Owen Pallett on Heartland, Mariah Carey

Perhaps best known as an auxiliary member of Arcade Fire (he was responsible for the string arrangments on Funeral and Neon Bible), Canadian singer-songwriter-composer Owen Pallett has also quietly built a solo brand with his one-man band, Final Fantasy. Rather than talk copyrights with gaming company Square Enix, Pallett announced last month that he would drop his old handle and release his latest album, Heartland (out today), under his own name. We spoke to him last month about his new record, and Mariah Carey. (PHOTO BY RYAN PFLUGER)

INTERVIEW: Was there any kind of concept behind Heartland?

OWEN PALLETT: I just wanted to make a really good album. There is sort of a narrative and there are some ideas I was piecing out when I was writing the orchestral parts, but I was just trying to make a beautiful orchestral album…The record is about the beginning, middle, and end of a relationship. It’s not, like, a sex relationship–it’s kind of a changing relationship. It’s between a person and their creator–their god–or, in this case, their author. The person is a character named Lewis who sings all the songs, pretty much, and the creator is me. So, it’s about becoming aware of the boundaries of the album that he exists in and thinking about the way his surroundings are constructed. It kind of takes on a lot of parallels to Old Testament stuff. And, as was pointed out to me, a Daffy Duck cartoon, Duck Amuck, where Daffy is interacting with the cartoonist and they have sort of a squabble.

INTERVIEW: How long did it take to make?

PALLETT: When you add up all the hours, not that long, because it took so long in pre-production. I spent about a month writing and demo-ing it, and then I went to the studio with abuout twenty-two songs and was there for like a week-and-a-half tracking them. And then there was only one day with the orchestra, and about five days doing percussion and winds and stuff like that.

INTERVIEW: So you write all the instrumental parts yourself?

PALLETT: Oh, yeah, yeah. I printed them–I didn’t even have a copy. It was ridiculous.

INTERVIEW: There’s a great video of you covering Mariah Carey’s “Fantasy.” Do you still do that?

PALLETT: That was like the second time I ever played it. I don’t even remember what state of mind I was in, and then I saw the video and said “Oh man, that’s the performance that got like half a million views? That sucks.” I remember there was some blog that was super into my music that was like, “This is one of the worst covers of all time.” I still play it sometimes, and I can actually fashion a white male version of Mariah Carey’s swoops and giggles and all that.

INTERVIEW: Are you a big Mariah Carey person?

PALLETT: She’s one of my favorites.  I think she’s actually one of the most significant musicians of the last ten years. People were doing their end-of-the-decade things and they asked who I thought the most significant musicians of the last ten years were, and I said without a doubt Mariah Carey. She started the decade as the biggest selling artist of all time, but one who was a complete pariah who everyone hated, and she had gone completely crazy, and by the end of this decade she’s made, I think, probably the most successful comeback in music history. It’s artful.

INTERVIEW: So she’s officially back?

PALLETT: If anything, I feel like she’s at that stage where Beyonce was where she put out B’Day, where all the hipsters and critics were like, “This is amazing,” but at the same time, it didn’t move as many records as they were expecting. And then she put out Sasha Fierce, which was kinda this adult contemporary stuff–at least one side of it–and it moves units because it reaches this whole massive part of the public, which are the people actually buying the records.

INTERVIEW: Did you see her in Precious?

PALLETT: I went to the premiere at the Toronto Film Festival–I actually was there at the premiere–but I had a fight with my boyfriend and I got up and left the theater. It was a traumatizing experience…All my friends got pictures with [Mariah] and I left! The fight was really bad.

Heartland is available today.