Owen Pallett Releases Surprise Album 'Island,' Explains Its Evolution from Acoustic to Orchestral
"We had been planning a fall release and a tour, but when quarantine happened, it occurred to us that we might bump it up, rather than push it back"
Published May 22, 2020Last month, Owen Pallett said his latest album, Island, was "coming very soon" and he meant it — Island is out now via Secret City Records. For proof, you can stream it down below.
Born from a nine-song cycle that has made appearances in Pallett's live set for years, Island took on many forms in development, from the original acoustic guitar demos — a departure from his trademark violin-based compositions — to an 80-minute orchestral version. The final product stands in the middle of the two approaches, with Pallett's acoustic building blocks augmented by sweeping arrangements courtesy of the London Contemporary Orchestra.
On balancing the two approaches, Pallett tells Exclaim! in an email, "My friends were all really attached to the demo version of the album that I made, and a few of them persuaded me to stick with it. I had the idea that I'd begin the album similarly to the demo version, but gradually have the orchestral version take over, like a house getting overgrown with vegetation."
The album also features the return of Lewis, Pallett's farmer character who starred in the songs of 2010's Heartland. "It's easier to write songs dealing with personal shit when they're cloaked in a fictional narrative," says Pallett. "A song about Lewis getting fucked into space is sexy and interesting. A song about me getting fucked into space? Nobody wants to hear that."
Not only was the primary focus on the guitar a new element of Pallett's compositions on Island, but so was a lack of attention paid to how the album's songs will be performed live — a prescient decision, given the current live music landscape, decimated by the looming threat of COVID-19.
"I'm not thinking about it, I'm not pretending I can prognosticate what is to come. Right now I am worried about the health of those who are immunocompromised. I am less worried about whether or not I'll be able to tour in the future. I plan to continue working on film scores and arrangements to pay the bills until I can get on the road again."
Another impact of the pandemic is that it prompted Pallett to release the record now, with little warning. "It was moved up," he says of the album's release. "We had been planning a fall release and a tour, but when quarantine happened, it occurred to us that we might bump it up, rather than push it back. It made the rollout easier. We didn't need to worry about manufacturing/distribution right away, we didn't need to worry about setting up any concurrent tours. I'm happy we did so."
Pallett also completed Exclaim!'s Isolation Nation Q&A, shedding light on how he's been spending his time under lockdown. Read that below, and keep scrolling to stream Island and watch the new video for album track "A Bloody Morning."
What's your self-isolation setup?
I am shacked up in a small but well-stocked apartment in Toronto. I have a very small home studio, but I have everything I need to work. I go to the store once a week. The biggest hurdle has been exercise. I'm looking forward to warmer weather so I might go swimming in the lake and for long bike rides.
Are you working on any music while on lockdown?
The first five weeks of lockdown, I was pretty depressed and not getting much done. It took a while for me to claw my way out. I've done production work on a bunch of other people's music, recorded some pocket string sections at home for clients, done a film score, stuff like that. It's been hard to stay motivated, but rewarding when I can do it.
What are you watching and listening to?
I enjoy the new Austra record a great deal. I read a couple of Kai Cheng Thom's books, too. I rewatched Season 3 of Twin Peaks. But mostly I've been playing video games. I replayed Breath of the Wild, Resident Evil 4 and Dark Souls.
How do you feel about the response to coronavirus?
I don't feel anything. I feel like we're faced with a remarkably unique tragedy and we're all trying to grapple with it as best as we can.
Have you picked up any new hobbies or routines in isolation?
Smoke more weed, drink less booze. That's really the ticket. I have my ex-boyfriend to credit for helping get me off the bottle and onto the bong. It's been a life-saver.
Stream and purchase Island.