Returning to Manchester for the first time in three years, erudite composer and performer Owen Pallett voices his thoughts on the consumption of music and a certain project he shouldn't be talking about
“You should just steal all the music that you can and you should buy all the music that you afford,” announces a jetlagged Owen Pallett, paraphrasing SPIN music writer Chris Martins. The morning sun is streaming through his hotel window in Lisbon, Portugal, where he's stopping off during a short European tour – but despite his fatigue, Pallett is articulate, a comfortable chatterer. He's also opinionated.
When the violinist and vocalist's forthcoming, fourth full-length solo album In Conflict is released, it will enter a world where, for many, music is consumed through laptop speakers or smartphones using online streaming services. Pallett's “official opinion” on whether artists are getting a good deal from outlets like Spotify “is just like the opinion of any label: 'go ahead, mate. Do whatever you want,'” he says. “But statistically Spotify are an entirely self-serving organisation answerable only to their shareholders.” His words slow down as he considers their meaning.
“As long as people are actively consuming as much as they can and spending money responsibly then it's OK,” he continues, emphasising that “Spotify is allowing people to do neither of these.”
“I have a very active relationship with my turntable,” he says. “It's such a completely different experience both aurally and psychologically.” Lovingly placing an LP on to a record player and letting the stylus slip into the groove does indeed sound so respectful of the artist's intentions – but many just don't have the inclination, or the money, to buy vinyl. “I come from a position of privilege because I can afford that kind of stuff,” he admits, cautiously adding: “Anyway, it's just my opinion.”
Pallett's career began in his home of Toronto, where he played and recorded with various bands including Les Mouches. Having gained attention beyond the Canadian city for performing with Arcade Fire, he released his first two solo albums – 2005's Has a Good Home and 2006's He Poos Clouds – under the name Final Fantasy. For Heartland (2010), he reverted to using his real name. Though now living in Montreal, he still has a lot of affection for the city he called home for 15 years – and seems to feel its music scene was underestimated. “As time's gone on, people talking about Toronto in the 2000s are basically talking about Death From Above 1979, Feist, Metric and Broken Social Scene,” he explains. “Bands like The Hidden Cameras are overlooked as far as I'm concerned. You could read what I'm saying as being somewhat self-aggrandising because I was a member of that band, but I wasn't a musical force in it – it was primarily Joel [Gibb, Hidden Cameras frontman]'s gig. I just feel like a lot of bands like that got kind of marginalised.”
Alongside his solo work, Pallett has long been an in-demand arranger, having graduated from the University of Toronto with a bachelor's degree in music composition. He's worked with artists including the Pet Shop Boys, Mika and Robbie Williams, and more recently has been sending ideas back and forth with Norwegian disco don Todd Terje. An arranger, he feels, is called in when a flatlining track “needs CPR.” Does he have any memorable anecdotes from his work with other artists? “It's fun and exciting, but they're clients and it's my occupation,” he asserts with a stoic professionalism.
The internet proffers very little detail concerning In Conflict, originally mooted for release in the autumn. “Well, there was going to be a single out by now and everything, but... I ended up getting a job offer that I couldn't refuse,” Pallett explains. “I'm going to be doing that instead and push my album back indefinitely.” Sounds intriguing. What exactly is the job?
“Playing with the Arcade Fire again.”
Exciting. So he's probably going to be out on the road with them a lot over the autumn and winter, right? There's a pause. “I've already said stuff I shouldn't.”