Band Booking: Owen Pallett

Posted by Jason Diamond

Welcome to the first installment of Band Booking, a series where we ask some of our favorite musicians to talk about books.

To start things off, we asked Owen Pallett.  His most recent album, Heartland, was easily one of our favorites of 2010.  For those who don’t know more about Pallett, he is the composer, violinist, keyboardist and songwriter also responsible for the 2006 Polaris Music Prize album He Poos Clouds; as well as the person behind the string arrangements for some of the most important musicians of the last decade from Arcade Fire to The Mountain Goats and Beirut.

Have you read any recently published books that you liked?

I’m a pre-1950 kind of reader mostly but I loved the new Jonathan Franzen and David Mitchell.  David Mitchell in particular, I can’t get enough of that book.  Also his previous Tokyo-based one number9dream, really puts a lot of Nihonophilia into perspective.  Number9dream dealt with the subtleties of Tokyo life in this nicely sympathetic way that felt more like a love letter to Haruki Murakami than any sort of gaijin voyeurism.  And then Jacob de Zoet is set in Edo-period Dejima?  Aside from Mitchell’s witty, witty, witty, witty, witty prose style, it handles the subject matter– an inter-racial relationship– with sympathy and tact.  It’s a fantastic book, reads quick and addictive.


What have you been reading lately?

I’m reading some lesser known Lovecraft, I found a couple of old paperbacks filled with stories that aren’t his greatest hits.  There’s a nice commentary on each on from people who knew him.  It’s a nice contrast to that Houellebecq book on Lovecraft.

I never got into sci-fi as a kid, not really, but I’ve been reading a lot of it the last couple of year.  I read Cryptonomicon and a bunch of other Neal Stephenson stuff, a bunch of Philip K. Dick.  My favourite favourite, though, really, the best sci-fi I’ve ever read, is a short story collection by Ted Chiang, Stories Of Your Life And Others.

What are your favorite books ever, and why do you like them so much?


After The Banquet and Nip The Buds, Shoot The Kids have always been my favourites, by Mishima and Oe respectively.  That post-war period of Japanese fiction really resonated with me, the way both those authors– and others– were able to turn human activity into something both deeply political and also very graceful in a Classical sort of way.  I also like how those two authors represent opposing political viewpoints, it’s like their novels are mocking each other.

You said of the songs on Heartland that  you “wanted to have this contained narrative that has the breadth of a Paul Auster short story.”  Are you a big Auster fan?  Did you read his latest book?

I must confess I’m not the biggest Paul Auster fan.  I did read City Of Glass and enjoyed it, and felt that it might serve as an easy reference point for what’s going on with the lyrics of my album, but the two aren’t really very similar.  I’m not particularly good at talking about my own lyrics, I try and avoid it… any time I’m pressed for details I end up saying things I don’t mean.