NEW YORK (Billboard) – During his first song at a recent concert at Philadelphia's Theater of the Living Arts, Owen Pallett began playing a soft progression on his violin. After a minute, he dropped the instrument to his side, but the violin arrangement continued to play, revealing the segment as a loop. "Yeah, it's going to be that kind of show," Pallett told the dazzled audience.
Pallett has spent years cultivating an offbeat charm as Final Fantasy, a moniker he recently dropped due to trademark infringement against the Square/Enix videogame of the same name. On the eve of the release of his third solo album, "Heartland," due January 12, the Toronto native is ready to establish himself under his own name and introduce his baroque pop to larger crowds.
After sophomore disc "He Poos Clouds" won Canada's Polaris Music Prize in 2006, Pallett began composing songs that expanded on his arrangements of vocals, violin loops and percussion. He recorded demos in Iceland in November 2008 before working with a symphony orchestra in Prague and scaling down the album in Toronto, a painstaking process Pallett says he wasn't fully prepared for.
"It was grueling at points. There were some dark days where I thought, 'It's too hard to work like this,'" he recalls. "But in the end, it was worth all the psychological trauma."
With tracks like "The Great Elsewhere" and "Flare Gun" offering fleshed-out versions of the artist's early minimalism, "Heartland" is an ambitious mix of classical and rock that Pallett says was inspired by everything from '70s synth pop to the Strokes. After talking to multiple labels, Pallett signed a multi-album deal with Domino. He attributes the move in part to the record's ambitious scope.
"I do like self-releasing, but I couldn't conceive 'Heartland' as a small release," Pallett says. "I like making smaller records, but at the same time, I'm not hesitant to succeed. I'm eager to see what happens with this record."
Domino plans to promote "Heartland" to college radio and independent retail stores before pushing whimsical album track "Lewis Takes Off His Shirt" as a single after the set's release. The rollout will focus on showcasing Pallett's music as inventive but still accessible to a mainstream audience.
"Over the last few years, there's been a new openness coming from left of center," says Domino North American general manager Kris Gillespie, who points to innovative successes like American Collective and Grizzly Bear. "Owen's songs are catchy and great, but it's also music that you have to think about."
Pallett will kick off a Canadian trek February 6 in Guelph, Ontario, before touring North America in the spring. In addition to writing songs for a fourth solo album, Pallett will stay busy creating string arrangements and playing violin for other artists, having previously contributed to albums by Arcade Fire, Pet Shop Boys and Beirut.
Although the release of "Heartland" was pushed back from October to January, Pallett unveiled material from the album on a fall North American tour with the Mountain Goats. The warm reception has made him optimistic that his idiosyncratic style can interest crowds aside from his fan base.
"I had trepidations of barraging people with new music," Pallett says, "but overall, I loved the experience."