Toronto's Owen Pallett, the sole designer and proprietor of Final Fantasy, is a technically astonishing and vision-laden musician. In recent years, he's split his time between writing arrangements for and playing in esteemed ensembles such as Arcade Fire and the Hidden Cameras, and his own work as FF, including his last full-length, the excellent and widely lauded He Poos Clouds (winner of the 2006 Polaris Prize, Canada's most prestigious music award). He has two limited-edition EPs (Spectrum, 14th Century on Blocks Recording Club and Final Fantasy Plays to Please on Slender Means Society/States Rights Pregnancy Series) coming out this fall, and is working on his next full length, Heartland, in perpetuity.
You have two EPs coming out. The first one (Spectrum, 14th Century) is imaginary field recordings, is that right?
It's more like fake field recordings from a fictional country. The country is called Spectrum, and I'm the sole deity of it. The characters [in Spectrum] all worship me. Of the five songs on the EP, three are devotional songs from characters in the country.
How much supplementary writing work did you do in conceiving the country?
I'm embarrassed to say; there's quite a lot of stuff. But it's like asking, when you look at a beautiful house, what the foundations are like—it doesn't matter. I came up with the idea for the EP about two years ago. But other things have been going on; it's taken a lot longer to get things done. I keep getting caught up with arranging for other people and touring.
What are your ideas about the role of fantasy in your own art-making?
Well, there's some sort of visceral beauty in a lot of the fantasy that I read as a kid that reminds me of being a presexual entity. But it's very sexy in a really presexual way; I remember reading about owls and dragons doing it, and it was kind of boner material. As an adult, it's interesting to see that most of my favorite fantasy and science fiction from childhood was social commentary in some form.
Does your next full-length have any relationship to the fictional country?
Oh yeah, it takes place entirely in that country. And it has a plot that's secondary to its album-ness. To be honest, I think it's really far more legible than—I mean, the most legible concept album that I've ever heard is Dream Theater. They had a song and then an album that was part two of the song, kind of like a Phil Elverum thing, but in this super-American literal way. I don't remember what it was called; it had this big face on the cover. But yeah, I remember listening to that and, in between the triple rolls, I remember hearing a really, really overt story.
Like Trapped in the Closet?
Well, not quite as literal as that, but...
More literal than The Wall?
Well, I don't know, The Wall is pretty literal.
Do you feel like all of the characters in Spectrum are part of a very clear allegorical framework?
Yeah, it's more allegorical for sure. This Spectrum EP is really meant to illustrate the backgrounds and the tendencies of these people. But, how well can I do that? I mean, I'm not writing appendices, I'm writing a verse and a chorus and trying to inform you a bit about the people. But, really, they're all sort of really extroverted versions of my own feelings. Like: I hate me and they hate me, too. Or: I hate gays; they hate gays—stuff like that [preemptive note: Owen is homosexual]. So, I think people will kind of get it. There's a few sort of notes of colonialism and urban planning as well. This country Spectrum is based on a Canada that was never colonized—that is to say, it was colonized but there was never any genocide of any First Nation people.
So everyone built the society together?
Exactly. It was a colony that wasn't based on guilt, which had a culture that was not based on oppression and guilt and massacres, but rather was simply allowed to develop on its own. Kind of like Pitcairn Island, though I guess Pitcairn Island had its other sort of problems. But yeah, Spectrum is a much more pastoral, sort of Owen-worshipping kind of country. But, aside from this, I'm just trying to write some good songs.