Owen Pallett (Herald, 4.19.10)

Posted on April 22, 2010


“When I’m frustrated, I see a therapist,” Owen Pallett said. “I don’t write a song about it.”

There’s a troubled narrator named Lewis at the center of Pallet’s orchestral pop concept record, “Heartland.” But don’t equate the narrator’s problems with this 30-year-old composer, violinist and singer’s personal life.

“I enjoy the submissive nature of letting people come to their own realizations about things like this,” said Pallett, who performs Tuesday at the Institute of Contemporary Art.

“Heartland” was released in January to rave if confused reviews. Critics attempted plot summaries of Pallett’s surreal story without great success. Let’s just say it has something to do with a farmer in a fantasy land who grows violently upset with his creator, who is none other than Pallett himself.

The concept is matched by Pallett’s heady arrangements. After graduating with a composition degree from the University of Toronto in 2002, he became Final Fantasy, a one-man show that used loops to craft minioperas from his violin playing. For “Heartland,” he dropped the Final Fantasy moniker and took a few big musical steps forward, including employing the Czech Philharmonic.

“I felt a little inhibited by my abilities,” Pallett said from his Toronto hometown. “So I started working on some EPs and collaborating with other musicians to work on my scoring chops.”

Notably, he ended up arranging strings for recent records by Arcade Fire, Pet Shop Boys and Alex Turner of Arctic Monkeys. Pallett has become the guy you bug to do your homework for you in the indie rock world.

“I always get asked about my education and there’s no way to answer it without sounding like a snob,” he said. “Do you think Alex Turner from the Arctic Monkeys has to talk about this stuff? He’s classically trained! Dude could take a jazz solo if he wanted. Or Rostam (Batmanglij) from Vampire Weekend – he’s answering questions about why he’s so cute and gay, not how he’s actually the fastest music scorer out there.”

Nevertheless, Pallett has made his name creating otherworldy symphonies on a hard-wired violin. With just one other musician onstage this time, his concerts verge on performance art – it’s no accident his show is at the ICA.

So the academic reputation is going to be hard to shake. OK, Pallett’s music is not bubblegum pop, but don’t let that scare you away. The songs just take longer to unfold. And though he says his record doesn’t reflect his psychological frustrations, Pallett has considered life beyond the world of thorny compositions.

“There are lots of musicians who are able to tour on hit albums or lasting impressions they’ve made on the public consciousness for the rest of their lives,” Pallett said. “I haven’t really achieved either of those things. I hope I can always pursue a musical career, but I’m also ready to walk away if, like, my 2013 album gets panned and nobody likes it. I’ll just have to do something that will require a little more physical labor, like become a stone mason.”

Link article in the Boston Herald here.