Neon Indian on playing Frankenstein in the creation of his sonic love letter to NYC
From Psychic Chasms to Era Extrana and his latest effort, Vega Intl. Night School, Brooklyn’s NEON INDIAN has definitely kept the lights on with his enigmatic catalogue.
A word I don’t wish to throw around with haste, I’m relating to the fact that we don’t always know quite what to expect of this beautiful brain, for the artist has proven ability in keeping his landscape flourishing with golden ideas and concepts.
A little different to the high school crush we all had on its predecessor, Vega Intl. High School enchants us into the pit of a film noir; endearing the souls of the creative world amidst a fervent city. Large and cinematic, Neon Indian has definitely caught our attention with this enormous breath of fresh air.
Heading our way this week for Victoria’s, Meredith Music Festival, and Western Australia’s inaugural, Disconnect Festival, cushioned by shows scattered around the country, we caught up with Alan Palomo – the genius behind it all, for an extremely insightful and articulate chat.
PURPLE SNEAKERS: You used to operate under the name, Vega. What influenced the shift to Neon Indian? Was it an incompatibility of material?
Alan Palomo: Well I mean that would’ve been almost six or seven years ago. Ultimately I was a teenager, I was interested in making dance music and I found that that medium of production started to distract from the rock related impulses of song writing, so I started to build out of that reaction. I want to just focus more on texture, and you know, coming up with a concept for a song less-so than stressing out about how the kickdrum fits in the mix, and all the things we think about when we think about dance music.
Vega has crept its way into the title of your new record, Vega International Night School. Described as a mix of both Vega and Neon Indian, was the collaboration of sound a conscious decision when writing the new album?
I was originally setting out to write a Vega record, as I was interested in veering back into those aesthetics, but I came to find that they weren’t really separate monikers anymore, and in general my tastes were converging into this one lane where I could find things I liked about, Neon Indian and inject them into this new dance aesthetic.
Considering this merge, would you say you’ve found comfort in your sound?
I mean it’s not like that scene in, Back To The Future where Michael J Fox is playing the guitar, and then Chuck Berry’s cousin calls Chuck Berry to tell him about it [laughs] so, I guess I’m more just working out musical problems in my head or things that I’d like to see existing together; but once I’ve done it I don’t necessarily feel the need to revisit again. I think people might’ve been hoping for another Psychic Chasms, but it’s just like, I made that when I was 20 so it’s not as nearly as creatively satisfying or satiating or interesting to go back and just do that thing again.
So it’s more just a natural progression that matures with you as a person?
Yeah, you’ve got to create something that’s fun and challenging to you. Otherwise it just becomes commodity or something that you’re out there to pedal and push as a means of making a living as an artist; that’s just depressing and unsatisfying.
Does Vega Intl. Night School follow a particular theme or narrative?
I would ask you! Do you hear any of that when you listen to it?
Well for me when I listen to, I guess, any Neon Indian, there’s a sense of escapism present. Like, you’re taken somewhere else with the music and the textures and all the rest of it..
In this one, I wanted the title to be evocative of some sort of concept. The concept itself is pretty loosely threaded together. Like, say New York City gets flooded by lots of film makers right? You get people like [Martin] Scorsese, leading the more obscure movies like, The King Of Comedy or After Hours; these sort of love letters to what nocturnal life in New York is.
Eventually, I came to this conclusion that I wanted to find this cartoonish, fun house mirror kind of lens that I could capture my own interpretation of what New York has meant to me. If I couldn’t do it in a film I would totally do it in a record, so it was really just like making my own After Hours and having it laid with just the general undercurrents of what New York sort of is right now.
The city as a transplant; all these people move in that are just coming out of college, or high school or some other sort of respective place, but don’t entirely know how to carry themselves. You see all these people just kind of finding themselves in this environment, and what are bars and night paintings of booze and drugs and horniness..? It’s strange to see someone find their identity on that platform, so I just thought it was an interesting backdrop to tell the story of this record.
Following Era Extrana, how have you spent the past four years? Was the new record built steadily over that period or had it been entirely developed more recently?
I think it was touched on here and there. When a lot of people look at the press release and they see where it was written, it looks very grandiose, but not if you stretch it out over half a decade, you know? I would be working on it consistently like once every four to six months. I would spend time just graciously focused on it, then I’d lose a thread and come back to it, then lose a thread. A lot of that was just New York being a distraction – a beautiful distraction at that, but it’s a great place to be your own boss just certainly not your own employee, so I think it takes a lot of self-discipline to make something there.
It took time for me to find it, but I also wanted to work with different people who were based in different studios, working in different cities. At some point I went down to Atlanta and worked on it at this place called, Maze Studios with Ben Allen for a little while, and then at some point I was working down at Pure X’s practice space in Austin. So yeah, there were these kind of seasonal gestures. I didn’t want to make it sound like in one month I traversed like four seas and ten studios, you know? That’s gluttonous.
I think there’s something timeless about that too. Having stretched it out for so long, it hadn’t outdated itself in the process, which makes the album quite wholesome. There’s something really nice about that.
Oh cool! Well I think part of it was also just that there’s a lot of things that sound cut and pasted together, very mashed in there, and that was the intent. You know, if you’re in one room on one set-up, then it’s going to sound like one thing. You piece it together. You think of that term where a movie is happening in the editing room, well it’s true, you just have all of this stuff that you’re piecing together but it all makes sense cohesively. That’s what was happening, I was accumulating as much content as possible taking a knife to it and chopping it into this Frankenstein of what I wanted the album to be.
Your brother, Jorge, helped out with the new album. Did you guys play or write much music together in formative years?
Nah, no this was the first time we ever wrote music together. We’d wanted to in the past, but we started off with very different taste in music. There was definitely this intention that grew out of both of us growing as musicians. He was definitely working on a lot of stuff hugely in the session world; a whole myriad of projects where you don’t always get to pick, so he had to have range. For me, I was growing into wanting to exercise a little bit more technical prowess and the execution of songwriting and so thought that he could really help me take it there. Eventually we met in this middle ground and it made sense.
Something I feel that you do really well is create evocative, powerful music. Where does your inspiration come from when writing music?
There’s always going to be biographical elements, just because that’s what galvanizes you to sit down at a piano or something and start arbitrarily throwing chords together. I’m just influenced by lots of pop cultural stuff in general, I’m kind of a vacuum when it comes to that; I like watching movies, I like reading books, I like listening to records. For me it was really just meant to be a love letter to not just my city, but for things I love. In my idealised version of New York, all of these become aesthetics co-existing, and are all sort of seeing the same thing.
It’s interesting as well that you mention pop culture, because obviously music is another medium falling within that realm. It all ties in and co-exists together.
Yeah it’s interesting though, to this day I only see myself as being able to play my instrument. I can play my songs, but I wouldn’t call myself a musician. I produce music, but I’m definitely not trying to bust out a solo piece, my hands just aren’t that quick. So for me, it always has to come from some place else. A lot of it is informed by film, so I wanted this record to really soak in that. I also think that it was bred out of this intent to create a collage piece. You know like, The Avalanches, it doesn’t have to sound like you’re living in one land on a whole album, it can take you in and out of different spaces.
Neon Indian is renowned for a low-fi, retro electronic sound. With more artists on the fringe returning to analog production and exploring this realm of sound, can you see it becoming a larger trend in the future of music?
If anything I thought it was dying, because when I wrote the first record, that’s when I started seeing a real editorial focus in terms of a lot of bands and the kind of stuff that was trending on Tumblr. Now it all seems to be very “Internet” centric. I dunno! I’ve watched the musical landscape turn around me, and you know, suddenly “chillwave” wasn’t the hip thing. I mean, good riddance, just because I’ve always felt really alienated by that title; really by a bunch of people who don’t have the source material to be telling me what it’s about. So, I kind of like that it was a very un-hip album to make, you know? If that’s what it is then I want to be a little island of sound in this very different place.
You’ll be back in Australia for Meredith, Disconnect, and supporting shows this month. What can fans expect of your live show?
I would say it’ll be a great study of ham and cheese. There will be a lot of solos, lots of dancing around, a lot of goofy, hijinks, it’ll be fun!
Plans for the future?
Just to tour exhaustively! The calendar has me for the next 18 months.
NEON INDIAN AUSTRALIAN TOUR 2015
Friday, 11th December
Disconnect Festival, Western Australia
Saturday, 12th December
Meredith Music Festival, Victoria
Monday, 14th December
University of Wollongong, NSW
Tickets available HERE
Tuesday, 15th December
Oxford Art Factory, Sydney
Tickets available HERE
Wednesday, 16th December
The Foundry, Brisbane
Tickets available HERE
Friday, 18th December
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Tickets available HERE
Words by Hannah Galvin