Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Final Fantasy

Final Fantasy, aka the ridiculous world of Owen Pallett, plays in Montreal tonight with Bell Orchestre at the beautiful Le Theatre National. Dates in eastern Canada follow.

I was smitten with Final Fantasy from the first time I heard the debut Has a Good Home, which was on a beautiful, snowy and lazy January day with my lovely lady in Montreal in early 2005. I didn't seem him perform live as FF until he opened three nights for the Arcade Fire at Theatre Corona in Montreal, and needless to say, I was stunned--not only at how good it was, but by how he had the crowd in the palm of his hand. I haven't missed a show since.

I wrote a cover story for Exclaim on Final Fantasy when He Poos Clouds came out this spring. At that time, it seemed like a minor risk for the magazine to put Owen Pallett on their cover. They were worried that it was too much of a Toronto thing--a common concern at that national paper, considering the country's hate-on for its biggest city and the disproportionate amount of attention that Toronto acts get in the national media, due to media concentration here.

I lobbied for the cover because not only did I think Owen's record deserved it on so many levels, but I knew that everyone would soon be talking about this record. For starters, there's the Arcade Fire connection, but also Final Fantasy stands so far apart from anything else happening in so-called indie rock. It's little wonder that he slays audiences every night and has caught the ear of a scene that threatens to lower expectations every passing week. Finally, I knew that Owen was going to tour his ass off, and it was a matter of time before the rest of the world--and , of course, Canada later on--recognized his talent, not just the so-called clique of Torontopians.


Since then, of course, he nabbed the inaugural Polaris Prize, which seemed to shock most mainstream observers--even including the surprisingly conservative bunch at CBC Radio 3, who seemed downright appalled that an album without any guitars or drums could possibly win this prize (Grant Lawrence's later Damascene conversion notwithstanding). And, naturally, knee-jerk accusations of Torontocentrism were lobbed at (and within) the jury (6/10 of whom were from Toronto). But everyone in the room that night was rooting for him--he received the most rousing applause of any of the nominees who performed, and was namechecked by other nominees at the podium (even ones from Vancouver, Grant!). The room positively erupted when he was announced the winner.


Full disclosure part full of shameless namedropping: I've known Owen for years. I first saw him play with the Hidden Cameras in December 2001, when they opened for Royal City's CD release party. He then started playing with my friends in the Three Gut roster: Gentleman Reg, Jim Guthrie, Royal City and the Constantines, and we crossed paths many times. I remember he was big on cross-pollination; for a while he curated a night at a tiny College St. bar that brought people together to collaborate. The first one, I think, had himself, now-Broken Social Scene violinist Julie Penner, and Bry Webb of the Constantines. He once tried to put on a Prince tribute night at Rancho Relaxo and invited my band to play; we dutifully rehearsed but Owen cancelled the night at the absolute last minute (we'd already shown up at the club) because a couple of acts had dropped out. We were royally pissed, but I didn't hold it against him.
I once interviewed Royal City for a CBC Radio 3 session in Toronto; Owen (as well as Bob Wiseman) were sitting in. We all had lunch and listened while he waxed ecstatic about Joni Mitchell's late 70s albums and Jane Siberry.


In Montreal, he invited me to see Les Mouches, a band featuring his guitar playing, his own songs and a tension-filled backing duo of electric guitar and drums. It was their first show in Montreal, which I loved, even though the setting was too low-key for him and he lamented that they didn't play their shoutier, more abrasive songs that night. He made up for that the next time I saw that band play at Pop Montreal at a packed Casa del Popolo as part of a Blocks showcase (the recording co-operative he's a part of); he ended the set by standing on top of the bar and shrieking over the musical chaos his bandmates were unleashing on stage.


Owen is always a good talker--a mix of humility and arrogance, always funny, always thoughtful. He's also happy to talk about anything but music; the last extended conversation I had with him (other than this interview) involved culinary tips.


Bla bla bla, namedropping. Why run this post now? Well, in the wake of his Polaris win, the Exclaim cover story has resurfaced again--thanks to some snippy muckrakers on the Exclaim message board. Owen actually responded to them here, and it sounds like he's disavowing our conversation. Exclaim ran his response in their letters section this month, making the discussion more public. Knowing Owen, I found his response funny, even though other people are taking it seriously. Exclaim's publisher wanted me to enter the message board fray. I declined, because the bomb-lobbers there are little more than braying boobs. But I will say this for the record: Owen always wants to retract statements if he thinks they make him sound pompous, a descriptor often lobbed by his critics.

Case in point: When I worked at Brave New Waves, part of my job was to do pre-interviews for the host, Patti Schmidt, during which I'd determine what topics would be good button-presers (in a positive way, that is) and also tell the subject how the interview would run. We had a great pre-interview, and I was excited to hear how he would bounce off of Patti, who is a big fan. But I made the mistake of reminding Owen that it wasn't being aired live, and that we could edit any major fumbles or awkward silences before it went to air. He took full advantage of this and tried to retract nearly everything that came out of his mouth, much to Patti's chagrin. What should have been a great interview between an enthusiastic host and a fascinating talker instead fizzled out into a frustrating mess before our ears.

So if Owen wants to retract any statements he made in the original Exclaim story, that's fine. It's true that the interview was conducted in less-than-ideal circumstances, but it took place during a week before he left for a European tour, right before the record came out, when he literally didn't have a free hour unless he was in a van driving to a gig. But it's not like he wasn't as articulate and thoughtful as always. Would it have been different if we had been sitting in his kitchen? I doubt it. I still think he gives great quote, no matter the circumstance.

He Poos Clouds
was very new to me when I did this interview; I didn't have much time with the lyrics and I felt underprepared to talk about it in depth. Knowing as much as I did about his history and aesthetic, I wasn't worried about it. I knew that everyone else would mostly be asking about "This Lamb Sells Condos" and the D&D connection; because I knew I had a larger word count, I wanted to dive into other matters. Plus, I haven't looked at a D&D book in 20 years (believe me, I looked at them at a lot back then). The Mishima material was a stab in the dark based on a conversation we had about a year beforehand, but it proved--to me, anyway--to be the best part of the conversation. And I knew that wouldn't pop up in any 500w piece somewhere else. I remain grateful to Exclaim for giving this story the prominence and the space it deserved.

Okay, I think that preamble might be longer than the story itself...




Final Fantasy

April 18 2006

locale: phone interview, en route to a gig in Waterloo in the back of a van

I know you worked on He Poos Clouds for considerably longer than you did on Has a Good Home, which was done in six days. How did you approach this one?

It’s a shorter record, but it’s packed! The two records are kind of opposites. The first was made quickly and we were improvising as we went along. This one was very deliberate and every note is well chosen. To my ears, they don’t sound at all like the same band. I find that this record is less orchestrated than the first one. There are fewer instruments on it. There’s an organ, piano and harpsichord on it.

There’s a lyric here: “It’s a tearful day when a boy must learn his limitations.” Does that apply to you and deadlines and concepts?

No, no. Nothing as mundane as that! It’s a larger scale thing. I started to realise that anytime anybody volunteers you any information, you know that the information is actually false. It’s a total golden rule that if someone says to me in a bar or a social situation, ‘Oh, normally I’m a very calm person.’ I know that they are the least calm person. It’s not a mistrust thing. It’s that as soon as people feel the need to assert something, you know that it’s actually not true. When you think about beauty products and what they do, you know it’s actually not the case. Nobody’s ever actually satisfied with them. That song is about the process of change.

It seems like there is a lot less first person on this record. True?

Really? Well, there’s no love songs on the record, other than the title track. The first record was primarily love songs, and this one is a conceptual idea.

Let’s talk about “I’m Afraid of Japan.” I seem to remember you and I talking about Japanese literature and gay tragedy before. Does that play into those lyrics?

I wanted to close the book on it. I’ve been reading Yukio Mishima and he’s been sticking his ugly head into a lot of the stuff that I’ve been writing. He hangs like a spectre. Mishima and Morrissey, who in my head are these two figures who are tied together in some way, are these incredibly talented but malevolent forces. The actual function of both of their writing is something very negative and destructive. The question is whether it’s necessary or not. To my mind there’s no disputing that Mishima is the greatest author of the 20th century, and to me Morrissey is probably the most interesting figure in pop music of the last 30 years. There are so many different sides to what they’re writing about.

What’s the appeal of the tragedy in both those figures?

It’s like believing in a lie, basically. Life is not that tragic or dramatic. It would be wonderful if it was, but the way Mishima writes and the way people feel in his novels, he over-philosophizes and applies meaning to so many things that are inconsequential. His books are all about abstract notions that are convincing when you read it. You think it’s a neat idea. But it’s all the groundwork for fascism. He proved himself to be suicidal and had beliefs and views on the way life should be led and homosexuality that in the long run are negative. I think Mishima is both overappreciated and underappreciated. Underappeciated in that not enough people in the West read him, and overappreciated in that the most interesting aspect of him is that he was a murderer. He was responsible for the deaths of two men in the end, as well as his own life. He was a violent, awful guy, with a lot of misguided political ideas. His political ideas and his literary career go hand in hand.

How does all this manifest itself musically? The coda to that song is the most dissonant thing on the record.

I’m making fun of his concept of suicide and the idea of a glorious death. He died what he perceived to be an honorable death. He tried to launch a political coup, it failed, and his general beheaded him. In a way, I’m lampooning what’s going on in a suicidal person’s mind as they try to map it out. ‘If I do it with an icepick/ will I come back as a jock?/ If I fast until starvation/ will I be born again a Christian?”

Here is Mishima, who had this love/hate relationship with Buddhism all his life. His four-part epic The Sea of Fertility is an examination of this boy who is born again three times, so he lives four lives. He comes in contact with this one character who runs through all four books. The character meets him as a youth, then a young adult, and then as an old man, and each time the boy lives until he is 21 and then dies and is reborn. In the first book, the boy has an affair with a nun, and he ends up dying because she goes into a convent and he is hanging out outside and freezes to death. There’s a lot of talk of Buddhism and Mishima’s own beliefs, but then at the end of the fourth book, the climax has a reunion between the nun and the old man who’s been a friend of the boy. He tells her his story and says, ‘Oh, remember that boy who was infatuated with you? I’ve spent my entire life being there as he’s been reincarnated over and over again.’ Then she tells him that she remembers no such boy and that the boy was a figment of his imagination.

In a way, it’s a refutation of Buddhism, which the entire epic has been about. That final book was delievered to the publisher on the day that Mishima committed suicide. In a way it’s kind of hilarious that Mishima is going to commit suicide, which he wouldn’t be doing unless he believed in some kind of reincarnation.

I’m not 100 per-cent sure of the connection between seppuku and Buddhism, so I’m not sure what was going on in his mind at the time. He had just spent eight years of his life writing a testament to Buddhism and then at the end, he writes, ‘Actually, all of this is shit and I don’t believe it’ and then killed himself—it says to me that the thoughts going around in his head were hilarious. The fact that he wants to come back as a jock or a Christian is symbolic of his total craving for Western culture, as well as his fascination with perfection. I spent so much time on that song trying to work into every word the feelings I have for Mishima. I could probably talk about it for days and people would lose interest.

Let’s move on then. On “This Lamb Sells Condos,” are there three different narrative voices in it?

There’s my own voice, and then the voice of two condo developers. It was supposed to be the voice of Bryan J. Lamb, the condo realtor, and his wife, and the fights I would overhear them having in their apartment, which was above my boyfriend’s apartment.

Does he live there?

Yeah, but maybe you don’t have to make that connection public! [ed note: it has since become public, even appearing in the National Post.] The song was originally called ‘The Shroud of Bryan J. Lamb.’ It was changed because I didn’t want him to get really pissed off or anything. Most of the sentiment expressed between the two characters at the end of that song, are actually things that I heard people yelling through the walls. That song is kind of non-fiction.

How conscious are you about specifically Torontonian or Canadian references?

I honestly don’t really think about it. I’ve heard songs that are specifically written for the glorification of Canada, and I try and steer away from that.

What do you think when foreign writers play up those references in your songs and express curiosity about them?

I don’t have a good answer to that question. I haven’t actually experienced that myself. If people do consider the writing as being referential and view it as some kind of exotic thing, I would stress that they should listen to more Canadian-sounding musicians like Buffy Ste. Marie, who when you listen to them you get more a real sense of what traditional Canada is like. Toronto is so many different things to so many different people that I would never claim that anything I write would be indicative of that, not in the same way that Mike Skinner or the Arctic Monkeys are actually supposed to be writing about a Saturday night on the town [in Britain].

I read live reports from the first American tour by writers who thought you were playing up your Canadianisms on stage.

At the time, it was tax season and I have a song about paying taxes. I wasn’t playing up the difference between America and Canada so much as I was speaking about the difference between socialist countries and less socialist countries. Maggie MacDonald [Hidden Cameras, Republic of Safety] and I had this particular delight in discovering that a couple of people we talked to in Sweden thought that paying taxes was a delightful process. Instead of it being, ‘Omigod, I have to pay that much,’ it was more like, ‘Now I have to calculate exactly how much money I have to donate to the country that provides the roads I drive on and the sidewalks I walk on.’ Shortly after that, I was stressing about my own taxes and it was Stuart MacLean, of all people—who makes a tonne of money and probably has to pay a lot of tax every year, and who incidentally also benefits from CBC funding—he gave me this incredible speech about how important it was to pay tax. It was really inspiring!

In Washington, D.C. I got booed because I said, ‘Hey, do you ever get the idea that paying taxes is a wonderful feeling?’ This was at the same time that Sharon Jones recorded a song called ‘What If We All Stop Paying Taxes?’ to coincide with the re-election of George W. Bush.

I read your Wavelength interview [conducted in January 2005] with No Dynamics recently where they assailed the idea of community in the Toronto scene, arguing that it just meant that the same small group of people just went to see each other’s bands all the time and didn’t allow for growth or cross-pollination.

They said, “Everyone is so busy being cool, only supporting their friends and never noticing anything new. Every show becomes the same thing and you can’t convince people to like it or come to your shows, unless so-and-so is in the band. The community is based on nepotism, bands get popular because of all the friends they have, not because they make good music.

“Everyone is so busy being cool, only supporting their friends and never noticing anything new. Every show becomes the same thing and you can’t convince people to like it or come to your shows, unless so-and-so is in the band. The community is based on nepotism, bands get popular because of all the friends they have, not because they make good music.”

In light of those comments, what are pros and cons of the Toronto music scene for you? Is there any truth in that statement for you?

I have no other scene to compare it to. In Toronto, there is some backslapping going on. But every single time I go for coffee with somebody they end up griping about how someone’s really mad at them for no reason whatsoever. That was an interesting thing because the whole concept of Blocks is very community-oriented.

Over the course of its existence it’s come under fire from a lot of different sources. The key source was a very weakly-worded argument—retardedly weak. It was Elizabeth Bromstein’s attack on a Blanket show [in NOW Magazine], when she looked at Steve Kado’s brilliant performance as the Blanket, which is meant to be taken very seriously and is an artistic project, but she only saw it as bad singing and unplugged electric bass. She saw what he was doing as lazy as opposed to actually a really great idea. After seeing that, she called into question the whole idea of opening the doors of the recorded medium to everybody, allowing everyone to make and release records. If everyone is doing it then nothing is special. Her bad argument was essentially Blocks’ heroic victory. Steve was upset about it, but it was the perfect distillation about what is so great about Blocks—which is that it will piss off a lot of people who all of the sudden become irrelevant, namely music critics, as a result of having an active community with dozens of albums all the time.

Daniel Vila of No Dynamics called into question the concept of community because—well, I’ll call a spade a spade and say that Wavelength kinda sucks these days. Through no fault of anyone’s—not the people who go there, nor the people who program it, nor the departure of Johnny Bunce. It’s just old; it’s been there for years. It’s something we should all support and keep doing because it could turn over, but it’s a very different scene.

Has it become predictable? Less sense of adventure?

It’s not better because it was underground before, but I seem to remember a lot better music and a better vibe. I spend most of my time in communication with people I don’t think are particularly sleazy, schmoozy or self-serving. At the same time, I’ve had friends of mine say that I’m a scenester and call into question my motives for communicating with people at all. At the time it was a shock, but it came from someone who doesn’t go to shows. he was like, ‘Why don’t people go to my shows?’ And I said, ‘Well, you don’t go to anyone else’s show, why would they come to yours?’ You can’t expect a band to succeed on music alone when there are so many bands out there.

From the outside, it would appear that the runaway success of Final Fantasy in 2005 put Blocks on hold and slowed down the release schedule. Is that true?
Yeah. When Has a Good Home was done, Steve and I were listening to it and I said, ‘This will sell lots of copies! Blocks will make money!’ To me, it was less of a pompous statement than it was a recognition that the Arcade Fire were going to blow up, because Steve and I knew that from day one. So we thought we might sell 2000 copies of the record instead of 200. But it went out of control, and Blocks wasn’t able to take of it. In some fashion they still aren’t, although things are way, way better and things are going smoothly. At that moment of transition between being a recording club and a fully functional label, and now it’s trying to get back to its recording club roots. There were times when I would come over to Steve’s place with a cheque, and he’d say, ‘Oh, man, you’re totally killing me.’ I’d say, ‘What are you talking about, I’m giving you money here!’ He’d say, ‘You’re ruining my life!’

I think it’s good in the long run, because there are certain bands on Blocks that can put out releases and have them as catalogue things and people will know about them for the history books. Then there’s also stuff like Deep Dark United or Hank that is so criminally underrated, where Blocks ought to have the capital to make a hard sell, old-school label effort to try and get these bands in the hands of a larger audience.

Seems to be a return to virtuosity in a lot of music these days, and not in a show-offy way either—people like Fiery Furnaces, Joanna Newsom, and Laura Barrett. Do you think rank amateurism is possibly played out now?

I don’t want to get into it too much, because I have a deep love for music made by non-musicians. Nine times out of ten it’s better than music made by musicians. It takes a bunch of art students to come along and say, ‘We don’t like your music with no ideas. Let’s have music with ideas!’ And now music students have risen up and said, ‘Well, we have ideas too and we can play our instruments!’ All it takes is an encounter with a guy like Steve Kado to take someone out of their funk band and into some band that involves wall-painting as a live performance practice, and then you have the best band in the world.

Most of the stuff that I was into before was academic new music, and of the pop music stuff I liked I was more into the mechanical aspects of it, and not really the greater intellectual things in it. It took a long time of hanging out with Steve Kado before I got it, and I think it wasn’t until he started Barcelona Pavilion that I did, because that illustrated it perfectly.

You wrote video game music when you were 13 for a game your brother designed. Why did you not do more?

The music was really crap. John, my brother, created a sequel to that game that was never released because of a contract issue with the people who were funding the project.

(bunch of midi talk)

Is that why you’re such a huge fan of [Destroyer’s] Your Blues?

I’m a fan of Your Blues for more than technical reasons. But the conceptual idea of combining the topics and delivery of Destroyer songs with Midi orchestration I find to be totally mind-blowing. People find it artifiical, but I find it far more honest. I don’t want to dis his band, who are a nice sort of band, but in comparison to Your Blues it just sounds like barroom rock.

There was a rumour floating around that me and Dan were going to work together. That came out of the fact that I talked to the guy from [Spanish record label] Acuarela while intoxicated. I said, ‘I want to tour with him and bring brass players and harpsichords and play Your Blues the way it’s meant to be played!’ That’s all that happened. I’ve never met Dan in my life, and I’d be shy to tell him this, because he doesn’t need a shit like me telling him how to make music.

Is there a melodic influence of video game music on any of this material?

“This Lamb Sells Condos” is actually a rip-off of John Fahey. I find it to be a wicked compositional basis, which is taking a song written on one instrument and learning it on another and finding out the interesting non-idiomatic things that come out of the instrument that way. If you play the guitar like it’s a piano, you have a new style. That song is just Scott Joplin ragtime really, but there’s nothing more ragtime than Super Mario Brothers.

You write on what instrument?

Most of it on the violin. I want to write more songs on paper at the piano.

I once saw you do a show with [Hidden Cameras’] Lex Vaughn on drums. Have you thought of expanding the live show?

I have, but I’m going to stick with looped violins. I might make some cosmetic additions to the technological set-up. There was a while when I wanted to stop and do something else, which is in my nature. But at this point I’d rather get really good at what I’m trying to do. I think the albums will sound less and less like looped violin, but the live shows will continue to be looped violin.

What about songs you can’t play live? I know you didn’t do “Please Please Please” until very recently.

I just bought another pedal that allowed me to drop stuff down an octave and give it a punch. Other than that, it was just a lot of practice. With that song, a sloppy rendition of it is the result of four months of incredibly steady practice. I have to play difficult lines with a lot of shifting and harmonics while singing. Even the vocal melody is difficult to sing.

For a while I remember you talking about recording several albums at once and staggering releases. What happened to that idea?

He Poos Clouds took five times the amount of time I thought it was going to take. I hope people don’t listen to the record thinking, ‘Wow, this took a lot of work.’ But frankly, it did. I’m pretty behind on the recording end of things. I’ve been trying to do a really good live show. There’s a seven-inch we were supposed to record two years ago, which is kind of annoying.

I understand that He Poos Clouds is based on the schools of magic from Dungeons and Dragons. There are 10 songs here, and eight schools of magic. How does that math work?

The last song is an epilogue. It’s an allusion to the last chapter of The Sea and Fertility that I told you about, and also to a book where a character in a book comes to life and sings about this stuff that… (cell phone signal crackles out).

So what are the eight schools of magic?

In order they are: abduration, illusion, conjuration, necromancy, encampment, evocation, divination, transmutation.

Where do they appear in the game?

That’s when you become a mage and you have to choose which school of magic you’re going to be. I’m looking at AD&D second edition books.

How heavily are/were you into the game?

I’ve only played two or three games of it in my life. But I have the books and I read them a lot. I find them really interesting from an anthropological perspective. It’s a new system of belief that’s entirely fictional and yet so resolute in its ability to explain everything and simply the entire workings of the universe with use of statistics and roll of dice. If you were to consider that our lives as being ruled by the laws of Dungeons and Dragons, it’s not far off! It’s a rigorous adaptation of day-to-day phenomena into dice rolls and books. At the same time, it’s created strictly for entertainment purposes. My argument is—and this is the reason for the existence of this record—that though it was created for entertainment purposes, it does fill a mental need that a lot of people who do not have an actual system of beliefs require. I’m not trying to stereotype D&D players as godless atheists, but come on, D&D isn’t played by most youth groups.

To my mind, atheism is actually the most difficult of all the religions, the most taxing. Despite the fact that atheism does not require you to pray five times a day or anything like that, it’s actually the most strenuous one from a mental perspective. You have to develop your own moral ideas and a way of existing.

Yeah, but it can also be an easy way out. I don’t think a lot of people bother to do all that work.

They absolutely do. Everyone does. Otherwise they go crazy. You have to have some sort of a reason for living. You cannot tell me that for a music geek, music has not become its own form of religion. In what circumstances would you see the message board battles where music critics nastily debunk music they think is bad? Essentially it’s religious zealotry, because these people don’t have god in their lives. Which I think is a good thing, because it’s far better to have wars over stuff like music.

On this album you say there’s only one love song, yet you continually profess your love for emotionally manipulative music. What joy do you get from it? I’ve heard talk of you aspiring to make it yourself in various projects.

I don’t know. I don’t have a good answer for that.

What’s the status of King Tut and Tenderizer [side projects he first told me about here]?

Tenderizer is just waiting to happen. The songs are ready. I had to cut off my nails because I wasn’t playing guitar so much. It’s been put on hold, because frankly, the music is kinda crappy. It will be a fun record to make eventually, but at this point I’d rather schedule a week of relaxation than spend time making a Tenderizer record. It might be interesting to have these songs written but record them 20 years from now.

King Tut?

Alex [Snukal] and I talk about it a lot. Alex can’t even take care of his responsibility with Blocks and Animal Monster and his schoolwork. He’s a busy guy. So am I.

How many copies did you sell of Has a Good Home?

I have no idea. At least 10,000. More than J. Englishman’s Poor Little Rock Star. But not enough that if Warner had released it that they would have considered it successful. How’s that for an answer?

Are you still picking fights with that family?! [J. Englishman is the brother of Esthero; Owen played violin on a track on her long-delayed second album. He wasn’t paid for a long time and then complained about it on Stillepost, prompting a public smackdown there from Esthero, who blamed her management, and a subsequent apology from Owen. Ah, internet.)
Oh no, I have no beef with them. I publically apologized! I have nothing but respect and sadness for that J. Englishman situation. I heard he had to sell a house. I just think it’s hilarious that he was a serious musician who just wanted to make records, fell in with Warner Brothers, sold 6000 copies of his record that they considered a failure, and then they stopped returning his phone calls and he ended up in a heap of debt. That’s ridiculous, because if you make something and sell 6000 copies of it, that’s awesome! Fuck Warner.

That’s more than most best-selling books sell. Had Win or anyone else in Arcade Fire heard Final Fantasy before they booked you as opening act?

No.

That was entirely on trust.

Yes.

What has being inside and outside that operation taught you about the pop music biz?

Well. Um. I’ll be very happy if I never sell more than 10,000 copies of any record, I’ll just say that. I’d be very happy if I only sold 500 copies of every record I made for the rest of my life. Anything more than that is like a bell curve, and I don’t know where the magic number is but I definitely do not want to be expected to sell a million copies, which is the position they’re in now. They seem to be handling it pretty well. I saw Win last night, and he’s a new man. He cut his hair and he looks 21.

What’s next on the agenda?

This might sound arrogant or whatever, but I put a lot of work into the record and I’m really proud of the results. I’m waiting with baited breath to find out what people think of it, because I think it’s awesome. Some people are going to hate it, and I can’t wait to receive that hatred! But others are really going to like it.

What will the Vinyl Café crowd think of it? [Owen was a music producer on CBC Radio's most popular program, playing mostly folkie MOR material. Final Fantasy performed on the show many times when it was still a very new project for him.]
I haven’t thought of that. I hope the title will deter them from buying it. If anyone says they’re disappointed with the new record, they’ll casually get my middle finger. I made the first record for them to be happy about. This is the record I’m happy with.

How conscious was that with the first record?

Very conscious. It was a total placating manoeuvre! I don’t want it to sound like I’m calling Final Fantasy fans idiots or something, because I don’t feel that way. It’s just that my personal taste does not include Has a Good Home. I’m really happy that some people are into it, but it was written specifically with Vinyl Café in mind.

My biggest hope is that people who get into Final Fantasy will subsequently become fans of Deep Dark United and Hank and SS Cardiacs because I think Blocks has the best catalogue ever—of any label in the world! I’m serious! Three Gut had a very good roster with less than 20 releases, and Rough Trade had a good period in the 80s with maybe the best run of records ever. There’s lots of great labels around the world, but I think every band on Blocks is totally wonderful.

-end-

tomorrow: the auxiliary interviews that accompanied the original piece.

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