When Alan Palomo greets me on the floor of the Majestic Theatre, a 109-year-old venue in Madison, Wis., it is a little more than two hours to show time. Fresh off his sound check with a Red Bull in hand, we move to a table positioned beneath the compact, yet beautiful balcony that wraps overhead.

Palomo, the 29-year-old creative force behind Neon Indian, is only five days removed from releasing his most recent and best record to date, VEGA INTL. Night School. The album, which has featured a litany of much-publicized narratives, from tequila-fueled recording sessions aboard a cruise ship to a nasty spill down the stairs of a New York apartment, feels almost out of time. This has been said of Neon Indian's previous two records--2009's Psychic Chasms and 2011's Era Extraña--but the remark seems to be much more apt for VEGA INTL. Night School's mixture of big, bold 80s sounds and vivacious grooves.

The album, which stands among the best records of 2015, is a 51-minute party, with banger after banger coming and refusing to let up on the pedal. The middle stretch of the record, which features 'The Glitzy Hive', 'Dear Skorpio Magazine', 'Slumlord' and 'Slumlord's Re-lease,' is unmatched in music this year. Even more impressive is Palomo's achievement of having created dance music with a brain. The lyrics of the record paint vivid sweeping scenes around the dense, yet funky instrumentation.



Hitting the Road.


Nearly two months into touring on the album, which was released on Oct. 16 via Mom+Pop Music in the U.S. and Transgressive Records in the U.K., one would think that Palomo has had his fill. But as we begin our conversation, it is clear that he loves every minute of it. "Tour has been great," he exclaims. "It was initially kind of a steep climb to cruising altitude because we had an entirely new repertoire we were trying to put together in two weeks in time for FYF [Fest in Los Angeles] and it miraculous happened. The show went off without a hitch. It was super fun. Since then, it has been this thing where we played for almost a near-month before the record was out and doing it Grateful Dead-style where you are trying to familiarize the audience with the material. But then eventually you get to this point where, from the day that the stream went up to the following show, it was like night and day. Once they knew the songs--I mean they were already kind of stoked but you could tell they were just stating the material and weren't familiar with it--but then once the stream went up, it was like, 'Holy shit, all it took was 24 hours and now people are screaming the lyrics back at us.' It feels great."

The live show also features a set of performers, which now includes Palomo's brother Jorge on bass, that are both new and old to the Neon Indian project. "Jason [Faries, the drummer,] is still in the band," says Palomo. "He has been around since day one. And we have a new guitar and keyboard player, [Max Townsley and Drew Erickson] that are also friends I know from Texas, so they come from similar circles around Denton."

With a record as thick with sound as VEGA INTL. Night School, which swirls and spins in the listeners' ear with a bevy of synths, bass and percussion, translating it to the stage was always going to be a challenge. "It took a little bit of reimagining for sure, but that's always going to be the nature of it," admits Palomo. "I always really liked that James Murphy quote where he was like, 'Yeah, we're the best LCD Soundsystem cover band around.' It really rings true. You write a studio record and you're not trying to limit yourself as you are working on it by this idea of, 'Oh, we've got to make sure that we're able to pull this off live.' It is the last thing on my mind. But then, once it is done, I have to go like, 'Oh, fuck, I forgot.' Now I have to run out and find the equipment to execute it, figure out what in the studio can travel and what can't. There are a lot of moving parts. There's definitely a lot of stuff on stage. But I think we found a good middle ground to be able to house all of it."

Still, Palomo, who is a noted synth gear head, is always proud to trot out some of his prized possessions when making his new songs come to live for crowds. "As far as on tour, we just have the Prophet-6, which is one of the newer Dave Smith ones," he says. "It sounds incredible. "



The Sound.

In the creation of VEGA INTL. Night School, however, a number of synths were used, with some being more cooperative than others. "There were a lot of sampled sounds and that was something that was kind of new in terms of like a saxophone, but if I was going to use something like that it was definitely going to be a mutant, cartoon version of it," says Palomo. "So I bought an E-mu Emulator II, which is more synonymous with early New Order. You think about the choir sounds in 'Blue Monday' and a lot of old Ryuichi Sakamoto records and stuff like that. So it has got that vibe. And it only samples eight seconds, so it is super unforgiving in that you can't do song loops in it that easily. You have to chop them up, which is also useful in its own right. It has an old floppy drive, where you load the samples in one by one, it takes like 30 seconds for them to load. It is definitely temperamental.

"But not nearly as temperamental as the Memorymoog, which is kind of what I got the most mileage out of," he continues. "That thing...I mean it bankrupted Moog in the 80s. It sounds gorgeous, but it was a complete clunker that was limited by what was available at the time, technology wise. So it does this thing where if I unlock it--it has a lock function on the panel because out of the factory it had this problem where it would just randomly change parameters on stuff--so you are trying to write a patch and then seconds later, it just totally goes like, 'Oh! Oh! Oh!' and changes it. So you have to try to dial it up as quickly as you can and then lock the panel again and then save it. And then sometimes you go back and recall that patch and it is just changed for some arbitrary reason. So I had to always try and finish a song within that day because, 'Oh, I'm not sure I'm going to able to come back to this sound so I need to make sure it is ready or that I'm able to get the idea out with it.' The ones that I wasn't able to complete because I would go back and they were different, it was just like, 'Well, I guess it is an A and B part now. I have to come up with some other sound or respond to that and finish the melody.'"

Palomo's favorite piece of equipment and the last one he describes to me, one that generally chose to cooperate, got the star treatment. "The last one would be the Korg PS-3100, which is on the album cover," he says with a smile. "It is the opening to 'Slumlord.' It is the biggest sounding pad on the record and my favorite thing I own. That was the baby. It has this really dense, krautrock-like, sweeping sort of sound. I bought it around the time I was making Era Extraña, I just didn't get a chance to use it. So now years later, I'm like, 'Alright, let's write some fucking songs with this thing.'"

Due to his penchant for working with vintage synths, Palomo's no stranger to the wonky behaviors of the instruments. But VEGA INTL. Night School had him working with them the most of any record to date, due to their ability to capture the off-the-wall sounds he was looking for on the album. "With this one, I was going for slightly more exotic stuff. I kind of knew going into it if I can make them work, they're going to sound amazing," he explains. "But there is always going to be that thing where--my limitations as a tech are pretty finite. I can troubleshoot a few things, but there comes to be a certain point where I have got to send it to someone and I had to do that with the PS-3100. But [dealing with equipment malfunctions] has always kind of been the case, just futzing around with older stuff. There are few manufacturers--like all the Japanese stuff, like Korg or Roland, that stuff is built like a tank. My [Korg] MS-20 still--I've been touring with it for four or five years and my problems with it have been super minimal. Only when TSA chucks it out of an airplane and it arrives the gig and you can tell. Or sometimes they like to take--I guess they have power drills? So they'll open stuff and then not know how to put it back together again, so they just present it to you in pieces. They're so wildly disrespectful to touring musicians. It is insane. We've had pedals stolen, dumb stuff like that. But tangent. The second record was mostly Voyetra and that MS-20. I think this will be the first time I was really writing against the current, trying to make sure these songs get done before the gear needed more servicing."



Cinematic Influence.


During the writing and recording process of the record, Palomo found himself relying heavily upon his cinematic sense. As a former film student, he often found himself harkening back to filmmaking techniques, even as he explored his synthesizers. "Even if the song ends up sounding nothing like this, I always need this sustained chord, more soundscape textural piece and then I start whittling song ideas from that," he elaborates. "The reason I go for that is because that stuff automatically is always going to get to that point where you have a helicopter shot over the city and you are slowly going from macro to micro. I kind of like to start with these big, broad strokes and then eventually start whittling down what the actual chord progressions are going to be. But that's just kind of how I jam out. That to me is the opening of the film. That is where you start with this bigger, broader statement and then you start moving in little by little until eventually you are in the room where the scene is happening and what's the context? What are the feelings that are happening in relation to that? It is this symbiotic thing where I see it like that. To me, that makes more sense--operating in that paradigm--than to sit at a piano and be like, 'Wow, man. I had a crazy day. Better get it down on paper.' That feels contrived to me at times, so I always have to start with something that feels like the story is not necessarily coming from me, per se, as much as I'm just kind of responding to these images in my head and wanting to imagine some fictional film."

As a result of his music being a natural extension of his filmmaking sensibilities, it is not hard to imagine why getting the chance to co-direct the 'Slumlord Rising' music video with Tim Nackashi, who had previously done the video for 'Polish Girl', was such a gratifying experience for Palomo. "That to me was like, 'Cool, I get to show people what I see when I'm writing the songs,' he says.

The video, which consists of a single, 'Boogie Nights'-inspired tracking shot for the 'Slumlord' half and then a more action-packed, 'Akira'-influenced segment for the 'Slumlord's Re-lease' section, is a remarkable piece of filmmaking that highlights both directors' talents and Palomo's unique vision.

It is the video's five-minute long tracking shot that has earned a great deal of acclaim from viewers and critics alike. "That was what most of the night was," says Palomo of the shot. "We had that location for one night and literally we were the last thing that was shooting there before it got converted to a more generic dance club. So all the walls were being painted black and covered in stucco and all the neon was being stripped. We just had this one little pocket of the venue that was still intact. When we secured it, it was just like, 'Well, for posterity's sake, let's get this crazy oner.' But the thing about the oner is it required so much orchestration and a lot of patience on behalf of the fans who decided to come out and be extras. We were losing them little by little throughout the night when they saw that we were still just rehearsing a shot four or five hours later. It took quite a bit of coordination. By the time we got that one shot, it was already midnight and we had 24 more shots to get the actual story. By the time we did the very last one, it was 7 a.m. I had a lot of really patience friends and fans that were willing to hang out and see it come to fruition."

The video's influences are numerous, with some even being accidental, including the casting of Mel Kohl, who bears a striking resemblance to Michelangelo La Bionda of Italo disco group La Bionda. Palomo howls with laughter when I point out the similarity between the two. "We casted that guy for that reason, specifically. Like, 'Holy shit, he looks like an Italo disco superstar. We've got to get this guy,'" he says. "He already had his own crazy oversized suits and pomp. We didn't style him. He just showed up and looked the part. He looks like an announcer on 'Discoring' or one of those old Italian TV shows."



Vintage and Modern.


The promotional campaign for VEGA INTL. Night School has blurred the line between vintage and modern, thanks to contributions from acclaimed artist Robert Beatty, who designed the album's cover as well as the single covers, and a phone hotline, which gave callers a sensual preview of the record's contents. "With Beatty, I knew he was a good friend of Dan Lopatin [of Oneohtrix Point Never] and had done some early Oneohtrix covers and then the Tame Impala stuff," says Palomo. "He just kept coming up constantly, at least with artists I was following. I had this idea of the 'Annie' single cover where it didn't necessarily involve feeding him some concept. There was reference material we initially sent. You have this era of art--and it still happens now--where you see these Jeff Koons-like sculptures that are made of other things just sort of postured together. It becomes a tableau of non-sequiturs. "

"So the way we started working was to text each other goofy shit that we thought was funny, like, 'Oh, yeah, abstracted rotary dial!' or 'Saxophone with a tongue!'" continued Palomo. "On a long enough timeline, Robert had illustrated all of these things. Not in the context of putting them in one picture, but he just had this catalogue of weird things we could now start playing around with the configuration of. A lot of the things, he already had in his pocket. By the time we got to 'Glitzy Hive,' it was like, 'Oh man, we haven't gotten to use the ice cube on fire yet! Throw that somewhere in there!' So it was more like that instead of approaching it as one piece at a time, which was awesome. It was super fun to be constantly in a rapport where we are talking about that. I was super impressed with all of it. The gatefold is my favorite image that has ever been associated with Neon Indian. I loved it so much that I had to convince the label to put a billboard of just that on a Sunset Boulevard billboard."

As for the hotline, it was conceived at the perfect confluence of factors that made it an ideal fit for the record's promotion. "The hotline is obviously congruent with the themes of the record and everything like that, but what's funny is that I totally remember those, 'It's just you and me, I'm all alone' ads watching 'MadTV' on a Saturday night," laughs Palomo. "The commercials come on for some phone sex line. And my brother and I would be at a payphone and we'd call it, but we could never get past the directory because we didn't have a credit card. But that directory is already super fascinating, just some girl being like, 'Hey there, sexy,' which is exactly what we wound up fitting into the script of this one. I was told that there was a means by which we could do some phone-related thing and as soon as that happened, the wheels started spinning: a phone sex line, you talk to Annie, she tells you about the record. It was amazing. I was super excited about that one in particular. And it is funny because nobody knows this, but the actress with the British accent who opens the directory is named Sonoya [Mizuno]. She plays Kyoko in 'Ex Machina.' Nobody knows that and considering that she doesn't say anything in that movie, it is rad to be like, 'Oh, you've heard her voice! You just have no idea.'"



The Narrative.

Palomo's love for pulling from his inspirations also impacted how he has chosen to share some of the stranger narratives of the album's creation. The lengthy, informative, hilarious and remarkably well-done feature done by Yours Truly on the creation of VEGA INTL. Night School was also inspired by something related to Paul Thomas Anderson's 1997 opus. "It's funny because obviously you'll see a lot of nods to 'Boogie Nights' in the music video, but I remember the Grantland article, 'An Oral History of Boogie Nights'," says Palomo. "I thought that was such a cool format by which to tell the story because I'm going to be doing a lot of interviews, a lot of personal statements. But because there were so many other hands involved, I kind of wanted to abstract myself from that article and be like, 'Let me just write you a Skorpio letter.' I was originally going to write a few more, but I think just for time's sake, I put all my energy into telling the laptop story and then letting everybody else tell the more pivotal moments like Marcus [Webb] explaining when I fell down the stairs and all that crazy stuff. From me to the mastering engineer, Heba [Kadry], there were 17 people who got involved, whether engineering on a tune or playing on something or being one of the extras as part of the party ambience on ['Smut!]' There were a lot of moving parts. So in that sense, I thought it would be better to pay tribute to them and be like, 'I don't know, you guys tell me how it happened.'"

With a mixture of music, film, oral history, letter writing and more already entering into the near-mythical story behind VEGA INTL. Night School, it almost seems fitting that one of the primary teasers for the ethos of the album's making was initially revealed in Aug. 2014 during a TEDxTalk given by Palomo. "In hindsight, it feels like I was creating a mission statement or a primer to then be able to present VEGA INTL. Night School with more context," he admits. "But that's where my head was at when I was doing that TED Talk. Allow the art to be greater than the sum of your individual contributions to it. I think that people get really petty about crediting and I understand. Everybody wants their due. But at the end of the day, for me, it was equal parts. It felt like directing. I was bringing in all these people and I have these compositions that definitely need embellishment or need a certain specialized skillset to execute something. Like I didn't perform the guitar solo in 'Baby's Eyes,' but I was definitely there every step of the way symbiotically coaching this person through the kind of performance I wanted, then also patching the MS-20 into be playing what he was playing. It is that thing where you go back and forth between recognizing that it is a Neon Indian record and that my voice is pervading throughout all of it, but I can't deny the fact that part of my voice is my friendships and my allies and the people that wanted to be a part of it or were nice enough to grace me with their presence to contribute something to it."

Still, VEGA INTL. Night School is Palomo's creative vision. This is particularly evident within the album's lyrical content, which walks the line between fiction and non-fiction, a line that Palomo gleefully distorts. "Even if it was autobiographical, I always wind up cartoonishly distorting what my anecdotes would be, although there were some that were pretty much spot-on," he says. "Like that Skorpio letter [from the Yours Truly feature] was exactly what happened. That's what I remembered when I blacked out: the catwalk, tripping on the Swedish girl, almost pissing myself. There were no embellishments there. But once you start getting into the lyrical threads of 'Smut!' or 'Dear Skorpio Magazine' or '61 Cygni Ave.,' there are elements of truth, but it is definitely though this fish-eyed, Terry Gilliam lens where everything is a little bit distorted and extrapolated from the actual story. And that was the intent. To me, it was like, 'Well, whatever makes the most interesting story.' I definitely wanted to print the legend. It was giving myself carte blanche to be like, 'Well, there are parts of you in this, but let's just kind of go with it.'"



Skorpio Magazine.


The album's centerpiece and high point comes on the track 'Dear Skorpio Magazine.' The track begins with soaring riff, followed up by a bouncy danceable beat. In one of his best vocal performances to date, Palomo croons about making eyes with a woman on the street. The lyrics veer between the creepy ("Often from a distance/ Always so discreet/ Keeping prowler's pace/ Through the dirty sneaker squeak") and the oddly sweet ("Dear Skorpio Magazine/ We made eyes/ Dear Skorpio Magazine, let me paint you a scene/ We made eyes").

Palomo drew inspiration for the song after stumbling upon the now-defunct Italian Skorpio Magazine. "I heard about it tumbling down the Internet rabbit hole and watching Vivian Vee videos. Vivian Vee was an Italo disco startlet," he explains. "Reading up on the backstory of her, it mentioned she was a Skorpio cover girl. I was like, 'What the fuck is Skorpio Magazine?' So I started looking it up and there are all these weird collector sites where they have PDFs of just the cover, but I wanted to see what the actual content was. I thought it was just going to be a hardcore porno mag. So I get one and I finally open it and there is only one scantily clad photo shoot with some girl in a bikini. Then I turn the page and it is just pulp comics of astronauts and space shit and the Wild West. It was so funny that the rest of it was kind of slightly more... not wholesome, but it was more adolescent, which, to me, made perfect sense. It encapsulated so much of Neon Indian, as you kind of get a little T and A and then you just have a lot of goofy sci-fi, fantasy shit. I'm assuming it must have been the perfect pulp comic for some teenage Italian in 1986 or something. It did wind up being this thing I really romanticized and the idea I would be contributing letters decades after it's gone out of print."



New York City.

But beyond odd vintage discoveries, most of what inspired VEGA INTL. Night School's lyrical content was derived from Palomo's experiences with social nightlife in New York City. Even songs like 'Smut!' which starts in a porno video store, is derived from interactions in Palomo's own life. "'Smut!' is in a video store, or it starts there and then are lyrical allusions to this book by Martin Amis called Money that is really great," Palomo says. "But 'single after sundown' is that thing of like, 'She's got a boyfriend...' In the lyrics, it is peppered throughout that this is a bad idea, 'But I don't know! If she wants to then I guess I can't decline!' It is those moments where New York can occasionally bring out behaviors in you that are completely amoral. It is just kind of the nature of the sociopathic thread of dating life that I would define a 20-something-year-old's life to be in New York. I can't tell you how many times I go to dinner and there is just some girl across from me that just has this disposition of 'demonstrate your value' and is completely guarded. You have to navigate through that world and see what of it is appealing to you and what of it is also bullshit that you don't want to associate with. Through that, there are plenty of titillating adventures. That's the nature of it."

In Palomo's eyes, these odd, perplexing romantic interactions are an offshoot of New York's allure to young people. "I think it is a geographical thing," he explains. "I would say that my friends in more humble, smaller cities seem more well rounded or are surrounded by people with more pragmatic expectations about what their day-to-day experience is. I think people see stars in their eyes when they go to LA or New York. Sometimes it can be really annoying, but I also found it to be the perfect backdrop to tell this story in particular because, I've said this before, but New York is becoming the city of the transplant, Brooklyn in particular. Everything from Broadway to Manhattan Avenue is becoming hipster Disneyland. It is getting absorbed by this one continuum. You have all these people that are fresh out of high school or fresh out of college who don't really know how to carry themselves in public in a nocturnal situation. You see all this sort of cartoonish posturing of who they want to be seen as versus who they are and it is all fueled by what the typical motivations are for somebody to go out, which are to do drugs or get drunk or get laid. It becomes this bizarre soup. Even if I'm not actively participating in it, it is interesting to be there. It is like Ralph Bakshi's 'Cool World.' All these cartoons trying to get noticed."

Even more perplexing to Palomo is why people pretend that they are going out for reasons other to get wasted or get laid. "You have those moments where it is last call and you are like, 'Why are you really still here? Do you just really love the beer so much?'" he laughs. "You always have to second-guess yourself. If I'm not in a relationship, then I'm probably going out to get laid. If I am in a relationship, she probably would have told you it was time to call it hours ago. But that's just a different animal."

For Palomo, a tour is a nice break from New York nightlife, but he has no real plans on the other side, at least not with music. "[Film] is definitely something I would love to do a whole lot more of," he admits. "I think, on a long enough timeline and in an ideal world, I would get to direct films and write the scores for them. Obviously, that is an incredibly lofty ambition to just throw out there now. There has to be quite a bit more on the directorial reel before I could ever make something like that. But with that in mind, I'm glad that the ['Slumlord Rising'] video went off without a hitch because it gave me a little confidence to be like, 'Oh cool, let's start doing that.' And it was funny because I've always seen artists as the directors on music videos and I kept articulating this to the powers that be, just being like, 'Guys, l actually went to film school. Just give me a chance to let me sink my teeth into something. You'll be happy, I promise!'"



The Future.


For now, it seems like VEGA INTL. Night School might be the project's last record, or at least the last one for quite some time. "I don't foresee another Neon Indian record, at least not anytime soon," Palomo says. "I see it as a bookend to a trilogy, so to speak. If there was another one, it would have to undergo some aesthetic overhaul for it to remain interesting to me. There has to be some next idea to be moving forward toward. Era Extraña was entirely different from Psychic Chasms and VEGA INTL. Night School was entirely different from Era Extraña. There was this continual thread where like, 'I hope people are willing to follow me there!' But for now, it was one of those things where you really only have time to do one or the other. Part of that time I took off [between Era Extraña and VEGA INTL. Night School] was working on a short film, writing a screenplay and doing a film score for this movie, ['Lace Craters'], which more recently played in Toronto. I realized, let's maybe try a couple more film things and, in the same way I felt compelled to write VEGA INTL. Night School, maybe one day I feel compelled to tackle the next thing. But as of right now, there is no immediate plan."

Individuals always aspire to go out on a high note and if VEGA INTL. Night School is truly Neon Indian's swan song, a higher note could not be imagined. The eccentric bricolage of the record has made it into more than just a record. It is a multimedia art piece of the highest order and will send Neon Indian off into the sun with one of the best records made in the past 15 years.

For Palomo, however, such an accomplishment seems to be merely just another step on his creative road. What lays ahead for the polymath talents of this Denton native? Only he truly knows. Whatever the case, Alan Palomo's artistic trajectory is worth following, as only greatness ever seems to be good enough for him.

VEGA INTL. Night School is out now.