Nobody deserves to inherit the title of Hardest Working Man in Show Business more than Owen Pallett, aka Final Fantasy. Pallett has toured constantly since the 2006 release of his second full-length, He Poos Clouds. Performing solo, with just vocals and looped violin, he captivated a packed Paramount Theatre waiting to see Bloc Party last March. Clouds even won the Polaris Music Prize, Canada's equivalent of the Mercury. So why have so few people heard of Final Fantasy?
Probably because they're too busy listening to his myriad other projects. In the last five years, Pallett has performed with, or orchestrated music for, Arcade Fire, the Hidden Cameras, and Great Lake Swimmers; his latest arranging credit is The Flying Club Cup by Beirut. The 28-year-old has also remixed tracks for Stars and Grizzly Bear, and sings on the most recent album by electronic producer Montag.
Such a jam-packed schedule can preclude focusing on new Final Fantasy material. One particularly daunting gig—Pallett won't say what it was because he never completed it—derailed almost all other activity this summer. "I would work on it for three or four hours, and then I'd just throw up my hands, and read or play Nintendo for the rest of the day," Pallett recalls. "Now I'm really behind on my lyrics," he admits. "But it's hard to sit down and noodle, and tease out ideas, when you know there's something else you should be doing."
Yet Pallett doesn't regard these outside engagements as separate from the Final Fantasy catalog. "I think about it like I'm an artist," he explains. "I really take pride in my arrangements. I consider that to be as important as my solo work, and beneficial to it, too."
For instance, one upshot of the Beirut job was recruiting Zach Condon and other band members to play on the next Final Fantasy release. Due out November 20, the 7-inch, "Hey Dad" (X in Tomlab's limited-edition Alphabet Series), ripples with effervescent woodwinds and strings, suggesting a leaner, livelier, and more successful take on the fusion of classical minimalism and arty pop that Philip Glass attempted on his 1986 album Songs from Liquid Days.
Beirut also contribute to Pallett's next EP, Spectrum 14th Century, recorded as a prelude to his third album, Heartland. This bite-sized teaser lays groundwork for the subsequent full-length, with its ambitious story arc set in an imaginary realm called Spectrum.
"I thought a lot about Star Wars, and how, in the first trilogy, there is this incredible history that George Lucas created, and yet these things are only alluded to," he says. "They talk about Alderaan before it gets blown up, but they don't show what it looks like. Contrast that with the second trilogy, where they explained everything, how the Force works, all of it."
Thus, to ensure that Heartland is cozy like The Hobbit rather than sprawling like The Lord of the Rings, Pallett composed a series of folk songs establishing the mythology of Spectrum for the 14th Century EP. "We recorded the music outside, as if they were found recordings," he says. "Although, so far, it's not sounding as awesome as actual field recordings from Thailand."
Pallett is aware that getting too twisted in knots inventing indigenous music for a fictional culture could seem a pretentious undertaking. "I always think it's really hilarious when you have a classical composer who says, 'This particular piece is influenced by Greek folk music,' and then you listen to it and it just sounds like Ravel," he says.
In between 14th Century and Heartland, fans can expect a second Final Fantasy EP, comprising covers by Toronto songwriter Alex Lukashevsky—an equally idiosyncratic artist, with a sound Pallett describes as Louis Prima crossed with Stravinsky's score for the 1918 ballet Histoire du Soldat ("A Soldier's Tale"). This material, some of which ("Horsetail Feathers") has already made its way into Final Fantasy live sets, allows Pallett to show off his newest toy, a Yamaha CP70B electro-acoustic grand piano.
Let's recap: By the end of 2008, Final Fantasy plans to release a non-LP 45, two unrelated EPs, and an album set in a made-up universe. Plus, Pallett has more arranging commitments. Does he ever sleep? Yes. "It's funny, but I actually think I'm kind of lazy," he says. God help us if he ever becomes industrious; the public will never catch up.