Into the Heartland of Final Fantasy

FINAL FANTASY’S new album will be “a romantic epic about nothingness” featuring love songs to women that will nonetheless be “still pretty gay”. Strange? Probably. Intriguing? Yes. And the man behind it all is coming to play these songs in Galway.

Final Fantasy, the one man solo project of Canadian singer, composer, violinist, and arranger Owen Pallett, will play the Róisín Dubh on Saturday May 30 at 8pm as part of the venue’s Once Upon A Time In The West fifth birthday celebrations.

Arcade Fire’s arranger

Owen was born in Toronto in 1979 and grew up in a family where classical music was central - his father is an church organist. He began studying music at a young age, learning both violin and piano.

“Violin was my first instrument,” Owen tells me from his studio in Canada, where he is currently working on a new album. “I was playing piano as a kid. I learned Kuhlau [German-Danish romantic composer] sonatas, but didn’t know bass clef, so I played the left hand as if it were treble. People thought I was a moron or something.”

Over the last 10 years, the Canadian indie music scene has been among the healthiest and most creative in the world. It was no surprise that someone of Owen’s precocious gifts would not only become involved but be actively sought out by others for help and collaboration.

Owen had been a member of Toronto trio Les Mouches, was violinist in Picastro, and played keyboards in SS Cardiacs. However in late 2003/2004 Arcade Fire, then largely unknown outside Canada, were recording their debut album Funeral, and asked Owen to do the string arrangements for it. How did he come to work the band?

“They came on a short tour supporting the Jim Guthrie band, of which I was a member,” says Owen. “Win Butler [AF vocalist] had heard Jim’s record Now, More Than Ever and liked it, and asked me to work on Funeral.”

Funeral would establish Arcade Fire as the coolest band on the planet, with indie hipsters trying to outdo each other in the “I heard of them first” claims, and laying the ground for the even more successful Neon Bible in 2007. When he was working on Funeral, did Owen have a sense the band would become the phenomenon they are now?

“Yes,” he declares. “I don’t have a very traditional taste in music, but I heard Arcade Fire and Grizzly Bear before they were famous and predicted immense riches for both. However I also predicted the same for Parenthetical Girls - who deserve all the accolades of either of these bands - and...well, nobody gives a s**t about them, which is a great tragedy. Right now I’m predicting that Micachu and the Shapes is gonna be the big star of the year, but I think most people feel the same way.”

Owen’s collaboration with Arcade Fire inspired one of his finest songs - ‘This Is The Dream Of Win & Regine’ (if you go to the Róisín Dubh on any kind of regular basis you are bound to have heard it! ), the title of which refers to Win Butler and AF singer/musician Régine Chassagne. Little wonder that when I ask if Owen hopes to collaborate with Arcade Fire in the near future, he replies “Hope so.”

Canada is the epicentre of indie cool with acts like Final Fantasy, Arcade Fire, Broken Social Scene, Stars, etc, but when I ask Owen what is responsible for the eruption of this wealth of talent, he offers a cryptic reply: “The public health care system.”

Stage names and solo work

Owen is not merely someone else’s arranger and collaborator, he is a solo artist of the highest calibre. He took his stage name from the video game Final Fantasy, and although he is a fan of gaming, he would not describe himself as either an avid or obsessive gamer.

“I’m a hipster gamer,” he says. “I play games that get good reviews. My favourite video game is probably Ico, but I’ve spent more time playing Tetris than any other game.”

In 2005 Owen released his debut album as Final Fantasy. Entitled Has A Good Home, it was praised by The Village Voice as having “the best lyrics of the year” while Pitchfork said “it can engage you on a level most albums can’t”. Has A Good Home also went on to win the inaugural Polaris Prize for best Canadian full-length album.

He followed this up in 2006 with the curiously titled He Poos Clouds, which was evidently inspired by the magic schools in Dungeons & Dragons.

The Dungeons & Dragons aspect was the scaffolding for the record,” says Owen. “The record is mostly about feelings and lying.”

Owen is currently in the studio working on a new album. What can he tell us about it?

“It’s almost done,” he replies. “The working title is Heartland. I’m 90 per cent sure that’s the one we’re sticking with. Musically I’m drawing from an idea of adapting the principles of subtractive analogue synthesis into orchestral writing. It sounds like a gigantic orchestra LFO. Lyrically it’s a romantic epic about nothingness.”

Owen believes his homosexuality influences the music he makes and Heartland will be no exception. “My music is gonna be gay-sounding no matter what,” he says. “My new album has me singing love songs to women, but it’s still pretty gay.”

Will Owen be playing any songs from Heartland at his Galway show? “I’ll be playing mostly new songs,” he says. “Some of them are real hits, I’m looking forward to playing them for you.”

Tickets are available from the Róisín Dubh and Zhivago.

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