Monday, April 17, 2006

Interview: Final Fantasy

Jonathan Migneault

For the last couple of years Owen Pallett has been mesmerizing audiences under the name Final Fantasy with only his violin and some effect pedals. Everyone's favourite solo indie violinist (sorry Andrew Bird) has been on tour promoting his upcoming album: He Poos Clouds. The album not only has a great title (admit it) but great songs to boot.

Saturday I had the pleasure of seeing Final Fantasy in concert with Wyrd Visions and Grizzly Bear. The next day I caught up with Owen on the phone as he was heading to a new venue in a new town. He talked about the upcoming album, atheism, Dungeons and Dragons and his name. At the very end of the interview Owen made a revelation will likely interest many, please some and shock others.

Mocking Music: I'm sure you know that your new album leaked earlier this month - does it bother you that people are hearing it before it's supposed to come out?

Owen Pallett: No. Since we had that thing mastered-out I was burning CD-Rs and giving them to everyone. You know, whatever, I'm happy with it and if many people want to hear it it's fine with me. The way I see it the show last night [Black Sheep Inn, Wakefield, Quebec] was like $10 a ticket and it's like $12,50 to buy an album. For every leaked copy somebody comes back to an album and from a financial point of view it doesn't matter. You know what I mean? I dunno, it's bad for record companies but it's totally good for musicians.

MM: I've listened to He Poos Clouds and I find that it has a more classical sound than Has A Good Home.

OP: Yeah, you think so? I don't think it's any more or less classical. I just think it's the fact that there are no drums on it and there's only bass on one song and it's actually not even a bass.

MM: Well it just seemed a little less "indie-pop" than the first album. Was there a conscious decision to go a little closer to your classical roots?

OP: Well, no. The only decision that I made was that it was going to be a string quartet. There was going to be a string quartet on the entire album. Honestly, it's not really something that a musician would think of when they're sitting down to write an album. Unless they're some sort of an asshole they're not gonna be like, "Okay, now I'm gonna pay tribute to my Latin roots." So I wasn't thinking, "Okay, this is gonna be more classical."

The three big influences for making the record were Destroyer's Your Blues, Galina Ustvolskaya, who's a Russian composer I've been listening to constantly, and strictly on a functional level, the Bartok String Quartet. It took a long time to make because I was trying to compile only the best ideas. I tried to avoid writing pop songs and focused on making more of a cohesive record.

MM: Yeah, I did find it was more cohesive than Has A Good Home.

OP: Yeah, thanks.

MM: Do you think of the difficulties in performing songs live when you write them?

OP: Well most of them are written live -- are written for live performance.

MM: I've heard rumours that you're thinking of changing your name because of that recent Myspace fiasco [Myspace cancelled his account due to his name and his website has also been taken down].

OP: People criticize me for choosing Final Fantasy as a name. When you're playing your first show and you're a bunch of dudes just playing music in a basement and you come up with a shitty name it's like it doesn't matter. But then, if you go and change your name after you've started to become more popular, you have no testicles. You've gotta stick with it, right?

MM: So you are sticking with it?

OP: Of course. I realize that it's kind of a stupid name but I chose it for very specific reasons. Changing a name would be a very spineless thing to do. So no, I'm not changing it.

MM: Do you know if Square [the makers of the Final Fantasy video games] has even heard of you?

OP: I'm sure they have. I dunno, maybe not. Who cares? I'm not actually breaking any laws. If they decided to actually press the issue, and I don't think they will because it's not really in their interest to kind of shut it down. The whole sense of the Final Fantasy games is decidedly anti-corporate. I mean for the last six Final Fantasy role playing games you're playing either a rebel force rebelling against the government or you're playing a member of a band of thieves. If they're like, "Oh, what are you doing?" Well it's just directly inspired by the lead characters in their video games.

So yeah, I think there are definitely some anarchists at the story writing department. I think they'll probably be okay with it.

MM: On the note of role playing games, you said in an interview with the New York Times that the song cycle on He Poos Clouds is based on the eight schools of magic in Dungeons and Dragons...

OP: That's right.

MM: What did you mean by that? What are these eight schools of magic?

OP: The eight schools of magic, according to Dungeons and Dragons, are-- and in order that they appear in the album?

MM: Sure.

OP: Abjuration, which is magic relating to protection of oneself or other objects, illusion, conjuration, necromancy, enchantment, divination, evocation and transmutation. Transmutation is turning one thing into another.

What attracts me to writing songs about these things is that people who play Dungeons and Dragons -- who I'm going to stereotype and say that they're probably mostly a bunch of either pagans or atheists -- will have this incredibly codified and developed system of negotiating the relationship of themselves with the subliminal, with the phenomenal-logical. These people have ways of describing these things and expressing them, and attributing to them mystical qualities just like the fact that they actually don't believe that is the real reason for them existing. It's kinda like Catholicism except without the priest part of it. I find that very interesting. Not as a practical use but from a sort of anthropological use.

For this record I was trying to pick each of these schools of magic and write songs about day to day phenomena which could classify as these particular things. So, for example, the song about necromancy is about my godfather plunging in and out of well... His bowels exploded, basically he had a stroke and his intestines ruptured and his abdomen was filled with shit. They gave him so much morphine -- because he was basically gonna die -- it was an amazing experience to have to watch him plunge in and out of being dead. He would just fall in and out of consciousness and every time that he would come out of consciousness the look on his face was such that you knew that this was not him just simply regaining consciousness and passing out again. Rather, it looked like he was being dipped into nothingness and then pulled back out again. So that for example is just like necromancy, perfect, you know what I mean? Even though it's not technically necromancy. Necromancy doesn't really involve reconstitution and rather involves reanimation. At the same time I felt that was kinda the basis of the album; that experience.

I started to realize two things. First, that there were a lot of things in that in your day to day life that you could chock up to being explainable by Dungeons and Dragons' magic. The second thing was that being an atheist is a pretty dark and scary thing. When you have to witness something like your godfather dying and you're not the sort of person who believes in God and you're actually face to face confronting your own mortality, it's fucked. You're like, "Whoa! I didn't even realize how scared I was of death." And then all of a sudden the existence of something like Dungeons and Drangons' magic becomes a lot more explainable.

MM: So was writing the album sort of a cathartic experience?

OP: You know, catharsis is like... fuck it, no. I have nothing to do with catharsis. I hate catharsis. If there was anything cathartic on the album I would of killed it. The last time that I listened to something cathartic and enjoyed it was when I was 13 and listened to Me and a Gun by Tori Amos. Since then I've totally not fallen for it. So anyways, no it's not catharsis it's an examination of the fact that atheists do need something to believe in and that it's gonna be ridiculous to do so but those weird phenomena that we're going to simultaneously believe in but not believe in -- actually not even believe in -- we don't believe in them but we're gonna talk about them and codify them is a very interesting aspect of atheism. And of nerdiness too. A lot of atheists either float through life not thinking about these things or have very decided non-beliefs. There is a codification of atheism that does not involve Dungeons and Dragons, obviously. It still means that these people worship celebrity or America's Next Top Model or art or any certain thing.

MM: On another note, the last time I saw you live was at Ottawa's Bluesfest last year. Do you think it's fair to say that you've become more confident as a performer since then?

OP: Yeah, I mean, I don't have other band members to be like, "This is good, that's bad." If something is really obvious to the audience that it's sad, it takes me a long time to realize it. Ever since last year I realized that as much as I would like to go through my set and be like, "What song do I feel like playing now?" in a very whimsical man in the forest sort of way, it would be more in my interest to practice nine songs and play them pretty much every night. I've just been practicing a lot and skip from song to song quickly and deliver. In the end that will make people more satisfied, I think.

MM: Have you been pleased with the fan reaction to the new stuff on this tour?

Yeah, it seems like people are really into it. I mean I've actually been playing two new songs on this tour. Well, that's not true, there's been I guess four or five songs that you guys haven't seen but there's only two brand new songs that I haven't played on any tours before.

What I'm most excited about is that people seem to be reacting so well to Wyrd Visions and Grizzly Bear. It's nice to have them out on tour and to have people exposed to how great I think their music is.

MM: I think Grizzly Bear, especially, were really great.

OP: Yeah, they absolutely are. And I'm a big fan of Wyrd Visions as well. If Collin will have me, I want to actually stop playing Final Fantasy and join Wyrd Visions because I think he's way ahead of me artistically.


Final Fantasy's sophomore album, He Poos Clouds is set to be released May 2006. His first album is available now.

Grizzly Bear - Don't Ask (Final Fantasy Remix)
Final Fantasy - He Poos Clouds
Final Fantasy - 01 Spell For a Weak Heart (Live WFMU)
Final Fantasy - 02 The CN Tower Belongs to the Dead (Live WFMU)
Final Fantasy - 03 If I Were a Carp (Live WFMU)
Final Fantasy - 04 What Do You Think Will Happen Next (Live WFMU)
Final Fantasy - 05 This is the Dream of Win and Regine (Live WFMU)

Label Site

Final Fantasy - Has a Good Home
Final Fantasy - He Poos Clouds

Interview: Xiu Xiu

Comments on "Interview: Final Fantasy"


Blogger James H. said ... (17/4/06 2:34 am) : 

Thank you for this. I just got my leaked copy the other day and am really enjoying the album.

Owen, if you're reading this, Windsor misses you. We hope to see you soon!


Anonymous Anonymous said ... (17/4/06 8:24 am) : 

excellent interview!


Anonymous Anonymous said ... (17/4/06 1:03 pm) : 

well done indeed.


Blogger Jonathan Migneault said ... (17/4/06 6:09 pm) : 

Thanks for all the kind words. I'm wondering what people's thoughts are on Owen's final comment in the interview.

How would you feel if he ended Final Fantasy and joined Wyrd Visions?


Blogger Casey Dorrell said ... (17/4/06 6:42 pm) : 

I'm surprised there hasn't been more of a reaction to this as well.


Anonymous Anonymous said ... (17/4/06 8:33 pm) : 

There will be, as most people haven't found the interview yet.

I for one DO NOT want this to happen. Final Fantasy is one of my musical bright spots and it would physically hurt me for him to stop making music under FF.


Anonymous Anonymous said ... (18/4/06 7:29 am) : 

An end to FF would be unspeakable tragedy--mourned by MANY under the Indie firmament.

Personally speaking, Owen Pallett is a brilliant Bartok-meets-Post-Punk "song-composer" who throws it down with the sarky-sincere elan of Paganini amplified. He's an inspired original in a genre all his own.

But ultimately, gotta respect the artist in doing whatever really inspires him. He'll slay no matter what his next major incarnation.
I just hope that time doesn't come anytime soon.


Anonymous Anonymous said ... (18/4/06 10:15 am) : 

Great interview.

As for the jump to Wyrd Visions I think that as long as he continues to make music no one can be too upset. If he feels collaboration is necessary for his own development then who knows what great music he could produce.

I saw Wyrd Visions open for FF last Tuesday and I liked what they were doing - I thought it was quite a bit like early Pink Floyd but with less acid - but whether they are artisticaly ahead of FF I am not too sure. The thing was that they performed with the lights out which meant the crowd pretty much ignored them after the first song or so. It was kinda hard to focus on the drone-y, repeated lyrics and guitar with all the chatter.


Blogger Jonathan Migneault said ... (18/4/06 12:54 pm) : 

The problem with Wyrd Visions' type of music (i.e. droning guitar with repetitive lyrics) is that it walks a fine line between triggering a strong emotional response and alienating the audience. For me, Wyrd Visions unfortunately achieved the latter. I'm sure, however, that the audience's constant chatter during their set didn't help in creating that emotional connection. For me, bands like Sigur Ros and Godspeed! You Black Emperor are doing something similar while creating a blissful sense of euphoria (in the case of Sigur Ros) and wonder (in the case of Godspeed!) that just wasn't present in Wyrd Visions' set.

Perhaps Owen will help them pluck those emotional strings (pun intended) if he joins the band. Only time will tell...


Blogger Casey Dorrell said ... (18/4/06 4:53 pm) : 

The Cliche police are coming to fuck you up.


Blogger Jonathan Migneault said ... (18/4/06 6:52 pm) : 

hehe... Fair enough.

Wyrd Visions just didn't do it for me. Now if that's a cliche the "Cliche police" can drop by any time. :P


Blogger Casey Dorrell said ... (18/4/06 7:41 pm) : 

I'm actually more curious to hear them now, since the bands you compare them to (albeit unfavourably) are both excellent.


Anonymous Anonymous said ... (20/4/06 2:01 pm) : 

omg im depressed just thinking about it now...if it were to happen i might have to dress in black garb for a yr and 1 day and play nothing but furniture and songsongsong on my ipod.



Anonymous Anonymous said ... (20/4/06 2:12 pm) : 

okay but srsly now all my search's for wyrd visions are coming back with a big chunka
someone hook an ooooooooooohhhwen omgod i loveeeeeeeeeeeeemmmmmmmm girl up please!
i need to hear why he basically just bows down like that man.
rightnow im going wtf?
i d g i?


Anonymous Anonymous said ... (20/4/06 2:14 pm) : 

OH YA or a linky loo please and tyou!!!!


Blogger Jonathan Migneault said ... (20/4/06 4:38 pm) : 

I'm sorry Myst but I don't think I'll be able to hook you up with some Wyrd Visons. The only time I (and most people I would assume) heard the band was at the Final Fantasy show.

It's virtually impossible to find Wyrd Vision's stuff on the net (not even Oink has anything). In fact, this interview is the second link one gets when searching "Wyrd Visions" on google.

Again, I'm sorry. Your best bet is to go see the band live along with Final Fantasy.


Anonymous Anonymous said ... (21/4/06 11:27 pm) : 

FF is totally joking. he is just being complimentary. i too saw the trio perform. and while I liked wyrd visions, I much preferred Grizzly Bear as the opening act. FF was of course great.


Anonymous Anonymous said ... (21/4/06 11:29 pm) : 

ps. you can hear wyrd visions at


Blogger Jonathan Migneault said ... (22/4/06 2:47 pm) : 

Thanks for the link. When I "googled" Wyrd Visions there was no sign of a Myspace page. I just assumed he didn't have one.

As for Owen's comment about wanting to join Wyrd Visions -- all I can say is that he sounded completely serious when he said it. There was no sarcasm at all in the tone of his voice. I don't claim to know Owen, however, and he may well of been kidding with me.


Anonymous Anonymous said ... (24/4/06 2:57 pm) : 

W-YR-D V-I-SIO-NS accross the sky.

but not on the net????
well then that actually makes me swirrrrrrrrrrlllll i tell you...
swirrrrrrrrrrling inside for the obscure i mean super duper gotta work to lovem and that i will do.

so how bout you hook me up with some show dates...i live in the niagara falls area i doubt they'd bother here but toronto???

W-YR-D V-I-S-ION-S across the sky!
and over my skin in the form of goosebumps if ya know what i mean.


Anonymous Anonymous said ... (24/4/06 3:53 pm) : 

but in case you dont...i enjoyed what i heard on myspace. It definately "triggered an emotional response"...a creeped out one! but creeped out in a good way. lol.
however i cant really form any concrete opinion by hearing just one song so i guess its to the show i go...

ps i swear i already posted this but for some reason i dont see it so if it gets reposted like back to back or something you know its because i dont really know why.


Blogger mel said ... (25/4/06 5:04 am) : 

there was a list of upcoming shows on their myspace, and they were all in Toronto.


Anonymous Anonymous said ... (25/4/06 8:39 pm) : 

MM: I've heard rumours that you're thinking of changing your name because of that recent Myspace fiasco [Myspace cancelled his account due to his name and his website has also been taken down].

um ya?????
so how bout them...upcoming shows???


Anonymous Anonymous said ... (25/4/06 8:42 pm) : 

oh wait you meant wyrd visions
never mind!
i was thinking F.F. but cool thank you.


Anonymous Anonymous said ... (3/6/06 6:44 pm) : 

wyrd visions is awesome... hehe no pun intended... all this talk of alienating the audience... big time ouch. don't be such squares! owen's music is great. wyrd visions is rad too! there's no REAL contest there, even though owen sets it up!


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