeah. I wrote a lot of songs for this record, and a lot of them didn’t make it on, but they were all written in such a way that I was thinking specifically about how I was going to play it live; it was written with the looping apparatus specifically in mind, as well as with the orchestral arrangement, so that it could function both ways.

That reminds me of the press release, where you said you see the record to exist “simultaneously as an album, a 45-minute piece of orchestral music and a set of songs for looped violin and voice.”
Yeah, I just compiled all the orchestral scores so it could exist as an orchestral work. I mean, it sounds pretty vain, like a vanity project or something. It was just something I wanted to do.

I had to decide, not too long ago, after I’d been touring with the loop station for a while, and getting endless comparisons to more famous loopers who use the same apparatus, including the violin. I had to kind of make a decision: if I’m going to continue pursuing my artistic impulse, I might want to kind of change it up, and not do this violin looping thing that other people are doing, far more successfully than I am. I toyed with a bunch of different ideas about what I could do. I played a show with harpsichord and string quartet, which was ... not a disaster, but certainly not nearly as compelling. I toyed with other ideas, and eventually I took a look at my skill set and realized that what I’m good at is looping.

So, with the help of my friends, I built a new looping rig that allows for extreme polyphony. And I can really easily and quickly choose the sound I want my violin to take on and send it wherever I want in the room. So I can create the sound of my violin being played behind me on stage, and one in the audience, and one right up front, and a bassist that’s coming from over there. I can create a massive, synchronized, polyphonic, thing.

I just decided that this is going to be at least what I was going to try and do for a while, is doing this hyper-polyphonic looping process, and this record is just meant to reflect that a little bit.

One last question: it says on your Wikipedia that your band is named after the game Final Fantasy. Is that true?  Is your band name a tribute to the video game series?
That’s kind of like saying the band Japan is named after the country. Yeah, obviously it’s named after a video game series, but it’s meant to signify this part of my creative impulse that was blissfully nerdy, and unaware of how the real world works. I feel sometimes when I walk on stage in front of a thousand people with just a violin and a loop pedal and I’m supposed to entertain them for twenty minutes, it’s preposterous, in the same way that fighting a one-armed, one-winged angel-giant named Sephiroth in the clouds on another planet is.

It also comes out a desire to do something that was a little more rooted in emotional response, as opposed to intellectual pursuit. I always feel like in those Final Fantasy games that the emotions are so extreme.

It’s interesting, though, because I get asked that a lot, you know, like it was a fuckup, like some kind of big mistake that I named my band after a really popular video game franchise. In the same way that He Poos Clouds got a lot of people being like, “I’m not going to listen to this because it has a stupid title.” And I’m just like, “really?”

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