Photo of Owen Pallett by chichibebelolo on Flickr. Photo of Steve Kado by Shakeer on Flickr.
The Harbourfront Centre presented the first edition of “Inside the Musician’s Studio” as part of its View Points series on Thursday evening. Modeled after “Inside the Actor’s Studio,” the event was hosted by Carl Wilson (The Globe and Mail, Zoilus). Guests were Blocks Recording Club founder Steve Kado and Polaris Prize winner (and Blocks artist) Owen Pallett, aka Final Fantasy. The three conversed on stage in comfy-looking arm chairs, and later opened the floor for audience questions. With both Pallett and Kado having been involved in numerous indie music projects, the major discussion point of the evening was alternative approaches to music – and the business of it.
Kado laid out the philosophy behind Blocks, a workers’ co-op. A workers’ co-op “is a real thing, first of all,” stressed Kado. “It’s something you have to register with the government to be.” He stumbled onto the model after finding traditional music distribution systems “repulsive.” Without many musical workers’ co-ops in existence, his examples mostly came from the agricultural industry. “We are going to do music the way people do grain,” he recalled saying. The focus at Blocks is DIY. Small releases, including a Matias Sucks release consisting of eight copies, handcrafted packaging and self-executed promotion are hallmarks of Blocks. It’s an approach borne of ideology, but it’s practical, too. “You just don’t make mistakes when you write your own bio,” said Pallett.
The label’s biggest commercial success so far has been Pallett’s Final Fantasy project. Kado claimed the first FF album, Has A Good Home, was “ruinous to my personal life for a couple of months.” Pallett recalled the uncommonly short turnaround time for the album. “We started recording on December 26th and we started selling them on January 9th.”
But if their method is unique, it’s because the music they’re producing is as well. Before Final Fantasy, Pallett was in Les Mouches. Kado is a member of The Barcelona Pavilion and a former Hidden Camera. He offered a glimpse into the creative process of Cameras, which produced one of the most entertaining exchanges of the night. He described the band as “a bunch of people with no idea how to play their instruments in what you would call a skillful way.”
“I can’t believe you just said that,” Pallett replied incredulously.
It wasn’t a malicious statement on Kado’s part, though. He clarified by explaining that lead Camera Joel Gibb would try and teach the rest of the band a song he had written by saying things like, “It goes ‘doot doot doo.’” Kado would rather have a band of filled with musically non-proficient friends than virtuoso strangers, anyway. “Being in a band with someone because they’re a good bass player is an awful reason,” he claimed. But when you play with friends, “you get to go on tour. You get to see neat things with your friends.”
Pallett: “You can stop for milkshakes. You can run in the fields.”
Kado: “You can play with the bunnies at the Big Apple.” (That would be the tourist attraction on the 401, not NYC.)
So what does the increasingly popular Pallett have on deck, besides cavorting in fields? When he’s not creating string arrangements for other people’s albums, something he says is more time consuming than Final Fantasy, he’s working on the next FF project – an EP of folk songs from a fake country called Spectrum. Pallett is creating a map, history and culture for the project, tentatively titled Heartland. It’s a fitting embodiment of the Blocks philosophy – what could be more DIY than fabricating your own country?