divine magic (continued from previous page - page 2 of 3)|
Owen Pallett in a hall of mirrors


Owen Pallett has the smallest, tiniest little features, delicate like a bone china horse. He is very long and very thin and displays an impressive array of vintage t-shirts, and is approachable and eloquent. His answers come pouring out in a torrent of opinion, aphorism and references, backed up with examples and recommendations: obscure games publishers, fascist Japanese authors, obscure queercore and riot grrrl bands – such lucidity! I wanted to play video games with Owen, and then trawl the gay bars looking at boys together, but Owen ate too much candy floss at the fairground, and is in a monogamous relationship, so we just…chatted.

That’s alright though, because chatting with Owen Pallett goes like this: you’ll pat your fingers lightly on the top of a subject, and Owen will shove his hands right in till he’s elbow-deep. Then he’ll pull up a glistening nugget of content, and knead it and knead it till it starts to rise, teasing out idea after idea. Then he’ll spread his hands and show it to you. ‘There’, he kept saying thoughout the interview. ‘Was that alright? Are my answers alright?’ He’s making my job easy for me.





If you’re not interested in games then I apologise, but it’s impossible to talk to Owen Pallett without talking about video games – his interest is foregrounded in the project’s very title, songs such as ‘Adventure.exe’ and ‘He Poos Clouds’ are inspired by video games, and the song ‘An Arrow In The Side of Final Fantasy’ is largely based on a melody from the game Six Golden Coins. Like New Games Journalism, Owen’s interested in what a game’s world can tell us about ourselves. So space shoot’em ups are a metaphor for masculine thinking, he says – a phallus spitting bullets at never-ending streams of aliens – while his most recent favourite game is Katamari Damacy, where you roll a ball of rubbish through a town and it gets bigger and bigger and bigger (that phallus again). We puzzle for a while over why Tetris is the most popular game for women – a metaphor for dieting, perhaps?

His songs seem to demonstrate a longing for the combination of adventure and order that you find in video games, rather than the mundane, arbitrary chaos of day-to-day life. ‘I need an empire to overthrow’, he sings in ‘Adventure.exe’. ‘You make me wish for a more dangerous life/ so I could show you ‘bout self-sacrifice…’

OK. So the song ‘He Poos Clouds’ is all about you having a boner for Link from Zelda, right?

“Well. It hasn’t been obsessive, like me drawing drawings on my binder, but yes, I’ve certainly licked my lips a couple of times while playing the Zelda games. I think it’s the short tunic. Sometimes you do wonder what’s going on with the games designers, you know? There’s a character in Metal Gear Solid 2 where he is naked for part of game, walking round with his hands on his genitals, and all you can think is – what on earth are the designers thinking? Are they conscious of what they’re doing here? I could see if I was more hard-up for action or too poor for pornos I’d be wanking for video games. I never got that far but yeah... maybe I’m oversexed or something but I was always really attracted to Link.


'Maybe I'm oversexed or something, but I was
always really attracted to Link from Zelda.

“But the song’s not so much about attraction – it’s more about the relationships that you form with video games characters. Whether you’re owning a Nintendog or moving into a town in Animal Crossing, you do develop strange paternal feelings towards your character. In the song ‘He Poos Clouds’, I’m wondering what Link is thinking. I’m taking care to have him protected and keep him away from harm – I’m sharing all this time with him – and you would think he would develop some affection for me as well. But I think if he were to look into our world and compare it to his own, where he has statistics, a list of goals, where he can just open up his diary and say ‘well, today I have to do these four or five things’ – I think he’d find it sadly lacking. It’s a song about how there are fundamental things in a game world that are absent here.

“Our world is godless. Their world has many different gods that you can summon. They have specific tasks, concrete goals – it would be wonderful, if I were to make an album and somebody was like, these are the things you have to do to achieve your goal. And then at the end you’d get checkmarks, and a gold medal. But doesn’t work like that. In the song Link’s saying, ‘well, maybe I’d like to visit your world – but maybe not. I have to do things’. I find the whole idea of being a creature of service as a video game character far more appealing than being the free spirits we are in our world.”


Too often in life, A + B = WTF? In games, A + B = C. A video game character won’t cheat on you, run off on a three-day coke bender without calling to say where he is, or display any of the unpredictable quirks of humanity. ‘He Poos Clouds’ suggests that a video game character can make a better – or at least, more reliable and constant - friend or lover than another human. The music of Final Fantasy betrays a yearning for stability, whether that’s in the ordered world of the video game or the careful structures of the string arrangements.|

So what has playing games taught Owen about life?

“Games haven’t taught me anything about life – they’ve just taught me about what we lack. The worlds games present are utopias. They teach us about a world people are craving. Constant goals, and total beauty. That’s all anyone really wants.”



The second Final Fantasy album, He Poos Clouds, has just been released. (It’s OK. It’s a stupid title. You’re meant to laugh.) Here Owen returns to his classical roots, with all the songs arranged for string quartet and voice, plus a little bit of timpani, horns, and the occasional appearance from a choir. Ostensibly similar to Has a Good Home, what we have here, ladies and gents, couldn’t be more different – it’s a good old-fashioned Concept Album, complete with insert displaying Pallett’s carefully structured, multi-layered lyrics. These lyrics are jam-packed with references and allusions and instances of intertextuality, citing everything from video game characters, the Narnia stories, Japanese novelists, President Bush’s daughter, Irish winged devils and more, all structured around the theme of magic – specifically, the eight schools of magic within Dungeons and Dragons, and –

Er, Owen, these lyrics are totally impenetrable.

No, really, readers. They are – to the uninitiated. The vocals in He Poos Clouds are buried low in the mix – you get the suspicion that Owen Pallett’s not too keen on the sound of his own voice – and the advance copies were sent out without the lyric sheets, which seems a bit of a curious move for someone so keen on exploring concepts through words as well as music. This interview’s the first time I’ve seen a copy of the lyrics, and, well. I don’t know about Dungeons and Dragons and… I look at Owen. What’s it all about? I mean: “I'm not content/ You know I hate it when your friends are in the pool/Donna Karan/Old money stinking, send those faggots back to Forest Hill/And Kara Saun” . You might as well be speaking in tongues.

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