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Owen Pallett Covers The Strokes, Recalls Nerdy Childhood

On Tuesday, Stereogum released its original tribute to the Strokes’ debut, called Stroked: A Tribute to Is This It, which hosts a bunch of indie acts playing tracks from the iconic album. Firstly, I am blown away that it has been ten years since the Strokes came onto the scene, redefined the whole alt genre, and clarified what “not giving a fuck” sounded like in LP form. At first I hesitated to use the word “iconic,” but the persistent cultural relevance of the album and its ability to sound so simultaneously youthful and vintage definitely fulfills the criteria for “classic record.” Is This It is post-angst, pre-adulthood, and absolutely perfect. I could drool about the Strokes for hours, so I will leave it at that.


After listening to Stroked all the way through, I found myself wholly satisfied with the concept that great art should inspire reinterpretation as the highest form of appreciation. And to that end I was particularly impressed by Owen Pallett’s classical take on “Hard To Explain.” Because Julian Casablancas’ delivery is deliberate and wry, Pallett’s ability to emote really jarred me and made me reconsider what other people actually hear and appreciate when they listen to their favorite artists. To play a favorite track and hear not only lyrics and melodies, but potential is such a vague, yet phenomenal notion that the English language has given this process its own word: inspiration. Its this idea of hearing what’s not readily presented that made me really fall in love with Pallett’s cover of “Hard To Explain”. It retains the Strokes’ characteristic simplicity, but reimagines how to express the song’s frustration with callow exchanges.

After you listen to Pallett’s cover of “Hard To Explain”, check below for a brief interview with him conducted via email by Becca just a little while ago. I won’t spoil anything, but it sounds like he grew out of some serious phases.

What are your major influences when writing and arranging new music?

Varies from song to song, week to week.  Last week it was Melvins, this week it’s Eurythmics.  I’ve been working on Annie Lennox-ing my voice.

What are your favorite bands right now?

Too many to mention, really.  I just bought a split LP by Nadja and OVO called “The Life and Death of a Wasp”.  And also a Jah Wobble mini-LP called Snake Charmer.

What is your guilty pleasure music?

I don’t feel guilt about any pleasure.  I’m a Bach glutton; I listen to Bach more than anything else and I play Bach at home for about an hour a day.

Do you consider yourself a Nerd in any way? If so, what is the nerdiest thing you have ever done?

The nerdiest thing I’ve ever done?  There are a lot of contenders.  I’ve played Ancient Domains of Mystery through to Ultra Completion, which is a pretty serious nerd achievement.  A Gnomish Monk, Avatar of Order, named “Butlets.”

I collected Magic cards when I was 12; Quit when I was 13, when Fallen Empires came out.  I still have all my cards.  I’d tell you what I’ve got, but then somebody’d break into my storage space.

At age 14, when I first became, uh, sexually active, I was running a Tradewars BBS, and I still had LEGOs, like, out and all over the floor.  I was into the Medieval themed stuff.  I distinctly remember putting my LEGOs away before going on a date.  That’s about the nerdiest sentence I’ve ever typed, by the way.

Oh, and my first summer job was as a beekeeper.  My second was playing violin at a Renaissance Fair– but I wasn’t into that scene, I was just there to get paid, I was nerd-for-pay, so to speak.  There was one day of affecting a Cockney accent and then I was like, “no.”

These are totally the Nerd Hits of the 90s, huh.

If you had to dance to one song for the rest of your life, what would it be? 

Keeping with the nerd theme, I’ll say “The Walking” by Jane Siberry.


Follow me at @MattGrosinger

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  1. Becca Gleason says:


  2. Adam Quesnell says:

    This a good interview. Owen is amazing, from his work with Arcade Fire, to Final Fantasy, to his re-emergence as his solo-self…all of it is great for it’s own reasons. He also covers GBV’s “Game of Pricks” on the first round of AV Undercover from the Onion AV Club. I guess I just wanted to say that I agree with the sentiment that he rules. Also, I find it hilarious that Becca followed Owen’s statement, “I don’t feel guilt about any pleasure. I’m a Bach glutton; I listen to Bach more than anything else and I play Bach at home for about an hour a day,” with “Do you consider yourself a nerd in anyway.” Priceless. Keep up the relevant work Nerdist industries. I like everything that is inside of you!

  3. Jon says:

    Love Pallett’s music, and was so glad to read this little interview.

    also, re: MtG: dude totally has a Black Lotus. GET HIM!

  4. Spider_Dude says:

    You know how they ask, “Whats your Top Five Island albums?” meaning which albums could you not live without if stranded in a deserted island. Most pick Beatles favorite like Rubber Soul, or Miles Davis’ All Blues. And for a long time the Strokes’ Is This It was up there with the likes of Beatles et all.
    Then i realized i don’t need the record because its already been seared into my frontal lobes!!! i can hear it over and over again in its entirety because it’s such a great and wonderful part of me. A tribute album such as this validates that those songs exist for others much the same way it does for me. This is a wonderful experience!

  5. Jaggers says:

    This is a fantastic covers album. Owen Pallett is one of the best in the game and knocks this out of the park.