Orchestrating a fantasy
Queer singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Owen Pallett keeps very good company, with his considerable skills as a string arranger utilised by artists such as Pet Shop Boys, Mika, Grizzly Bear and Arcade Fire.
But when it comes to his own music, the 31-year-old Canadian (who, up until his most recent album Heartland, released music under the moniker Final Fantasy) prefers to fly solo.
For someone whose music is so lush and densely orchestrated, it’s surprising to learn Pallett performs solo, relying on rigs and loop peddles to create his wall of sound. But he insists the problem isn’t replicating the sounds of his recorded music in a live setting; rather, it’s harder to capture the live elements on record.
“The problem that I’ve had with translating my songs onto record is that they’re just too dense. They sound great live when you can actually see it all happening, but on record, it’s just too many notes,” the softly spoken singer explained to the Star Observer from his Toronto home.
“That was the real challenge with making Heartland.”
Pallet has described Heartland, his third solo album, as being like ‘a pornographic spread’, such is the degree to which he lyrically lays himself bare. Did that influence the decision to step out from behind his former geeky stage name for the first time?
“Not really … it was because I wanted to tour Japan and not have any sort of weirdness,” he laughed.
“People who love Final Fantasy aren’t generally that open to a fag on stage with a violin. The name came from my youth, growing up and being quite isolated, and playing that game a lot – escaping into it.”
Unlike many gay artists, keen to stress that their sexuality has no bearing on their work, Pallett happily acknowledges the influence being queer has on his songwriting.
“I think in music, you can spot a fag a mile off,” he said. “You can hear it in the music.”
But he said he had no interest in lingering on the personal details of his love life.
“I’m not all that interested in talking about butt sex, or singing about it on albums. Even though I’m out, I feel like sometimes you’re judged as not being a good gay if you’re not talking about your sex life in interviews. BUTT magazine certainly seems to think so.”
While his sex life may be off limits, Pallett’s happy to talk about his somewhat unusual relationship with his long-term boyfriend, Patrick Borjal – unusual in that for the past four years, Borjal has also served as Pallett’s manager, with the pair even forming a management company, the aptly-named Boyfriend Management.
“After I won the Polaris (Pallett won the 2006 Polaris Music Prize for his sophomore album, He Poos Clouds), my inbox just exploded,” he said.
“Patrick had just been laid off from his job, so he just took it all over. Recently a guy who’s managed MIA and Paul McCartney came up and congratulated him on how well he’s done managing me with limited resources. I’m proud of the little guy.”
info: Owen Pallett plays Melbourne’s Thornbury Theatre and Toff In Town on January 15 and 16, Sydney’s Famous Spiegeltent on January 19 and 21.