Ahead of his beachy affair at the inaugural Sandcastles this Saturday, Alan Palomo of 80’s inspired sun damaged outfit Neon Indian speaks to Pedestrian about inheriting MGMT’s stalkers, Chillwave, taking acid and, of course, the internet.
What do you see as the main difference between Vega and Neon Indian? And do you compartmentalize the music you write from the outset or do you write stuff then figure out where it fits later? The process of compartmentalizing tracks usually seems to be dictated by my state of mind. Given the approaches in production are so distinctly different for each project, I usually have to decide beforehand what I’ll be delving into if writing for these two particular projects. Definitely a mood thing. VEGA for me has always come from that pure unadulterated sensation of listening to pop music. Watching something like Purple Rain or realizing that song that made you blush when you were 5 was Bizarre Love Triangle and getting so stoked that you can wail on a guitar, even if you can’t play one, is definitely its essence. Because of that it’s generally production heavy. Accumulating references, slaving over sounds in order to match them, and generally emphasizing the mix as much as writing are all a part of it. Neon Indian however seems to be the antithesis of that. In fact, it started as some sort of reactionary exercise to break away from the tediums of producing VEGA. I was pretty burnt out after the Well Known Pleasures EP and tried to maintain my sanity by just making music devoid of any particular goal or reference other than my own life and experiences. Its a bit more transparent in that way.It let me just focus on writing a song without getting convoluted in the process of polishing its elements. And the fact that the template was so loose it gave me leeway to include all the crazy shit I never managed to find the context for in VEGA.
When Neon Indian first exploded on the blogosphere there was this kind of manhunt for your identity. What was that like for you watching it all unfold? It was actually kind of funny to see the speculation develop. Friends would send me links to people who were taking a crack at unsheathing my identity and saying it could be someone from Gang Gang Dance or an MGMT side project. I remember somebody said the girl was St. Vincent, which ended up being by a friend of mine who hadn’t quite pinned me to the project. That was pretty funny. It was definitely flattering that people could relate the music to certain traits that people I really enjoy listening to would have but i always failed to see the direct correlation. I’d say the one strange experience was inadvertently inheriting one of MGMT’s stalkers. After reading some blog that said it could be them she began sending weird Myspace messages saying things like “Where do you think music is going?’. And I’d say something like “Uh… I don’t know, where is it going?” It got kind of messy when she found my cell phone number when we reached out to fans in an attempt to find our stolen gear. Got pretty messy then. That was a weird one for sure.
Have you taken acid with Alicia yet? If so what was it like and did it help the project? Unfortunately that’s yet to happen. In fact she’s a pretty elusive person these days. Between me being on tour and her being immersed in school and stuff it seems like we don’t really find the apexes in our collateral lives as much. I guess I’m long overdue for a bong rip phone call where I stare at the ceiling and mumble endlessly about a book I’ve read while she lets out her drawn out ‘mhmm’s and works on some kind of collage assignment in the background. I miss that.
Speaking of collaborations how did you meet Ben from Miami Horror and what was it like working together? I met Ben two summers ago in New York. A few days after I left Ghosthustler, he wrote the Myspace in search of a vocal collaborator. The dudes were nice enough to pass the message along and we arranged to meet sometime during his tour. We got along pretty well right off the bat and didn’t seem to weird each other out by the random goofy sounds we emit in public. As a result we churned out “Make You Mine” over correspondence. It was kind of tough because I’d go record at a studio and then send it to him and get an email that’d say “maybe the ‘baby’ in the chorus could be an upward inflection?” After going back and forth endlessly it finally just made more sense to collaborate in person. That’s when I came to Melbourne last June and just kind of hung out and recorded vocals. We developed a pretty great system for working together. We’ll work pretty tirelessly until getting slowly distracted by Youtube videos of Spaghet. Spaghet, recording. Recording, spaghet. It works out nicely.
You seem to be roped in with acts such as Memory Tapes and Washed Out in this vague probably non existent genre called Chillwave/Glo-Fi . Do you have an affinity for those guys? I like those acts for sure. I just find it kind of odd that the internet doesn’t really let you pick your own musical movements anymore. Whereas before you could say that a genre developed in a certain city by a community of friends who were all drawing influence from each other or shared overlapping musical objectives, now a blogger or journalist can just draw a few ambiguous commonalities between you and a two or three other bands in different areas of the country or world for that matter and call it a movement.I remember a friend who phrased it best when he said ‘Everyone wants to be the first one to coin it so they can be the first to hate it’. Its as If being able to define something makes it easier to dismiss it. Its funny but its also sort of alien to me. Perhaps music has come into such a specific set of events that this kind of sound was bound to be the next rational step in popularity but I don’t think anyone was doing it consciously of each other. I always thought was I was doing shared more of a semblance with Ariel Pink or Magnetic Fields Holiday era type stuff. Lo-fi isn’t anything new, its just that its self perpetuating more rapidly as journalist talk about it self-consciously. I generally try to distance myself from it and focus on the musical task at hand.
On the other hand though the internet played a big role in getting your music out to people. Do you think that kind of hype is a blessing or a crutch? It’s definitely two sides of the same coin. Its been a really killer year and seeing something I had such minor expectations in come to fruition in such a lucid way has been one of the crazier things I’ve experienced. It all happened online which was the biggest trip. What Neon Indian meant to me evolved as people’s perceptions of it did the same. But experiencing something like that isn’t without costs. You soon realize that if your confident enough to expose your music to an audience of online listeners then you need to be able to back it up with a proper live show and a real record. The only thing that’s tough about coming up that way is that its followed lengthy hurdle to present a cohesive and complete vision about yourself and what you do. It all kind of comes at you at once. Luckily for me it was a labor of love i was more than happy to commit to. But there were moments when I’d read about someone in the same position as me wigging out at a festival or something and think, holy shit.
How does Neon Indian translate live and was it hard to work out how to convey the songs in a live environment? It certainly required a bit of re-contextualization. The fun part was taking organic sounds made in a studio and finding a way to replicate them with a limited set of instruments and a band. Basically trying to be the best Neon Indian cover band in town. Its a bit tricky when your dealing with lo-fi sounds. Definitely had to let go of some of those rougher components in order to make it fun and palatable for the people who come see us. A lot of friends have told me it sounds bigger and very different from some of the more intimate fragments of the album. Its a nice little surprise I think. Should Have Taken Acid With You in particular is one of the more transmuted live tracks. Playing it with guitars and live synths puts a totally different spin on it. And the visual components have been my favorite thing to work with. We barely tried them out in New York after some quick riffing about colors and visual references. I’ve been collaborating with my friend Lars Larsen who does some pretty interesting footage manipulation with his home built video synthesizer. The dudes nuts. I’ll be playing Deadbeat Summer and have to resist the urge not to look back at the screen and watch the babe from Sandlot bleed into a patch of nauseatingly neon colors.
If you take acid with anyone alive or dead who would it be? Well the little kid in me says Rene Magritte… But how could I possibly pass up Acid with Bill Murray and Jim Jarmusch!
What are your future plans?Relentless touring. Ceaseless output. And little sleep.
You can see Neon Indian play this Saturday January 9th (12am-9pm) at the St Kilda Beach Foreshore as part of Sandcastles (Micachu and the Shapes, My DIsco, Miami Horror and a whole lot more!).
You can purchase tickets online here or through the below vendors:
The St. Kilda Branch: 204 Barkly Street, St Kilda 9078 1104
POLYESTER RECORDS: 387 Brunswick Street, Fitzroy 9419 5137
POLYESTER RECORDS: 288 Flinders Lane, Melbourne 9663 8696
Cushion: 99 Fitzroy St, St Kilda 9534 7575