Owen Pallett

Photo by Yuula Benivolski

Owen Pallett will premiere new material in Montreal

An interview with the composer/songwriter/musician about his upcoming album and Montreal show.

“I finally made a classic!” Owen Pallett was buying a “loosy” cigarette at his favourite dep near his Parkdale Air BnB when I reached him by phone this morning. (He’s trying to quit so he’s not buying packs.) It’s been a tough few months for the multi-talented musician, whose recurring mental health struggles, recent break-up and a massive composing/arranging commission from the Art Gallery of Ontario (for antiphonal choirs and Flemish harpsichords) conspired to keep him overworked, overwhelmed and quasi-homeless. (Toronto rents even have him pondering a move back to Montreal, where he lived for a while a few years back.) But if there’s one thing he’s happy about, it’s his next, fifth solo album Island, the long-awaited follow-up to 2014’s In Conflict.

“I’ve been very happy with all the records I’ve made to date, and I’m proud of them all,” says Pallett. “I really feel like I did something special with this one. It’s very stripped back — further stripped back than you could possibly anticipate — but it’s simultaneously very dense and orchestral.”

Widely acclaimed for his solo work — his sophomore LP won the inaugural Polaris Prize back in 2006, and the critics generally love him — Pallett has a deep history of impressive credits as a violin and viola player and string arranger, having contributed substantially to albums by Arcade Fire as well as arrangements and cameos on records by everyone from Taylor Swift to Grizzly Bear, the Pet Shop Boys to Frank Ocean, the National to Haim. Film composition is a major element of his work (he was nominated for an Oscar for the score he cowrote with Arcade Fire for Spike Jonze’s 2013 film Her), and one “extremely secret” film project has kept him quite busy lately.

“I’ve been very happy with all the records I’ve made to date, and I’m proud of them all. I really feel like I did something special with this one.

Owen Pallett

“I’m working on this really amazing score right now for probably the best documentary I’ve ever seen,” he says. “I think it’s going to be big, and the music’s amazing so that’s what I’m really tearing my hair out over right now.”

Though Island will only be released sometime in 2020 (by Secret City in Canada, though the scheduling is being determined by Pallett’s international label Domino), Pallett will be previewing new material in his upcoming show in Montreal this weekend — half the set will consist of new material, and the live experience has been reworked and refocused.

“I had this idea for a new set with a new rig that’s a little more focused on the sonics of what I’m doing than the performance. I wanted to build a live show that prioritized the listening, the audio, so I developed this new system of looping and I implemented it and it’s really crazy — it sounds amazing. It was also designed around a solo set with the idea that I was going to integrate bass and drums later. But it doesn’t need bass and drums, it’s really good solo and in fact I kind of paired it with projections and a visual presentation that make it work as a solo set.”

There is a time and place for solo shows and another for band shows, and Pallett is preparing to do the latter at some point during his Islands tour, with the same rhythm section he worked with during In Conflict.

“I’m gonna wait until we get the record rolling around and I’ll rehearse with Matt and Robbie and see about having them out for some shows. If you’re appearing on a festival stage, it’s a lot less daunting when you have a rhythm section.”

Some new songs destined for album number sixhave already been written but Pallett remains in a kind of creative statis until the release of Island.

“I’ve been writing songs, getting a lot of lyrical ideas,” he says. “I know what I’m gonna do but before I really get into it I want to get this one out there and resolved. I’ve put a lot of stock in reception — I want to know what people think. I, personally, have an attitude towards making work that’s a little more in line with being a public servant than an artist. I do consider myself an artist but I also believe I have a relationship with the people who consume my music, so I allow their response to guide their next move.” ■

Owen Pallett performs with Carmen Elle at Phi Centre (407 St-Pierre) on Saturday, Nov. 16, 9 p.m., $17.65

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