Neon Indian // The 405 Interview
We caught up with Alan Palomo â for all intents and purposes Neon Indian â for a few words on the 80s, French films and Christmassy synth, with as he embarks on his latest Britannic voyage Words: Hannah J Davies Youâre over from Texasâ¦have you enjoyed playing the Green Man Festival and British venues so far? Absolutely, Iâm in a nostalgic state as Iâm reminded of when the record first came out [Psychic Chasmsis finally released in the UK on 20th September, a r... (continued)
We caught up with Alan Palomo â for all intents and purposes Neon Indian â for a few words on the 80s, French films and Christmassy synth, with as he embarks on his latest Britannic voyage Words: Hannah J Davies Youâre over from Texasâ¦have you enjoyed playing the Green Man Festival and British venues so far? Absolutely, Iâm in a nostalgic state as Iâm reminded of when the record first came out [Psychic Chasmsis finally released in the UK on 20th September, a re-release for Neon Indian]. This time around, weâre just exploring the nooks and folds of Britain and gaging how many people are listening to the music. Weâre playing intimate shows where youâre literally at the bar, then you perform and youâre immediately back to the bar upon finishing. Green Man had a different vibe to the US festivals weâve played, with a different type of line-up. We got to see Billy Bragg and also got a sense of new British bands, like These New Puritans. The album Psychic Chasmsis finally out over here in a few weeks time, are you already working on a follow up? Much of the motivation is to get this record out was so that we would have contacts here for the second. This new reissue is like a scrapbook, and there are some new remixes on there too [the bonus tracks are part of a set called Mind Ctrl: Psychic ChasmsPossessed]. Weâve done some interesting collaborations, some of which have come about by accident. In fact, we only recently met YACHT, and got to finally thank them for their work [they remixed 'Terminally Chill' for the bonus tracks]. Thereâs an amazing video on the internet where you chat to Peter Gabriel, and thereâs a picture of you with Lionel Ritchie, do you think of yourself as a celebrity in any sense of the word? For want of a better phrase, I try not to get into that bullshit. When you do that, the product starts faltering. I never get to look at things in context when Iâm out on the road, but meeting Lionel Ritchie was complete chance. We [the Neon Indian live band] were connecting to a flight in Holland and someone said âyou look like youâre in a band, Iâve got someone Iâd like you to meetâ. I thought it would just be a producer or I thought something would get stolen from us, but it was Lionel Ritchie! Itâs funny how weâve accumulated these experiences. The Peter Gabriel video was a short piece of an hour long conversation. It was one of the most gratifying pieces Iâve ever done, it was a nerdy conversation and very candid. I found it funny that he was this very reserved and articulate Englishman, with a few dirty uncle jokes. How do you get around when youâre touring Europe? It changes every time. The first time, we got to a lot of the shows on trains, the second time we were flying and most of it is done in a van now. Weâre not as sleep deprived. Before, we would get off a flight, get a connecting flight, go to a soundcheck, and play a show without any sleep. With the van itâs cheery and relaxing. The intro to your remix of Au Revoir Simoneâs Another Likely Story actually sounds a bit like Peter Gabrielâs Sledgehammer, not that I want to get you into any trouble. Wow, does it really? Iâm gonna listen to them side by sideâ¦I might mix them together when DJ-ing. Iâve only got to perform 'Another Likely Story' live once as we ran into Au Revoir Simoneâs Erika, but usually itâs too booming for a PA system! Youâve been in Ghosthustler and youâre still part of the band Vega, but do you feel more independent as Neon Indian with the live band rather than a quote unquote âreal bandâ? That was almost my initial reasoning to start Neon Indian as an anonymous project and free of associations. I didnât want it to be âa trippier Vegaâ, or to see Vega compared with Neon Indian. Itâs very interesting to see people talking about me as a songwriter, and I think Vega will become more of a band with my collaborators, because of this [other project]. On Twitter Iâve seen that you mention Sheffield as being âthe birthplace of electronic popâ. Was this a little tongue in cheek? This was this a little tongue in cheek, but if Sheffieldâs not the home then itâs definitely the preschool! Cabaret Voltaire and ABC were formed there! I was honoured to play there [last year], and I watched a documentary about music in Sheffield. I like collecting geekazoid facts about places. I also saw a Kate Bush reference and thereâs a picture of her on your MySpace. Is the Bush a big influence for you? Oh totally. I recently watched a documentary on the making of 'Hounds of Love'. I had no idea it was her fifth record! Iâve always been a big fan, but some of my friends are just like âWHATâ. One of my ex-girlfriends called it âsappy and cheesy musicâ. Iâm just a fan of anyone who is so dedicated to the persona. She is utterly fascinating and a special type of crazy. Neon Indian âis it as simple as people assuming you're Asian? This is like when I found out St. Etienne were from Croydon not Franceâ¦ No, Iâve never heard that before! In America âIndianâ makes people think more to Native American. Iâve had some fans show up in neon headdresses! My ex-girlfriend made the name up in a âoh Iâll start a bandâ retaliation, and as the set of experiences on Psychic Chasms are a weird scrapbook, an audio collage, of the same period it made sense to name it after her make-believe band. She made it up as a joke, made the MySpace page and left it empty for a few years. I could say the name has meaning now but it wouldnât seem honest â it would seem pretentious. It would be post-rationalization and I want to retain my honesty. Psychic Chasmsis the debut album, can you talk me through the inspiration behind as a whole and whether it focuses on one relationship? The inspiration was a few relationships. It was a very interesting period, where relationships were not as black and white as they had previously been - maybe shaping bleaker perceptions. I was in Austin [Texas] and didnât really have anything to do. I love the city but my own personal experiences were very ambivalent. The record is nostalgic, lo-fi and child-like, did you base it on any era in particular? I sampled one of my dads songs on 6669 [Alanâs father was a pop star in Mexico in the late 70s and early 80s] and I rediscovered a lot of music like New Order as an adult. There is a contrived aspect to making â80s musicâ, but itâs not like I sit around thinking about Back to the Future. Iâm giving context to that cultural background. I was interested in synth as a kid, especially from artists like The Beatles who had their one new wave song every once in a while, but who were not electronic artists - they were rock artists. Like Paul McCartney on Wonderful Christmastime. The synth is out of place. Or on a Doobie Brotherâs record. I can relate to that. I donât really have any formal training and I donât know what Iâm doing â itâs a fun, idiosyncratic process. If you werenât in music, where would you be right now? Well, this is the time when people are going back to school. I do think about what would it be like if I wasnât here, about to do an instore at Rough Trade. I would be seeing friends come back from their hometowns, bars would be filling up and Iâd be buying books. Iâm definitely going back sometime [to finish his degree], but for now Iâm seeing where the ride takes me in Neon Indian. You used to be a film student, and would I be right in saying that on a Vega track I heard the audio track from a French filmâ¦ Yes! It was from [Godardâs] Masculin Feminin. [The sample] is such an interesting conversation. Itâs a very mischievous film - conflicted and hypocritical. Youâre of Mexican origin. Has Mexican music or culture played a part in your sound at all? I sampled one of my dadâs songs which I had always found haunting. In terms of musical influences growing up in Mexico, there was music television and I watched Mexican MTV. I was 9 or 10 when Selena was just coming up. Ronnie [from the Neon Indian live band] is from El Salvador and Columbia so we tease each other about Selena, and hum the theme songs of Mexican programmes and then one of us will go âI know what that is!â. There was an [80s, French] song called 'Voyage Voyage' which I used to sing to my grandma, thinking it meant âgrandma, grandmaâ, too. Those little parts of my childhood are still there. I had an eerie reminder of all that when I played the same music at the same spot my father had done in Monterey [California] years before. Talking of Mexican shows, Au Revoir Simone allowed one of their songs to be used on Ugly Betty. Would you allow your music to be used on TV? If I loved the show, I couldnât resist. Itâs all about time and place, and if one could be so lucky to be given the opportunity... Thereâs this whole other world out there which is pretty massive, and there should be better music and better pop culture in general. Youâre no stranger to working with corporations thoughâ¦the single Sleep Paralysist was released on Mountain Dewâs record labelâ¦ A TV show to me is still a piece of art. Working for faceless corporations isnât contributing to the world at large â itâs letting people take a slice of your cool. But with Green Label Sound [Mountain Dewâs record imprint] it didnât feel like I was working with a soft drinks company. Flirting with commerce is not my favourite thing to do, but Green Label Sound allowed me the opportunity to play in London and Manchester, and to collaborate with Chris Taylor from Grizzly Bear. From that angle, itâs all good. And they didnât ask you to sneak in any Mountain Dew, did they? No, but I had my own idea to do something ridiculous, like making a music video which is really a Mountain Dew commercial and Iâm snowboarding with a can. You mention Chris from Grizzly Bear. Theyâre a band which has definitely reached a mainstream audience â do you want that for Neon Indian? I donât understand resisting things. What I would be trying to retain wouldnât be worth it. The internet is diminishing a type of music snob, and when people use music knowledge to have power over other people I think âis that really what the band would want?â I just want to connect with people. In your head, you do have an idea of who your fanbase is, but you canât choose the terms of expansion. Ideas always get convoluted; a piece of art, a book, a government office. The older I grow the less I tend to be orientated in what is considered to be cool. Someone who was around in the 80s told me that âin the 80s no one listened to Princeâs 'Purple Rain'. People were listening to The Fall. But out of context I can appreciate both. Thatâs why I try and look at things for what they are. This autumn youâre touring the US with Prefuse 73 and Miniature Tigers among others - do you have any particular cities youre looking forward to? Weâve run the gauntlet in the US, having toured it two-and-a-half times. If thereâs anything I want to get out this tour, then itâs that I want to do on my own terms. I want to finally have something where people will go âthatâs a great night of musicâ. It will be a fantastic experience, as Iâm touring with Prefuse 73 (AKA Guillermo Scott Herren) whose music I grew up with and a band whose music Iâve helped to produce - Miniature Tigers. I see you're performing at the House of Blues in Las Vegas; can you explain whether this is a steakhouse or a venue? Iâm not sure what it is. Vegas is anyoneâs game. There are a few smaller venues, but it will be complete debaucherous fun. Chromeo and I will play some blackjack. [I suggest that Neon Indian could recreate the film The Hangover]. Yes â Ronnie will wake up on the roof. If, say, a soft drinks company set up a tour for you and bands like Girls, MGMT, Vampire Weekend, how would you feel about being put into this âsetâ? As for Girls, I really adore that band and theyâre lovely people. Vampire Weekend, theyâre not as relevantâ¦I feel more at home playing with Prefuse 73 just in terms of context. If the circumstances came up then maybe, but the partnership with Green Label Sound was for a single and it doesnât define anything. My dream tour partner would probably be Oneohtrix Point Never. I'm a fan and he recently collaborated with Antony from Antony and The Johnsons. Can you sum up Neon Indian in five words or fewer? Can I do five syllables? Transmutating pop. Neon Indian plays dates in the UK, including Bestival, until September 10th. See www.myspace.com/neonindian for more dates/info. 'Psychic Chasms' is out September 20th on Static Tongues.
Neon IndianInterviewAlan Palomo