Neon Indian, Interview

27 September 2010

Interview with Neon Indian

Interview with Neon Indian

While many fads come and go, 2010 will undoubtedly be remembered as the year chillwave ingrained itself amongst the cooler end of the musical spectrum. Spearheaded across the Atlantic by the likes of Toro Y Moi, Washed Out and Memory Tapes, it's spawned a sound that mixes the ethereal wispiness of shoegaze with ambient dance beats associated with the chilled out confines of Ibiza's Caf' Del Mar.

Another of the scene's leading lights is Neon Indian, the brainchild of Texas born Alan Palomo, also the creative force behind the Ghosthustler and Vega projects beforehand. His singular vision of chillwave's cross genre pollinated hybrid borne devastating results in the shape of debut long player 'Psychic Chasms', a record so diverse and multi-dimensional it probably deserves a classification all of its own.
Although his visits to the UK have been infrequently sporadic, Contactmusic caught up with Palomo prior to his performance at this year's Bestival..

Bestival is quite a unique opportunity for a UK audience to witness Neon Indian in the flesh. Is it something you hope will change in the future?
It's been the situation to play over here whenever we can. I guess this is the first time where we've been able to do a more extensive run and play the odd festival. We've still got a lot of bases to cover in terms of trying to hit every nook and cranny of this country, but we're doing as much as we possibly can.

How do UK audiences compare to the ones back home?
In the States, the record has been out for almost a year now so they certainly know the songs more than most people over here do. I'd say in terms of size it tends to vary from city to city; London was sold out which was something of a pleasant surprise to us for example. In a way, I guess the purpose of getting the record out over here was to try and give UK audiences a taste of what Neon Indian is about before the second one drops. It's almost like trying to build a rapport or a connection with people.

It must be quite bizarre in a way that the album has only just come out over here eleven months after its initial release back home. Do you find yourselves having to play songs to UK audiences that you've perhaps long dispensed with in the setlist Stateside?
It's a little strange I guess, although at the same time the record does feature an entire compilation of remixes and cover versions as well. For me, it was also about finally being able to put something out myself. Musically, I've always kept to that whole DIY spirit of putting my own music out rather than going to a major record label and it was for that very reason the imprint Static Tongues was started up, as a kind of platform to introduce ourselves. If anything with the album being released here now it feels like a second lease in a strange way because our upbringing in the US was very frazzled and improvised in a lot of ways. It literally evolved from a project that was made in my bedroom, and to be suddenly performing that on the road and at festivals - we're currently playing 1000 capacity venues in the States - is quite surreal in many ways. Neon Indian has developed through many transmutations since I started it and we're kind of sitting on this aesthetic that it's landed on right now and I think its interesting that in the UK we're just in the process of introducing ourselves as that, almost like a finished product in many ways.

Your music has been grouped together with the likes of Toro Y Moi, Washed Out and Memory Tapes under the whole 'chillwave' banner. Do you feel any kind of kinship with those artists?
I like all of them very much so but I'd only heard them after I read reviews of my music being compared with theirs. I think Chaz Bundick (Toro Y Moi) and Ernest Greene (Washed Out) are really talented dudes and I'm really excited to hear what they're going to do next, which I guess is the position everyone's in. At first I thought it was a little bit intrusive to have somebody just coin a genre for you and suddenly start dictating who your associations are and what you sound like. It was quite ironic that Neon Indian was the first project I'd created where I'd decided to do the opposite of trying to tap into any form of musical community. I really started this with the intention of only doing things for myself, and then oddly enough it seemed to help spawn this micro-genre that happened in its wake. Now that I've written some material for the second record and seen the live show evolve and transcend beyond what you can hear on the recordings, it doesn't seem anywhere near as intimidating.

How do you transpose the songs from the record - which is generally a solo album - into the live context of playing as a four-piece band, which your show entails?
Everything requires quite a bit of recontextualisation. I never really had any expectations to performing 'Psychic Chasms' live when I was recording it, then suddenly I had people offering to put shows on and I had to try and devise a way for the record to become performable live. The first part was pretty much me and a group of friends trying to recreate the record in a live format as best we could, and then once we had it down we started deviating from it in many interesting ways. Now that we know the material so well in order to keep the show exciting we do tend to change things around even more so. I mean, we've been playing 'Deadbeat Summer' for well over a year now, and if I want to keep it fresh it needs to have new elements added every so often.

Do you ever see Neon Indian becoming a full band as far as both writing and recording are concerned?
I think 'Psychic Chasms' definitely has its own place and time as a snapshot for what I wanted to accomplish, but it has helped to generate a few ideas as to what I'd like to do in the future. I think the very nature of Neon Indian is that its myself and whatever the circumstances at the time are. It will definitely remain that way as far as the future goes; I couldn't imagine this ever becoming a full-time band.

How do you see your songs developing in the future?
The place where I see my songs going is around more orthodox kinds of instrumentation. With the first record I was really constrained by financial restrictions, so basically all I had to work with were two or three synths, a drum machine and my computer. This time around I'm aiming to take the next record as far as I possibly can.

What about your other projects? Will there be any new music under either the Ghosthustler or Vega banners in the foreseeable future?
I'd say at this point Ghosthustler is completely disbanded. All the people involved with that have completely different projects going on now. In order to keep morale high while I've been on the road, one of my objectives has been to work on the new Vega record. I'm recording the second Neon Indian album in November as well so I guess trying to establish which songs fit each project is another dilemma. I guess its all about environments - I mean, 'Psychic Chasms' was completed in one month but to me it was all about those months leading up to that where something snapped in me. I want to wait until I'm in that environment again before I decide what my next recording, whether it is as Vega or Neon Indian is going to sound like. I definitely have concepts, like with Vega, that will be a more slowly, meticulously crafted piece of work where everything is a lot more cohesive not necessarily in a formulaic way but certainly very controlled manner. Whereas Neon Indian tends to emerge from whatever psychedelic nonsense is rattling around my brain at a particular given moment!

I've read that a lot of the influence for the Neon Indian record - especially the song 'Should Have Taken Acid With You' - came from a former girlfriend. Do you still keep in touch and what's her take on the record?
We don't really keep in touch that much these days. Just to be completely candid, she's in school and off doing her own thing. When she first heard the record she was definitely very impressed by it. 'Should Have Taken Acid With You' was meant with an immense amount of sincerity, which I'm hoping comes across on the record

What would you pinpoint as being the main influences for your sound?
I tend to cycle through a lot of different genres that I'm very interested in. There are really only a handful of bands that I never get sick of. It's quite seasonal in a way. I might go through another New Order phase and then completely shut off from listening to concentrating on writing music. So many electronic producers work like that; they'll be in the studio laying down a track for ten minutes and then they'll go and listen to a song and things sometimes become far too referential for their own good! I'm getting more into 1970s synthesizer music as opposed to the 1980s because it's a little bit less controlled.

I can definitely hear reference points in your music from the likes of My Bloody Valentine and Slowdive too, particularly with the layered and textured sounds.
And the vocals too I guess! It's funny you should mention that because that's kind of like the direction in which the second record is going. I mean, in my own synthesized way that doesn't mean I'm, going to be busting out guitar moves with Fender amps or anything, but Slowdive are a band I've started to admire greatly and there'll be a lot of melodies constructed with similar patterns to what you might here on one of their records.

So far pretty much every review I've read for Neon Indian, both with the album and live has been positive. Do you pay much attention to what the music press have to say about you?
Naturally it crosses my mind every now and then, but the longer I do this the more confident I feel in my own ability. I guess any kind of attention should be deemed flattering and I should be more conscious of the climate around me but I also sort of have a part of me that wants to ensure I'm doing this for me in the end because 'Psychic Chasms' - before any review was published - was more of a personal triumph for me than anything.

The album 'Psychic Chasms' is out now on Static Tongues.

Dom Gourlay

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