If you thought Rush was geeky–with their hockey-hair mullets and myriad references to wizardry–then you haven't met fellow Canadian Owen Pallett. The 25-year-old Torontonian, who records strikingly original violin compositions and breathy vocals under the moniker Final Fantasy, attempts to "remodel fantasy fiction as a musical medium, and one that is satirical," he says. Central to Final Fantasy's aesthetic are '80s videogames, Lewis Carroll, and Gore Vidal's Duluth.
Trained in violin from a young age, and continuing its study through his time at the University of Toronto, Pallett played in numerous groups, including The Hidden Cameras, Picastro, The Arcade Fire, and Les Mouches (which he describes as "like Grizzly Bear but more aggro and less good"). He also wrote two operas and scored a few videogames alongside his brother, who worked in the gaming industry. After a string of group projects, Pallett decided to go it alone; he recorded his first solo effort as Final Fantasy, Has a Good Home, in 2005.
Pallett says Has A Good Home "isn't that great," but his second album, He Poos Clouds, sure is. The record finds Pallett channeling singers as far flung as Xiu Xiu's Jamie Stewart and actor/director John Cameron Mitchell while threading together lyrically rich, oddly constructed narratives, including an ode to Toronto real estate mogul Brad Lamb (the brilliant "This Lamb Sells Condos"). Recorded with a string quartet in Barcelona, He Poos Clouds followed a couple of basic rules: Every song had to be written for strings and voice (so as to be recreate-able in the solo live setting with a violin and sampler); and, as a whole, the album had to "attempt to modernize each of the eight Dungeons & Dragons schools of magic."
Though most people try to disguise their gaming past, Pallett's pride in his nerdy, theatrical side has paid off. In September, Final Fantasy was awarded Canada's inaugural Polaris Prize (akin to Britain's Mercury Prize), which is based on artistic merit, and chosen by critics from across the country. Having beaten out The New Pornographers, Wolf Parade, Broken Social Scene, and Metric for the award, Pallett's typical Canadian modesty shines through when he discusses the win: "I am skeptical about the designation of an album as 'best,' because... I don't like the idea that the quality of an album may be judged on the musical aptitude," he says, adding, "I would've been extremely happy if any of the other nominees won. Happier, perhaps."
But twenty grand is twenty grand. "I'm giving $9000 to the other musicians involved in He Poos Clouds because they're all otherwise unemployed or have new babies," Pallett enumerates. "I'm giving $5000 to my boyfriend to pay off his student loan. [And] I'm giving $6000 back to Blocks, [a Canadian artist collective and record label], to finance the making of more 'not the best' albums."