The Ultimate Fantasy

The words “final fantasy” usually conjure images of some guy with huge boots and impossibly spiky hair using his enormous sword to shoot fireballs at a bunch of woodland creatures in order to stop another guy with big hair from tainting the power of love. Or something.

This description is, of course, the plot of 12 or 13 video games baring the Final Fantasy moniker. For some, though, final fantasy might evoke images of a boyish man madly playing a violin through a series of pedals, creating the best classical music-cum-indie rock in Canada. While his hair might be normal, and he’s never shot a fireball at a squirrel in his life, Owen Pallet understands all the nerdy connotations behind the solo-project he calls Final Fantasy.

“I’m not denying there’s some sick, shooting-myself-in-the-face, self-sabotaging going on with [the name],” says Pallett. “There is a gimmicky side of it, but I just like crap. All my favourite movies, books and [albums] are all kind of crappy. Even though I’m trying to make this classical music, I hope people realize that the foundations beneath it are meant to be semi-serious. On the flip side, I fundamentally believe that joking about something is the only way to have people take you seriously.”

Pallett takes his own advice to heart. As if naming your band after a popular series of video games wasn’t enough, he named his second Final Fantasy album–which is loosely based upon the eight schools of magic in Dungeons & Dragons–He Poos Clouds. Taking all this into account, anyone could be excused for writing Pallett and his music off as nothing more than video game theme covers or fantasy metal. In reality though, He Poos Clouds was almost entirely written for, and performed by, a string quartet.

“I had the idea that I was going to make a string quartet album before I made [Final Fantasy’s first album] Has a Good Home,” Pallett explains. “It was just taking a lot of work, a lot of reading and research. I wanted the string quartet to be the basis of the album, not the superfluous earrings of the album. In order to do that, I had to make sure my writing was idiosyncratic with correct string writing.”

Despite his eccentricities, Pallett has managed to carve out a niche for himself. Reviews of both He Poos Clouds and Has a Good Home have been exceptional and Final Fantasy shows are rapidly reaching legendary status–even if they’re little more than Pallett, a violin and a bunch of gizmos he pushes with his feet. Some might attribute this success to his membership in Canadian indie juggernauts, the Arcade Fire, but Pallett refuses to make this connection.

“I do have an affiliation with Arcade Fire and if that is what is responsible for Final Fantasy’s success then that makes me feel kind of worthless,” he notes. “I think what’s responsible for the success of Final Fantasy is the quality of the material I turn out. I will not credit the Arcade Fire with any of my successes or failures.”

Nor should he. Final Fantasy and the Arcade Fire aren’t the only hats he wears. A workhorse in the Canadian music scene, Pallet has also been a member of Les Mouches and Picastro, currently plays in the Hidden Cameras, and did the string arrangements on Jim Guthrie’s breakthrough 2003 album, Now, More than Ever. On top of all this he even finds time to pick the music for CBC’s The Vinyl Cafe.

These experiences, and others from his personal life, inevitably wind their way into Final Fantasy songs. Pallett’s subject matter, even when dealing with Dungeons & Dragons, is almost always himself. And sometimes he’s a harsh critic.

“You satirize something because you want it to be fixed in some way,” he says. “I’m mainly satirizing myself or my current living situations or my relationships with the people around me because I feel that other people could benefit from hearing where I made my mistakes. I also feel like I could benefit from putting my mistakes down in writing.”

While Pallet’s obvious nerdiness might turn the snobbish off his work, his critical reputation speaks for itself. Not bad for a guy many people confuse with a video game.

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