Thursday night was a big Philadelphia music night. Folks with a pretty specific bent were either at Lady Gaga’s ARTPOP extravaganza at the Wells Fargo Center or at Owen Pallett’s violin party at Johnny Brenda’s. The latter was the wiser ticket buy.
The tow-headed Canadian bantered charmingly with the full house between stunning versions of both classics from his catalogue and brand new, never-before-heard tracks from his pending LP. Fans shouted out titles, and he either contorted and recoiled or thought ponderously if he could remember how to pull it off live. His songs were still often loop-based, but backed with a supporting band that, at one point, took a break from the stage so that Pallett could execute a few cuts that only required one man. And to be clear, it is astonishing what this man can accomplish with just pedals and a keen sense of timing. The multi-award-winner’s musical tool kit is vast.
He’s worked with dozens of great talents, fleshing out arrangements or conducting, and recently provided strings for a couple of the freshest dance tracks Dan Snaith (of Caribou and Daphni fame) has ever conjured. It’s no surprise that the two friends are capable of great things, evidenced by the double whammy of “Julia” and “Tiberius.”
I confessed to Pallett a week before his JB’s date that I’d been getting into house and dance music quite a bit over the past year, and he wasn’t surprised, especially in light of what’s been turned into commercial music over the last few years. “Minimal techno is the extension of something that’s non-sellable but still emotionally profound because [consumers’] ears are just fucking tired of ‘hey hos’ and ukuleles,” he said, seemingly pointing toward the twee folksy schlock with which the Lumineers have catapulted to commercial super-stardom.
And even though his list of credits over the last 12 years is astounding and studded with stars of indie rock, it turns out, it’s not really the way most of us would imagine. Pallett’s specialty lies in finishing touches, finalizing tracks and LPs. “It’s difficult because when I think about what I’m gonna do with a client, more often than not, I’m called in to work on tracks that are incomplete,” he admits. “It’s almost like being presented with a problem.”
Ed Droste from Grizzly Bear brought him 2006’s Yellow House when it was near completion and asked for help. But Pallett knows when something’s just right and tries not to leave unwanted fingerprints on something that’s already perfect. “What do you want to do with these songs?” he was asked. “Nothing. This record’s done,” he told Droste.
Famously, Pallett teamed up with William Butler (Win is his brother and the frontman) of Arcade Fire to create the original score to Her, last year’s Spike Jonze beauty, nabbing them a well-deserved Academy Award nomination. Their signatures are all over it—in the best way possible. Pallet’s simultaneously ethereally blissful and discordant touches certainly suit the themes at play in Jonze’s contemporary cinematic achievement.
As for his live show, while he used to dwell more on loops and appropriate-length measures and bars to accommodate his one-man-band status, lately, Pallett’s come to realize that in order to execute the album’s sounds, he needs a band. In came drummer Rob Gordon and Matt Smith on bass and vocals, who helped him tour 2010’s outstanding Heartland and piece together new material. This upcoming LP, he claims, reveals “things that I don’t regret saying, but were definitely more challenging for me to say.”
“I knew that I was gonna have to get a band together,” he said, calling on personnel he’d worked with before. “It became pretty clear on a social and musical level that this relationship would continue. That’s when we started writing In Conflict.”
Due out Tues., May 27, In Conflict feels different than Heartland. Asked to describe the differences between the two albums, he was quite honest. “I would describe [In Conflict] as being closer to loss, almost like post-partum. It’s been a much more emotional reaction, and it’s been very hard for me to organize my feelings.” His new project, he claims, reveals “things that I don’t regret saying, but were definitely more challenging for me to say.”
Pallett’s music has a richer, fuller feeling than ever before, both emotionally and sonically, and he’s looking forward to bringing his set to specific venues. “It’s so wonderful to pull into Dallas to play a show for all these firefighters and trans men and crazy pancake chefs or whatever,” he joked, citing Birmingham, Alabama’s Bottletree Café as his favorite U.S. venue before quickly adding Philly’s own First Unitarian Church to his list. And even though he’s developed a few pre-conceived notions of what regionalism offers down here, he loves getting those perpetuated stereotypes crushed by attendees who bring the love.
He got it here.
PW's Music Issue 2014