Interview With Alan Palomo of Neon Indian
To help celebrate TILT LA’s 2- year anniversary, Texas-based lo-fi outfit Neon Indian attracted a crowd of 700+ excited partygoers to the Echoplex on November 20th. Alan Palomo’s latest project stemmed from a song he wrote to his friend Alicia (who is also the band’s visual artist) lamenting over a certain psychedelic drug experience that fell through. A departure from Palomo’s other musical ventures, VEGA and the now-defunct Ghosthustler, Neon Indian is the type of sound you would want to listen to while smoking opium, laying on the top of a Space Invaders cocktail-table video game. The live performance included a feast of visuals showcased on screens behind the band, which consisted of Ronald Gierhart on guitar, Jason Faries behind drums and Leanne Macomber commanding the keyboard. I met up with Alan after the show to talk about the inspiration behind the debut album, Psychic Chasms, growing up in Mejico and of course, not taking acid.
AL: Where did the name Neon Indian come from?
AP: That’s the one band name I can’t actually take credit for. When I started Ghosthustler right out of high school, my old friend Alicia decided to do mock retaliation and was like “Well if you’re gonna start a band called Ghosthustler, I’m gonna have a band of my own and it’s called …fucking Neon Indian,” but she didn’t play any instruments so the Myspace page just sat there for a few years. And when I started writing material for Psychic Chasms, given that so much of the lyrical content was centered around that particular period of my life, it just made perfect sense to name it after this make-believe band that existed sometime in high school. And even then I think it suits certain elements. I think that a lot of people are looking for some kind of contemporized, psychedelic music that implements much more newer elements instead of just like, a guitar with some delay on it doing crunchy riffs. People are looking for more electronic elements and that’s sort of what I’m trying to incorporate. So it’s kind of its own little nod to this tribal, psychedelic aesthetic that people are trying to tap into. Stuff like Animal Collective and Panda Bear. It’s kind of a reference to that.
AL: Can you tell me about the name of the album, Psychic Chasms?
AP: It’s actually referencing the lyrical content. When I moved to Austin about a year and a half ago it was kind of this strange, alienating experience because it was just me spending 80 to 90 percent of the time indoors or going to class, and that was about it. I always considered myself more of an extrovert so it was a really different experience. I was pretty much going stir crazy in my apartment and from that I slipped into this introspective phase where I revisited the last four years of my life and how relationships tend to mutate over the years, analyzing moments where they falter, friendships, all of that.
AL: So it’s all autobiographical.
AP: For sure, it’s like an interior land survey, exploring the psychic chasms…it’s more referencing that.
AL: I see, so it’s not literal. (laughs) I am really into that sort of (psychic) thing so I thought to myself…”Hmm, is he into that too?” Haha.
AP: (laughs) I’m a pretty practical guy. I mean I’d like to believe in ESP. I did a presentation on it in the fifth grade and remember being real stoked on it!
AL: Science fair?
AP: Yes totally, but I couldn’t guess anyone’s cards so it was kind of embarrassing.
AL: Haha! So you were born in Mexico?
AP: Yeah, yeah! Monterrey. Kind of eastside Mexico. Northeast.
AL: And has the Mexican culture affected your music in anyway?
AP: Oh, absolutely. My dad was a pop singer so I grew up listening to a lot of ballads, a lot of Luis Miguel and Juan Gabriel and Miguel Aceves Mejía, maybe not specifically Miguel Aceves Mejía, but touching on that sort of thing. Even some kind of Cuban music like Benny Moré. There was a lot of stuff I grew up around that was sort of very Latino-centric, but at the same time I also grew up around a lot of American pop music from the 70’s and 80’s so it was cool to get that kind of multicultural experience from my parents. I still very much visit 2-3 times a year. I try to go as often as I can. I feel like I appreciate it a lot more now that I am an adult. I moved to the U.S. when I was six and I think I went through that sort of phase where I was trying to to get assimilated into American culture so I didn’t really tap into what my parents appreciated and all that right away. It definitely took age 19-20 to turn around on it and explore that sort of strength that I could tap into artistically. There’s a lot of amazing Mexican filmmakers as well. Film was sort of my main thing right up until I took a break from college so it has a bit of an influence. Whenever I think of music that I grew up around and where I learned to have my musical sensibilities, it was definitely from hearing stuff like that.
AL: So who are your fave directors?
AP: John Cassavetes has always been a huuuge favorite of mine. And Gus Van Sant. In fact it was kind of funny when I was trying to draw material for Psychic Chasms, I rented Drugstore Cowboy, Elephant, My Own Private Idaho…these sort of movies that have these anti-heroes that are very lethargic, and have these passive experiences they don’t fully digest…it’s all sort of coming at them and I can definitely relate to that. Michelangelo Antonioni, who I think tells some of the most beautiful stories I’ve ever heard. He did L’eclisse, L’avventura, a lot of that kind of stuff. I sort of tend to jump all over the place. The last year or two I’ve been on this sort of Stan Brakhage kick. He’s this video artist who would mainly take celluloid film and paint over each individual frame to get these really strange color collages going through. It’s really amazing to watch. I think he’s still alive. He’s been teaching his whole life at this university in Colorado. I’ve recently picked up his anthologies and it’s been blowing my mind. It’s definitely given me ideas for potential future visual projections during the Neon Indian live show.
AL: How do you come up with the visuals for the show with Alicia?
AP: To be 100 percent honest I think the roles are sort of changing with time. Initially when I started it, Alicia had a lot of free time on her hands and now that she is smack dab in the middle of art school there hasn’t really been too much of a chance for collaboration. So hopefully down the road we can have something. In the meantime I’ve been collaborating with different filmmakers to make music videos. We have one for “Deadbeat Summer.” “Mind, Drips” is coming out and there is another Neon Indian single that isn’t out yet but we’ll have a video for it early next year as well.
AL: Can you give us a name on it or is it still low pro?
AP: Well it’s still kind of underdeveloped, the song is there but I still need to come up with a title. That’s usually the last thing that comes to mind. I always go back and forth on titles.
AL: So not taking drugs inspired “I Should Have Taken Acid With You” but has taken any drugs inspired songs on the album or can we not talk about that?
AP: Yeah why would I give a shit. Hahaha!
AL: Hahaha! I love it!
AP: It’s funny, a lot of people come out to the shows and it’s crazy when you see that person or two out there… that obviously look like they are on some kind of potent psychedelic drug.. and I’m kind of ambivalent about it. I’m not for it or against it, necessarily. And to this day I still haven’t taken acid.
AL: Oh, ever?
AP: Ever! It’s that thing you know? I should have taken acid! I’ve done a lot of other things. Especially on this tour I feel like I have to live up to this certain expectation because whenever people see me and they want to talk to me the first thing they say… well actually aside from that, they have this personal connection to the music that’s centered moderately around drug use. They’ll be like, “Dude, that’s a great show…you wanna get high?” That’s the first thing they always say. There has been a few interesting deviations but all in moderation. I think it’s more of a persona. I’m already a loopy guy and a lot of people think I’m a space cadet so I don’t necessarily need some kind of psychedelic drug.
AL: Yeah same with me, that’s why I never did acid. I’m crazy already!
AP: I couldn’t imagine myself on acid. Yikes!
AL: So which other artists do you find you are inspired by?
AP: In terms of musical influences, specific people I’ve always been really challenged by: Todd Rundgren. A lot of his weird early-seventies, modular synthesizer tracks. I love his singing as well. I think he’s a brilliant pop songwriter and if there is anyone I’ve taken a bit of influence from growing up it’s definitely him and his songs. Yellow Magic Orchestra, that’s pretty much like the Japanese Kraftwerk, a really amazing synth-pop group from the late seventies that all went off to do their own amazing stuff. Ryuichi Sakamoto, he’s still doing a lot of film scores and I’m always keeping up on that. Artists in general…it’s kind of cheesy but I have always loved René Magritte. It’s that specific Art History 101 reference there, but I used to have this children’s book… that was like “Magritte condensed” into this 20-page kids book with a few fun facts to make it interesting. And you know, it’s funny reading about his life and how these really simple but unusual things influenced him. It always came from that. I liked how these simple meditations and an idea that’s slightly skewed or something out of context would bring him into this weird psychedelic realm. I also liked the fact that he was this quiet dude with this modest life. He went to Paris for awhile for the whole Surrealist thing and thought they were kind of flashy and full of shit then decided he’d go back to Belgium with his wife and kids. I don’t know, there’s something I really respect about that, a man of his craft who’s not necessarily focused on the attention or the image that he gives off, but just focuses always on his product and takes his sweet time crafting it.
AL: What’s next for Neon Indian aside from the single coming out next year?
AP: We are touring ’til mid January. I definitely want to have a small EP out early next year and as far as the next Neon Indian album comes out I would say hopefully late next year if not early the year after that. One of the things I’m doing as soon as tour is done for Neon Indian is that I’m going into the studio for 2-3 months and writing the new Vega record. I can’t say who is producing it yet, ’cause its a little under wraps, but I’ll just say we are playing with them in the near future and it’s being put out by Fools Gold. And I want to start incorporating more of the visual elements with me and different collaborators so there will definitely be more of that.
AL: Can’t Wait!
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