Strings theory: it’s busy in Owen Pallett’s multiverse

Owen Pallett has always stood apart from the musical crowd, both as a virtuoso solo artist and a perfect-foil collaborator with Arcade Fire, Beirut, Mountain Goats, Grizzly Bear etc. He’s also out on his own when it comes to straight talking

Fri, Jul 4, 2014, 00:00

These are the days of plenty for Owen Pallett. Currently a member of Arcade Fire’s band as their Reflektor world tour winds its way around the world, the Canadian musician is also playing solo shows when the schedule allows.

But being busy in this manner is Pallett’s default setting. His work slate has involved one project or another with Arcade Fire, Mountain Goats, Beirut, Last Shadow Puppets, Grizzly Bear and others, as well as a 2014 Oscar nomination for the score for Spike Jonze’s Her, which he wrote with Win Butler. If you want someone who can add baroque strings and looped mystique to your arty indie tunes, get your people to call Pallett’s people.

This morning, we find Pallett in Berlin on a rare day off where he is catching up on two weeks of emails, calling his family and talking some more about In Conflict, his finely turned out album released earlier this year.

Musically, In Conflict is a piece of work as fluid and intriguing as anything he’s released – a stirring blend of pop, classical and electronics orchestrated with nimble skill by the multi- instrumentalist.

Lyrically, though, In Conflict is a slightly different beast to previous Pallett-penned works. Featuring meditations on memory, loss, love, ageing, drugs and sex, it does appear to be the artist exploring somewhat more directly autobiographical themes than before, though he doesn’t necessarily agree with the broad scope of that summation.

“The songs are really no more or less autobiographical than the stuff which has come before. This time, though, I haven’t quite obscured the characters. When I wrote the songs, I thought I was making the right decision. I thought people would be interested in me alluding to personal events in my life.

“But there was a moment when I did pause. When Brian Wilson was making Smile, he walked away from it at one stage. When he was asked why he did that, he said there was no place in the world for that music.

“I’m not comparing myself to that genius, but I had that very same experience. As I was doing the album, I realised it was a tall order to ask listeners to hear stuff that is framed as autobiography and see themselves in it. It’s one of the reasons why people gravitate towards bands with very lightweight lyrical material because your own experience fills in the blanks. So basically, people were only going to enjoy this record as much as they enjoyed looking at my face.”

Such thoughts gave Pallett a rare fear about the reception In Conflict might receive in the big bad world. “It was the first time that has happened. Every other record, I just wanted to rush it out in the world. With this one, I was very scared. I thought about how I’d feel if people ignored it or got the wrong impression or read too much into it as some sort of confessional or cathartic release. I was really, really trying to make something for people and not for myself.