He Poos Clouds: Owen Pallett AKA Final Fantasy Interviewed
Is He Poos Clouds really about the eight Schools of magic in Dungeons & Dragons? "Okay, one Elf, a dark Elf, in the entire record."
It's like the advice at the beginning of the album. To all the nerds in the world: Tell lies. It's the only way you're going to get laid.
Owen Pallett tells me this over the phone from Toronto, where he is chopping vegetables. He sounds excited. About nerds, about lies – about his upcoming European tour and his second album under musical nom-de-plume Final Fantasy. The album is called 'He Poos Clouds', it's out May 9 on Tomlab, and it's absolutely remarkable.
Final Fantasy is Owen Pallett and Owen Pallett is a classically-trained violinist with a looper pedal and tender, daring pop songs. But while Owen's pals with both Patrick Wolf and the Arcade Fire, the music of Final Fantasy is strange and singular – very different from both Wolf's swooning folk-pop and the Arcade Fire's forest disco. 'He Poos Clouds' presents songs that are often closer to suites, darting from high sweet choruses to great, terrifying cadences – and back. It's work that evokes everyone from Scott Walker to Dmitri Shostakovich to The Divine Comedy; and Owen's live covers have included Mariah Carey, Bloc Party and Joanna Newsom. But today, he wants to talk to me about Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark.
"They are the pinnacle of pop songwriting," he says. "It's music with all these layers that is at its surface very superficial. It looks like trash but is actually incredibly smart."
And the same can be said for Final Fantasy. While 'He Poos Clouds' seems in some ways very sophisticated, arranged mostly for voice and string quartet but with interjections of timpani, horns and choir, Pallett deliberately undercuts any hoity-toity trappings. Look at the band name, or the album title. "It's really nice to hear a record that's nicely played but recorded really shittily," he says. "Or the most brilliant songs in the world played badly. That's something I'm interested in. What I want is for everything on this record to be both a truth and a lie at the same time."
So while his lyrics may reference the fascist Japanese writer Yukio Mishima, or the Pooka from Flann O'Brien's 'At Swim Two Birds', there is also something opposite, populist and fun. A mention of San Franciscan novelist Anne McCaffrey or, of course, the matter of the album's concept.
"Is He Poo Clouds really about the eight Schools of magic in Dungeons & Dragons?"
"It is. Absolutely." He pauses. "But I'm not singing about Elves."
"I think there is a lyric about a Drowish mistress..." I say.
"Okay, one Elf, a dark Elf, in the entire record. But I tried to steer away from the D&D world and toward the meat and potatoes of what these Schools of magic actually mean."
And so it's not about goblins and wizards. Despite the tabletop inspiration, 'He Poos Clouds' is a rumination on universal human stuff: self-delusion, transformation, and certainly death. If I Were A Carp is inspired by Owen's memories of watching his godfather "put on a lot of morphine [...and...] being plunged in and out of death." It's one of the most frightening songs I've ever heard, and an emotional opposite to the girl-power ebullience on my other favourite, Song Song Song.
Away on tour, Owen will be leaving the string quartet behind. "There was an air of self-importance there that I was not ready to embrace. I like the instantaneousness of walking out on stage with a violin and being able to play songs." He is already plotting the "sequel" to the new album, perhaps to be released only as sheet music.
But of course, first, he is coming to Glasgow.
"I think Scottish people are beautiful. They're the perfect combination of well-fedness and genuine literacy. Every time I've been to Scotland it's like there's no television: all people do is read and play sports."
Final Fantasy plays Nice 'n Sleazy, Glasgow on May 12.
'He Poos Clouds' is released on May 9 on Tomlab Records.