Neon Indian, the band that is responsible for bringing Chillwave to the forefront, wrapping up their brief stay in Jakarta with their entrancing, danceable music. The crowd intensifies despite the pouring rain, as they watched Alan Palomo, the man behind Neon Indian’s signature melodies, sang and danced to the band’s energetic synth beats from their latest album, Vega Intl. Night School. The performance was also opened by local electronic band, Future Collective, who warmed up the crowd before Neon Indian took to the stage.
Ahead of last night’s performance, we sat and talked to Alan Palomo of Neon Indian on the importance of taking a break from making music, the tackiest thing one can do as a musician, plus, we also had him revealed his iTunes playlist to us.
VEGA Intl. Night School is noticeably more danceable than your previous album. How did it come about?
So after I wrote the first two records – it was kind of back-to-back – I really wanted to take a break. Not just from writing, but playing live and touring. So during the break I was just kind of, “You know what, I’m going to spend more time listening to more music” and finding out about new stuff, definitely finding out about a lot old stuff. A lot of disco, a lot of techno, and Balearic beat. So it gets a bit eclectic. And I eventually through the virtue of putting together – a lot of DJ sets – throughout the years, I felt like I want to write a record that falls closer to that than the previous Neon Indian now.
I originally thought I was going write a VEGA (a solo music project Palomo has been working on alongside Neon Indian) record, but I realise that it’s not a separate project anymore because production components from Neon Indian kept spilling over to VEGA and vice versa. And I thought it’d be way more constructive to just give myself in whatever kind of record I wanted to make, and then worry about whether it’s Neon Indian later. And it worked out.
We know that in the midst of working on your records, your laptop – which has nearly a two-year worth of record – was stolen. What really happened?
It’s pretty long and embarrassing. It involved a lot of tequila, a basement in New York, this club in China Town; it involved blacking out in a way to some supposed Saturday Night Live after-party, which I don’t remember being there. And then it involved sort of coming back to reality, in front of a stoop in my apartment, trying to get in to my place but not having my keys. I was sort of in the midst of drunkenly trying to make sense of it all. I just nodded off on my stoop and I woke up maybe 5 hours later. It was Sunday morning and I was literally on the sidewalk at this point. Some ladies came and were like, “Oh my God, are you alright?” And I was so embarrassed so I didn’t even open my eyes and said, “Yeah I’m sunbathing in my clothes, on the sidewalk”.
An hour after that, some guy shook me. That was when I got up and it was already noon. Then I walked over and I just realised that my laptop had gone. That’s when the panic setting in, not just realising that the laptop was gone, but also realising that I just fell asleep on a sidewalk in New York City. The fact that nothing happened to me is amazing. So many things could have happened. Losing your laptop probably on the list of least terrible things. So I was just happy that that was it.
“I only wanted to make music when it’s a joyous occasion.”
What about losing your record? Did you feel that your hardwork had all been for nothing?
To some extent, I’m kind of glad I’m not working with that material anymore. Because had I been married to it, to the virtue of having already written it; Vega Intl. Night School is so different and so further along from where my head was then, from what I was capable of doing then.
I was partly motivated by not wanting to fall to the construct of the music industry as it is now, which is like needing constant output to a) be relevant and b) be lucrative to the people who represent you and working with you. And I feel like the work suffers for it because you just have to be making stuff all the time. A lot of my favourite bands take 4-5 years gap between records and I feel like it really warrants it sometimes.
So I feel like I found a lot of solace in that idea, in the middle of whatever that imaginary external force that people are sort of pushing on you. Because they’re like, “If you don’t make another record in the next 18 months people are gonna stop giving a shit, so you just gotta do something else now or you can’t be a musician anymore”. And I realised it was kind of a bullshit.
And to me what was great was to come back four years later and realised that some people stuck around and were excited for the next record. And I think it’s a testament to the fact that it’s not that there’s people there listening to your record, not just for the novelty of having something new to listen all the time, but because they’ve developed the relationship with the material, and they wanna hear more from the artist. So that was unexpected.
How did you finally push yourself to start all over again?
I did other things. I wrote a screenplay. There was a moment when I started writing a record – “You know what, fuck it. I’m just not feeling it now”. So I just did something else, spent 6 months writing a screenplay and work on a short film. But that’s the thing. I only wanted to make music when it’s a joyous occasion, because I started getting stressed, because the second record was really stressful. I love the record, but for more personal reasons like “I finished it. I did it, even though the circumstances were kind of stacked against me.”
With VEGA Intl. Night School, I just shut it all down, try some other stuff, had a lot of fun, and when I started getting stressed, I realised I shouldn’t. If it’s stop being fun, I shouldn’t be a musician anymore. I should totally do something else. And eventually I just get comfortable and find that joy again. It took a minute but it’s important to have that.
It occurred to me at some point that it wasn’t the only medium that I should operate in. And that was really liberating. I could just not come back to Neon Indian, ever. And we’d still hopefully have a very satisfying, fulfilling life in art. Without having to be that specifically. I’m glad I came back. But you know ultimately, it’s nice to know that there’s no pressure to keep doing it.
“Vega Intl. Night School is definitely my most pervert record.”
We read that you did some parts of the records in a cruise ship.
It was only a week. I think a lot of people kinda took that angle and ran with it. “Ohh you worked on it in a cruise ship, that sounds really tropical!” I can’t tell you how many times I get asked, “How did the cruise ship inform your whole, like, tropical world vibe?” I went there to finish songs that we’d already started writing. So my brother and I started working together and he ended up being a big part of the record. It winded up being this really great chemistry — but, he was kind of strapped for cash at the time and had to take a contract on a cruise ship just to make money, so the only way for me to keep working on the record with him was to book a few consecutive cruises, bring along an engineer and kind of make a tiny studio in one of the cabins.
It was seven days and I was drunk for the most of it because I started getting really seasick, so you either take the pills which had their own weird side effects or get wasted which is what a lot of people do. So my brother would buy discounted bottles of tequila at the duty free shop cause he would have his employee discount and just put them in my room. I would just be drinking from the bottle, the ships rocking because it’s December, which is the worse time of year to go on a cruise. I’m trying to be a producer but I can’t even see straight — I’m obnoxious and drunk. Umm so yeah, it was really an interesting part of the record but not like, to say that I was sitting on a lawn chair drinking a coconut drink being like I really wanna write a radiant song; that’s total bullshit. It didn’t happen like that.
But does working on your music in the middle of the sea influence your music in some ways?
Sure, but those things were always kind of, I mean…no [laughs]. I would still say it doesn’t, cause if I wrote a song there that wind up on the record, then totally. But the fact that I took songs there to keep working on them, that stuff was already in my head, just from the stuff I was DJ-ing. I was DJ-ing a lot of Balearic music which had that kind of vibe to it. It’s very “beachy”, I’ll use scare-quotes because if I say “beachy”, it’s going to be too close to Chillwave or something.
But it’s funny because with American audiences – with this record, if you write something that sounds vaguely ethnic they will just be like “Wow, this sounds like Ace of Base” and in my mind I’m like, “That’s just because that’s your only reference point in pop music.” And to me it sounds like Reggae, Calypso, Cumbia, something that my brother and I grew up listening to in Mexico. But to anybody that doesn’t know any of that stuff, it’s like it sounds really “world and tropical”. They use these super vague, almost kind of offensive descriptions, like, “It sounds ethnic”. And as a Mexican-American I’m just kind like uhh..yeah..I guess..
So for your latest album, you revamped your website to feature a call-in hotline (click away to learn more http://www.nightschool.biz/) and an accompanying commercial video with it. We think it’s brilliantly hilarious. How did the idea come up?
All I knew is that as a kid, around midnight there will be all these commercials for late night hotlines. And it’s always salacious, sexy, lingerie girls pillow fighting with friends. And there was some song that used to go like [singing] “Just you and me.. I’m all alone”, it’s like super goofy. And with what the record is and how kind of perv-y it is, because it is definitely my most pervert record. Which is just an aspect of my personality that I never showcased in any of the previous albums and I thought it would be equally hilarious and interesting to have it for the album. Especially given that the kind of themes that are pervading through out the whole record which is like nocturnal New York, more so, filtered through my own cartoonish lens on what my years on New York have been.
It only made perfect sense that the way you find out about what the album is actually is and what it’s at, is through Annie, as this phone sex operator. My brother and I called a few phone sex lines when we were kids just from those commercials but we didn’t have a credit card so we couldn’t make it get pass the initial directory. But they always answered just like “Hey there sexy” and that’s how we had to start ours.
“I can make whatever record I wanted and it didn’t have to be compared to or sized up to these Chillwave records because, like who cares?”
How does it feel to be the poster child for Chillwave?
I think there are worse thing than to be in Chillwave? I try to think of the fact that Shoegaze also has kind of a silly name. It’s just the idea of genre in 2015 is so completely ridiculous. And part of why I wanna make music is for the joy of making music and not to, like, exist in a paradigm. A lot of producers I know write a song and they waited for too long to release it and then that’s not the trendy sound anymore so they have to go back and redo it in some other style. That’s just such bullshit to me. That’s not how I wanna look at music.
And what was really fun and liberating in making this album was that after waiting for so long and realising that the focus on Chillwave had completely moved on. Nobody gives a shit about it anymore, so it freed me and I can make whatever record I wanted and it didn’t have to be compared to or sized up to these Chillwave records because, like who cares? I’m glad that this album stands out on its own and doesn’t need an ecosystem around it to be relevant or interesting. I’m not saying that it’s relevant or interesting but it’s exactly the kind of record that I wanna make.
What are you listening to at the moment?
I always listen to a lot of old stuffs. It’s embarrassing when someone ask who are your favourite current bands. I’m like I just crawled out of the “album hole” like a few months ago. If I’m still finishing something and I’m listening to other things that are around, it starts making me too aware. But I would say the new Oneohtrix Point Never album, The Garden of Delete, is incredible. I actually love this label called the Mood Hut that has the Jack J and Pender Street Steppers. Also a lot of stuffs that sound like early 90s like Mr. Fingers and N.Y. House’n Authority. When I’m traveling I just like to put on ambient records that I don’t have to think too much about like Global Communication. I’ve got the new Tame Impala too. Actually I’ve been getting really into this 80s R&B artist Alexander O’Neal, he’s pretty rad. Kind of all over the place for sure.
“Baiting for encore has never been cool. It’s like a weird manipulative thing.”
So after listening to countless music from various musicians, add to that years of touring around and playing live, can you tell us what’s the tackiest thing a musician can do?
Baiting for an encore. Like now I always tell the audience we’re gonna walk off stage for a second but we’re totally gonna come back and do more songs. Baiting for encore has never been cool. It’s like a weird manipulative thing. Obviously I don’t want to cite some artists and throw them under the bus. Everybody got their own sensibilities. I’m sure I do a lot of things that other people construed as tacky for sure.
I like that a lot of the older bands don’t have a lot of information about them. There’s no like, Instagram takeover or my ten favourites restaurants that have nothing to do with the music, but they create like false illusion to the audience that makes them feel closer to the band somehow. There are artists that have great Instagram account or really funny with their tweets but there’s a point where it’s just too much.
Yeah..we get to see that sometimes from a couple of musicians. By the way, we noticed that you co-directed the music video for your single, Slumlord. What was the experience like from creating music to creating your own music video?
It’s like a dream come true! Because I thought when I put it out there, it’s like now you know what’s in my head, now you know what it looks like when I’m writing music. For me making music is a very cinematic process because, initially, when I first started with my first band, I didn’t know anything about music technically or production wise. I was just improvising and I have to approach it through something that I did know, which was what I was studying at the time: film. So I was thinking of it in terms of soundtrack music then putting lyrics over that.
“I’d rather be creating than performing because I feel more comfortable in one stationary environment.”
So does this mean we are going to see you directing your own music video more often?
Absolutely. Arguably from here on out, it would be nice to direct all of them. It’s just the question of time. I finished the record in July and it was out in September so I have to be rehearsing with new live band and putting it all together and, miraculously, there were time to be able to direct a video. But now that I’m on the road there just not gonna be that break. So for the next record, I’ll probably do all the music video first and then put out the record.
I’d rather be creating than performing because I feel more comfortable in one stationary environment. But I would say that there’s a certain ecstasy and agony that happen with touring because you’ve already done the creative parts of putting together a live show. You know the songs, you already made the record and now you have to figure out how to get from point A to point B. But with that in mind, when you get to travel around the world, go to places you’ve never been before and, on top of that, find out there’s people that connect to your music there, I don’t care how many nights I haven’t slept in a row, that’s awesome!
If you could get a chance to appear in a movie or television series, what would you’d like to be in?
I would say, as far as TV show goes, I would like to have a cameo in True Detective Season 1, definitely not Season 2! Also any movie by Paul Thomas Anderson, Nicolas Winding Refn, Antonio Campos or Leos Carax. I’m just thinking of contemporary directors, because who knows they will be reading. So any of those directors, even if I were just in the background having a beer, that’s fine with me.
Okay, so for the next one, we’re going to throw some pretty random questions. Movies or concert?
Live band or live DJ?
Mountain or beach?
Mountain. I hate the beach. The sand gets everywhere. I can’t stand it.
Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump?
Ohh, you’re making me choose? Bernie Sanders!