Kasia Pawlowska

Owen Pallett on integrity, having his boyfriend as a manager, and the baroque pop of ‘In Conflict’


You probably wouldn’t assume that someone who’s been putting out solo material for nearly 10 years would be best known for their contributions to other artists’ work, but Owen Pallett shows us that it can happen, and that it’s not necessarily a bad thing, either.

If you were to break Pallett’s career down into a pie chart (similar to the ones Ann Friedman makes that he and I touched on during our chat), then the contents of said pie would be as compelling as they are diverse. At age 34, the prolific Pallett has fashioned string arrangements for acts ranging from Grizzly Bear and Beirut to Linkin Park and Pet Shop Boys. Super-producer Brian Eno is also in on the goods — he can be counted among Pallett’s fans and is featured heavily on Pallett’s new album, In Conflict. And then, of course, there’s the Academy Award nomination he and Arcade Fire’s Will Butler received earlier this year for scoring Spike Jonze’s nearly-reality-sci-fi film, Her. Pretty impressive pie so far — and it’s not even fully populated yet.

Pallett is currently on the road promoting that new record, his fourth solo work, which marks the artist’s second time releasing material under his given name. (He started his career performing as Final Fantasy and his appreciation of video games is only further established by looking at some of his early track names, like “Adventure.exe.”) Reviews of Pallett’s live performances have been almost unanimously blemish-free, and it looks like his most recent tour is no exception. In spite of being lauded for his complex arrangements as well as mastery of his violin and voice via loop pedal (think Andrew Bird), Pallett took a more minimalistic approach on In Conflict, offering fans a simpler and more languid listening experience. But this is by no means signifies a “normcore” album — Pallett is still safely within the bounds of baroque pop here.

He was in Chicago, his last week on tour with Arcade Fire, taking a break at the Soho House when we spoke on the phone. Regardless of the topic, you pick up on something after a few minutes of conversation with Pallett: He values integrity. In Conflict seems like a preemptive name for his most recent album, as there have been several moments of legal or moral discord in Pallett’s career — he refused to accept the money from winning the Polaris Prize in 2006 because of his “antagonistic relationship with the sponsors,” instead giving it to bands he liked that were in need of financial assistance. He also asked Austrian infrastructure service provider Wiener Stadtwerke to sponsor a music festival of his and his agent’s curation instead of taking the company to litigation when it used one of his songs without approval.

Pallett’s advantageous way of handling disputes could also be a reason why he’s such a desired collaborator, especially since his attitude toward differences of opinion goes beyond business — well, kind of. Pallett’s manager is his longtime boyfriend Patrick Borjal, and as one could imagine, Pallett claims they “fight more about work than (they) do about anything else, to be honest.” He adds, however, that “the way we deal with it, I’m very proud of, is that we don’t communicate verbally about work. All of our work related talk is done through email.” If we could all be so lucky.

The systematic way Pallett views the world is evident throughout our exchange, and beyond it — to get an idea, take a look at one of his pieces in Slate. When he weighs in on what it’s like to have his boyfriend be his manager, he acknowledges that “the division of finances is easy,” but that “having my boyfriend as my manager means you won’t see me on [The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy] Fallon or anything…’cause we don’t know how to do that!” He laughs. “Like, we don’t know the number to call! How do you get on Fallon now?” I suggest Googling it.

Fallon or no Fallon, it appears that Pallett’s schedule is at capacity. “Ah, fuck! You’re so lucky!” he exclaims when I share my recent trip to LA’s FYF Fest. “That’s one of the few festivals I like…the bands and the lineup.” Undoubtedly one of the best acts that weekend was another frequent collaborator of Pallett’s, Dan Snaith, who performed as Caribou and Daphni. Pallett teamed up with Snaith on both his projects recently — he’s all over Caribou’s new album, Our Love, having done strings on six tracks, and he also worked on two Daphni tracks, “Julia” and “Tiberius.”

Pallett spoke modestly about how satisfied he was with the Daphni tracks, saying he “felt they were some of the best things [he’s] ever contributed to,” in addition to chuckling about the tour that never was. “A part of me was like, ‘Ehhh…In Conflict hasn’t been making that big of a splash, maybe I’ll just ask Dan to take me on tour in the fall instead.’” Luckily for us and unfortunately for Snaith, that didn’t come to the fruition.

Owen Pallett will be playing this Fri/12 at the Great American Music Hall. I suggest showing up at 9 when the openers come on, as they are “two of [Pallett’s] favorite bands at the moment,” and given his experience, I’m inclined to trust his tastes.


With Avi Buffalo, Foxes In Fiction
9pm, $21
Great American Music Hall
859 O’Farrell, SF
(415) 885-0750


Not just an Animal Collective side project: Entering the Slasher House with Avery Tare


In spite of music videos that are more than vaguely reminiscent of the horror film genre — not to mention the band’s name — the “jazz power trio” of Avey Tare’s Slasher Flicks are far more than some campy side project.

Comprised of multi-instrumentalist and founding Animal Collective member Avey Tare, Angel Deradoorian (of Dirty Projectors, Deradoorian) on keyboard, and drummer Jeremy Hyman (of Ponytail, Dan Deacon), Slasher Flicks aim to make sounds that “come from a place that’s not human.” Live music fans will be happy to hear that the group used only minimal overdubs while recording their debut album Enter the Slasher House (out this past April), which is somewhat of a rarity amongst many of today’s crispy jams — and also something that’s immediately evident when Slasher Flicks take the stage.

Avey Tare, aka Dave Portner, spoke to the SFBG about one of his favorite places to play, letting each band member’s personality shine through, and creating an experience for the audience where they can synonymously get lost in something and feel like part of a collective. Avey Tare’s Slasher Flicks will be playing LA’s FYF fest this weekend before making their second visit to the Great American Music Hall this Sunday the 24th.

San Francisco Bay Guardian You’re clearly a person who likes to stay busy, considering the Slasher Flicks tour and the Animal Collective DJ sets that have been popping up recently. As far as live performances go, do your various projects satisfy different creative needs? I’m thinking about the elaborate stage set up for the Centipede Hz tour, which makes anything else seem minimal, really. Or are the props irrelevant and it’s more about the kind of work you get to produce?

Avey Tare I think the longer I play with Animal Collective or even just make music in the live realm the more interested I become with creating some all encompassing submersible experience. Who knows where this will go next. I’ve reached a point personally and creatively where I want to go beyond just showing up at clubs and playing live. This probably has a lot to do with the fact that my interests are deep in the visual art and film world. That said I have been enjoying the more minimal set up with Slasher Flicks. It’s nice to just set up and jam and have that be that. As long as our fans can get lost in something or feel like they had some unique experience then I’m happy.

SFBG How was it that Jeremy, Angel, and yourself came together to form Slasher Flicks? You’ve been cited as the main songwriter for most of the Animal Collective albums, but for Enter the Slasher House you crafted an outline of sorts for the songs on acoustic guitar, and let Angel create melodic lines to flesh them out.

AT Sort of. All of my songs do start on on a skeletal level.  It really depends on what is needed after that or how I want them to be produced. Each song requires its own place and sounds and atmosphere.  A lot of the melodic lines for Slasher Flicks were actually written by me but when it comes down to playing something with other people, you don’t really know what its going to be like til everyone is playing it. For me it’s crucial that Jeremy’s and Angel’s personality gets to shine through so a lot of the rhythms and melodies are sort of loosely placed and left open for their embellishments or reworking etc. You just sort of know when everything clicks. It’s more of a feeling. That’s what playing music with people is about for me. It’s definitely a collective experience, and when you can make your audience feel a part of that collective, then it’s even more rewarding.

Angel and I have been a couple for awhile now. Because we are around each other in creative situations and so aware of how each of us operate it has always just seemed natural that we would work on something together especially ’cause of the respect we have for each other’s talents. I met Jeremy through Angel, actually, but was immediately into his drumming after seeing him play a bunch over the last few years.  For some reason I just got it in my head that I wanted to do a collection of songs for a three-piece. Once the songs were written it seemed logical to ask Jeremy and Angel to play them. I guess we are lucky in that we melded very easily.

SFBG Last year Slasher Flicks opened up for Deerhunter at the GAMH before Enter the Slasher House was released. Are you looking forward to returning to the venue and headlining this time? I was fortunate enough to attend that first show, but after being able to listen to the album at home I realize all the more how fitting the GAHM is for the music — especially the bouncy, funhouse-feel of “Little Fang.”

AT I love Great American. It’s definitely my favorite place to play in SF and one of my favorite places anywhere. I have great memories from playing shows there. I think this size venue is probably my favorite to play.

SFBG Speaking of “Little Fang,” the video for the song was directed by your sister (Abby Portner) yet it still has that undeniable Animal Collective hallmark — sharing similar aesthetic qualities to ODDSAC (a visual album collaboration between AC and Danny Perez). I know that ODDSAC took over four years to complete. How has the process of marrying the audio and visual changed for you since working on that project?  

AT ODDSAC was unique in that we were trying to write the music and make the sounds as the videos were being created and attempting to piece it together as a whole while we worked. It also took awhile because we were working on other records during the process, as well. It’s always tough putting visuals to my/the groups music because I always have such intense feelings and visuals attached to it that are inside of me.  There is often a moment where I have to just give up the resistance to someone else’s vision of the music. It can be tough, but it’s been really rewarding so far and taught me a lot about what I like and don’t like. 


Sun/24, 8pm, $16

Great American Music Hall

859 O’Farrell, SF


Fuck Buttons on their wildly visual live show, the writing process, and bringing “fuck” to the world stage


“I think I’ve heard of them before,” is the kind of spineless response you’ll never hear if you ask someone about Fuck Buttons.  If you’ve heard them, you’ll most definitely will remember.  With music that elicits feelings of wonder and rebellion, intense live shows, and of course an, err — catchy name, Benjamin John Power and Andrew Hung leave a lasting impression.

If you didn’t catch them when they played at The Independent last October, chances are you heard Fuck Buttons in 2012 when the band received arguably the most widespread kind of exposure — their tracks “Surf Solar” and “Olympians” were featured separately during the London Summer Olympics opening ceremony. Their self-produced third effort, Soft Focus, has earned the band a multitude of accolades, including an 8.7 and Best New Music honor from persnickety Pitchfork, as well as the #3 Dance Album Of The Year 2013 from Rolling Stone.

I got the opportunity to chat with Fuck Button Benjamin John Power about the process behind the band’s unique live performance set-up, as well as the AV show they’re bringing to the US for the first time.  The English experimental-electro duo are currently in the middle of a monthlong tour, coming back to The Independent this Fri/27.

San Francisco Bay Guardian So you just played North By Northeast. Taking some time off on the West Coast right now?

Benjamin John Power Yeah, that’s right.  Andy had to go home to a wedding so there is a slight break in the tour, but it’s cool.

SFBG I’m sure the time off to before the shows next week is welcomed.

BJP I get a week off in LA and my wife is coming out to join me for the time off. It’s nice to take a breather.

SFBG NXNE has such a diverse lineup, between all the acts and comedians.

BJP NXNE was great. Quick turnaround, but a really amazing crowd. I didn’t get a chance to see anyone else on the lineup, but I wish I could have seen Tim Hecker.

SFBG It’s funny you mention him. You’re familiar with Steve Hauschildt, yes?

BJP Yep, from Emeralds? I’m a fan.

SFBG I liken his and Tim Hecker’s music to your solo project, Blanck Mass. They form a genre I refer to as “lunar planning music.”

BJP Oh yeah? That’s a nice term.

SFBG I mean that in the best way possible.

BJP It is welcomed — fear not.

SFBG You recently played a show with Mount Kimbie that involved some some special visuals.  Can the stateside crowd expect anything like that?

BJP Yes, 100 percent. We have brought our full AV show with us this time — for the first time in the USA — so that’s totally in the cards. We wanted to make sure that the visual aspect wasn’t just a bunch of video loops, as a separate focus.  The visuals are interactive and in real time, so it’s a more interesting show and it’s working out really well.

SFBG Sounds great. I saw you last year at Primavera Sound, and your music translates really well on stage.

BJP Thank you. The live show and the recorded output go hand in hand, so when we write, we write in exactly the same way that we do when we play live — across the table from each other, with all the gadgets in front of us — so it translates easily into the live performance.

SFBG You also produced the last album (Soft Focus) yourselves — have other people been contacting you regarding production work?

BJP Yeah, a few people have.  We like to keep ourselves busy, and I think from working on the last record primarily by ourselves we have picked up some pretty helpful production tricks.

SFBG Last question — do you feel the word “fuck” is losing its potency?

BJP I don’t really think too much about the word fuck losing its potency. If anything, it probably makes my life easier, haha.

SFBG I can see that.  Being featured in the Olympics, you guys are like ambassadors of “fuck.”  Bringing “fuck” to the world stage.

BJP Yeah! Well, in those instances, everybody just seems to go with “F Buttons.” It’s really fine. What’s in a name anyway?

With Total Life
6/27, 9pm, $20
The Independent
628 Divisadero, SF


Mikal Cronin takes the spotlight, has excellent hair at The Chapel


Mikal Cronin walks onto the stage this past Saturday night [March 1] for the third time this week, settling into the right corner; a spot he’s apparently comfortable in, given that it’s his usual post when playing in (fellow Laguna Beach native) Ty Segall’s band. Tonight was Cronin’s night, however, and his first Noise Pop appearance this year as Segall was suspiciously absent from the roster — perhaps a result of his recent deflection from San Francisco to LA? Regardless, Cronin was joined by his eponymous band at The Chapel, who wasted no time on introductions as they broke into one of their signature clamorous surf-rock jams.

The crowd eagerly soaked in the band’s offerings throughout the course of the evening, thrashing along to the jangly guitars and getting down with the miry basslines for the nearly hour-long set. Even on songs whose refrains seemed rather redundant (like the underwhelming second of the evening “Situation”) there was no shortage of hair flying, both on and off the stage.  Speaking of hair, though — the band has the game locked. The headbanging displayed by Chad Ubovich, Mike Anderson, and Cronin is the kind of stuff that would make even the most famously coiffed girl bands (ahem, HAIM) jealous, as they did it with such great fervor, intermittently draping their mics with long, stringy manes.  


College-rock favorite “See It My Way” was the first song officially announced, though if the amount of people singing along was any indication, it was probably the one that least needed an introduction. The room was silent as the tempo slowed down before Cronin concluded, “No I’m alright/I’m coming home/and I will find a way,” before launching into the chorus that sent the crowd into a bouncing frenzy. Feeling the love coming off the last song, Cronin thanked the audience as the band began to play the opening chords of another hair-band anthem, “Back in Black” — thoughis was only a tease, to the dismay of fans who let out a resounding sigh as the band transitioned into one of their own songs.


The garagey-beach guitar was omnipresent and at times came across as formulaic, which is interesting, because it’s that very quality that takes attention away from the somber lyrics which are noticeably in discord with the upbeat melodies. In a way, the repetitive sound of the music almost acts like a cloaking device, masking the feelings of desolation in certain songs — like “Change,” for example, which goes, “I can’t climb the mountain all alone/I’ve been at the bottom for a long time/I’ve been waiting for the sun to set, the moon to shine/The day to change to night so I can fall.”


Cronin reappeared on the stage solo for the encore, playing “Don’t Let Me Go,” in one of the more emotionally exposed moments of the evening — even the lights made his sweaty face look like he had been crying — but it was an ephemeral moment, as the rest of the band took up their instruments and played a droney, spiraling, psych-riff laden version of Wreckless Eric’s “(I’d Go The) Whole Wide World” to close out their set. If nothing else, it was a finale that proved that, even though Cronin takes place at the side of the stage, he is indeed a front man.

Live Shots: !!! lead a sweaty Saturday at the Chapel


“San Francisco, San Francisco, San Francisco,” chants !!!’s Nic Offer as he struts onto the Chapel’s glowing red stage, facing a screaming sold-out crowd.  The practicality of Offer’s typical performance outfit — tonight he is wearing beat-up, bone-white monk strap loafers, short white shorts emblazoned with the Rolling Stones’ Some Girls cover art, and a black crewneck tee — quickly becomes apparent as he races back and forth across the stage, light brown curls flying, wrapping the mic cord around his neck.  Before the first song is over he leaps on the center monitor, thrusts his pelvis forward, and generously pulls his very short pant leg open so a fan can get his money shot.  Now that’s showmanship. 

The Sacramento natives, whose careers have spanned 18 years at this point, initially earned a spot in the hearts of heathens across the country for drug-jam favorites like “Hello? Is This Thing On?” and “Me and Guiliani Down By The Schoolyard — A True Story,” both tracks off of 2004’s Louden Up Now.  The band quickly became synonymous with the ambiguous genre “dance-punk” — a classification they shared with other saxophone aficionados, The Rapture, as well as fellow Californians, Moving Units — but with their more recent efforts !!! has made a departure from their christened moniker and has adopted a warmer, less anxious sound.  Crisp disco beats and a smooth sax mark this transition on their newest album, 2013’s Thr!!!er, a record that encourages slinky grooving as opposed to unruly slamming on the dance floor. 

Saturday’s second song of the evening, “Californiyeah,” had Offer jumping into the crowd (as he does) and gyrating with, and at, fans who were apparently already drunk enough to not protest the lyrics that went, “Now I miss California almost as much as I miss you/But why would I live somewhere/Where the bars close at 2?/That ain’t right, that ain’t right.”  The set consisted of mostly new material, with performances of the spiraling, clap-fest “Slyd” being among the favorites. 

The rest of the band let their musicianship take the front seat throughout the evening and appeared reserved, even stoic, though perhaps it only seemed that way in contrast with vocalist Offer’s tireless presence (his dancing can best be described as traffic cop-meets-cheerleader).  Other highlights included “One Girl/One Boy,” a poppy, bass-heavy number that’s reminiscent of last summer’s inescapable hit “Get Lucky” — in fact, it could be said !!!’s track acted as an aperitif of sorts for the Daft Punk onslaught we were going to experience, being released only two weeks prior to the disco-doused behemoth). 

The Chapel was packed (this was a sold-out show) and the band had the crowd sweating it up before long, exuding impressive control over the room even on songs that teetered at the edge of chaos.  One would think that things would mellow out somewhat as they started to play “AM/FM,” a considerably more reserved track off their fourth album, Strange Weather, Isn’t It?, but the fans’ enthusiasm was relentless and unavoidable, as hands jutted into the air and girls in the front danced like battling robots.  Right before the obligatory encore, the overwhelming feeling could best be described as clammy.  Anyone with hair past their shoulders unfortunate enough to not have a rubber band was sporting the Cher Horowitz side-flip hair in efforts to cool off — as if.  Meanwhile, Offer resembled a ’70s gym teacher/porn star with his once-white-now-grey-sweat-stained shorts and a white gym towel draped around his neck.  He laughed into the audience, his lyrics from earlier — “I miss Sac and I miss the bay (Ain’t that right)” — resonating into the night.