NiteTalk: Neon Indian, New York’s New Transplant

Benjamin Rowland

After winning over indie audiences with his loopy -- and totally catchy -- psyche pop in 2009, Alan Palomo, better known as Neon Indian, started 2010 by packing up his synths and moving from Austin, Texas, to Brooklyn. Niteside caught up with the recent transplant via email to get his thoughts on impromptu jam sessions with visiting bands, rooftop barbecues and the best place to throw an after-party.

You've been in bands before, but nothing that had such a distinct sound as Neon Indian. What were some of your influences? Around the time I began working on Neon Indian I had definitely established a set of bands that -- though I don't always construe them as direct influences -- always seem to have the songs I come back to regardless of my current sensibilities. Yellow Magic Orchestra, Fad Gadget, and Iggy Pop's "The Idiot" all kind of share those qualities. I first heard Ariel Pink in high school, and he's definitely been one of those people I'll cycled through endlessly. ... Pretty fun to think of things in that context for songwriting fodder. I definitely tried that approach with Todd Rundgren's music (another big influence). I was listening to A Wizard, A True Star pretty relentlessly around that time. So much so, I ended up sampling one of his songs for "Deadbeat Summer." It was fitting though. Psychic Chasms is kind of like a soundtrack of for that period of my life. It felt as if a mixtape fell out of my brain when I finished it. Only makes sense to incorporate the things you were connecting with then. That's probably how some of my dad's music also made it in there. Like a collage of songs and their referencing sounds.

Some critics describe your sound as "summery." How would you describe it? I think people like to project qualities in music more so than other mediums. You can't really dictate imagery with something like that unless you're chanting it in the lyrics or 'vibing' with some kind of quality that's associated with a very specific place or time. It probably has something to do with the fact that when the album was finished and it began leaking, it was getting ready to be summer and people just wanted to associate it with that pending experience. ... It's less to do with thinking about a season or decade in music and more with a certain set of ambivalent feelings. Like trying to replicate the emotion of listening to a song in your car speakers on the drive home from some kind of teenage catharsis and the narrative you create when you interject those components into the listening experience. It's one thing to hear a song, but it's another thing to hear it reverberating from another room. Then it has built-in context. I just like writing songs that sound haunted in that way. Like there's ghosts in the recordings. Makes listening feel like a very voyeuristic act. Like you caught it from a moving car or an accidentally long phone message.

Your new single on Green Label Sound is called "Sleep Paralysist." What's the song about? There's a bit of an inside joke with the title given that upon it's execution, I was pretty sleep deprived for the entire week. I'd have those constant moments of walking out of the practice space where I started it or the church where Chris and I tracked it and it'd be sun outside and you'd have that bummer realization of pulling the now too familiar all-nighter. The lyrics themselves though were really just riffing on an idea I've always been a little unsettled by. Every now and again I have those days where I wake up and look in the mirror and something feels slightly off or different and then that just becomes the new normal and so on and so forth. Like I'm changing every time I go to sleep or maybe it's always happening but dreaming just gives you enough of a break to let it pronounce itself enough to notice it. I remember hearing a static when I was a kid about how you'll cycle through your actual matter six times in your lifetime and kind of wigging out about it. This song touches on that but puts it in the context of someone in which you wouldn't want to change.

Through Green Label Sound, corporate companies like Mountain Dew are funding some of today's best new music. Do you think this is the future of the biz? Well, I wouldn't necessarily consider it the future of anything as much as a new component of it. These days, if you're not backed by a specific label (in some cases even that doesn't grant any promises), it's a little tough to keep any kind of backing with releases. ... I put the first record out on a relatively small label doing it's first release and still run it through the same operation. For the next album though, I'm still in the process of finding a good home for it, so stuff like GLS is pretty good when you're in that transition. ... I'm always working on something and playing with my musical identity so it's nice to have good resources without having to sell yourself to some label and get stuck on one sound for the sake of project consistency. If ad naseum is kind of in the backdrop of everything these days, might as well implement the medium to do something good with it. There's obvious pros and cons to allowing your art to associate with branding in exchange for exposure, and yes, it's a tight rope, but as long as you're a reasonable, rational human being you know these bands aren't doing it because they want to drive the car who's sponsoring it or crave a certain beverage, they're just trying to get you to hear the music.

When can we expect a full-length? Well, the main thing I'm working on at the moment is the first VEGA record, which is my other dance project. These next two months will be entirely about that. ... Writing music up here is a very communal experience. It's hard to be insular when you're constantly bombarded with that kind of stimuli. There's always some band in town who you've been waiting to see. The community up here seems pretty incestuous in that way. I've had shows where once we're done playing, someone mentions jamming and the other bands and us just end up in someone's practice space, fiddling with our instruments and following the same drum beat for hours. Its definitely working it's way into the VEGA record. Lots of epic, ethereal space jams intended for extended play. As far as a second Neon Indian record, I'll probably get started on that sometime late this year. Right now, I just have a few images that haven't really translated. It's still in the phase where you can only explain in a series of ambiguous adjectives and broad hand gestures. Basically, not music yet. I'll be putting out some singes over the summer for some of the songs I'm currently hashing out for it. One of them will be on Terrible Records, which will be the second  track I collaborate with Chris Taylor on.

As a resident of Brooklyn, what are you most looking forward to for local summertime activities? I've mainly been discovering them as I go along. Actually, as I write this, I'm wrapping up my first rooftop burger cook out of the spring! Nobody ever seems to plan these things too. Its always conceived when running into a buddy at the park and suddenly segueing [into] a casual conversation into buying Mexican beer/fajita meat and calling all your friends over. Good times. You really see people transform around this time. The first day of Spring a few weeks ago we sat on a roof and listened to Roxy Music "More Than This" on repeat at sunset. It was the first nice day out since Fall. As cheesy as it seems it's always the perfect Saturday transition into the nights undertakings. I really dig that about this city. Lots of interesting opportunities to gawk at the skylines.

We ran into you at GoldBar the other night. Are you out a lot? What are you favorite spots? There's a few little spots around Greenpoint I like to go to, but those are best left to be discovered on a whim, as has been the case these past months that I've been settling in. However, there's a restaurant in Brooklyn called La Superior that I seem to come back to pretty often. Has a lot of regional Mexican food that harks back to Monterrey dinners with the family. Comfort food for sure. Definitely have nursed a few Sunday brunch hangovers there. There's a few record stores as well -- Academy, Film Noir are some good ones. I bought my first vinyl purchase as a New Yorker there.

Favorite New York City venue to play? Favorite NYC venue to catch another band? Webster Hall was a pretty amazing vibe last time we played there. It's always a very mixed crowd and the sound is pretty nice. Places like that always feel epic. But our most intense shows though are always at Market Hotel out in Brooklyn. Generally makes for some good, grimy fun. We had a show we announced the night before when a band dropped out of the line up and still managed to pack the place. We raged so hard in the small space that some crowd-surfing dude was propelled into one of the PAs, causing it to knock over and almost fall on this unsuspecting girl taking pictures. Someone also fell into the mixer and unplugged some of the DIs. Rough stuff but overall really great night. Sometimes you need something like that to shake off a lot of the lame formalities that come with playing more formal, rigid places.

When's your next show in the city? Got any cool local gigs planned for summer? Aside from opening up for Massive Attack in May at Terminal 5, which the whole band is pretty massively stoked on, we're mainly trying to hold off live shows these next couple of months while we record. Much of the shows after this record are built around the string of festivals we'll be visiting as it gets hotter, Bonaroo and Sasquatch among them. We'll definitely set some stuff up for June and July, but in the meantime I've got a few DJ sets to usher in the nice weather. Summer out here seem to be pretty synonymous with rooftop barbecues and dance parties, which DJ skills seem to complement pretty well. I usually catch myself being "that guy" at the party who hogs the speakers anyways.

New York magazine did a whole issue on Brooklyn being the capital of music. Would you agree? Kind of. But the Internet seems to have completely de-centralized the notion of "cool" as far as music is concerned. You see microcosmic music movements popping in the most arbitrary of places and doing really amazing things without the support network of a massive urban area or scene. Blogs are pretty interesting in that way. It's really equalized how people absorb cult. However, wherever these projects might hail from they always make sure to stop in New York. So in that way, it's almost like a huge market of ideas. I'd definitely say from living here that there's a certain synergy that's hard to define. ...  It's one thing to read it on a blog or hear about it in an article. The trick is being amongst it and struggling to find something you stand behind to contribute to it. It's a nice problem to have though. It keeps you pretty busy.

What's been your most rock 'n roll experience since living here? Paying off expensive noise ordinances from shows by throwing benefit shows. Wait...

Finally, what's your ideal spot to throw an after party following a Neon Indian gig? Probably my apartment, there's pinball machines and records!

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