Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Interview: Neon Indian

Interview conducted by Frank Phosphate. Introduction by Stoned Ranger. Photography by Stephie Ya Know.

Whether it can be attributed to the nature of blog driven "indie rock" buzz or simply to Alan Palomo's own PR savvy, the fact that Pitchfork interviewed Palomo about his Neon Indian project before anyone in the local media had a chance to speak with him about it surely says something about the speed of ascension in pop music today. Months before they'd even booked their first show, let alone played it, Neon Indian was preparing for an international tour and a full length record release that is quickly becoming one of the most highly anticipated events on the 2009 release calendar, thanks in no small part to the mass amounts of praise the band has received from around the blogosphere.

Of course, with this kind of quick acquisition of accolades comes the inevitable skepticism in which fans wonder aloud whether a particular band is "overrated" or "deserving" of the kind of attention they are receiving, and truth be told, you can hardly blame anyone for being skeptical about the groups that American and European "tastemakers" have been crowning as the "next big thing" over the past several years. Ever since Arcade Fire wowed us with mediocrity and Sufjan Stevens showed the world just how conservative most indie rockers can really be, underground music has seen a parade of buzzed about acts that seem to offer little more than good manners and obvious influences.

Fortunately for Palomo and Neon Indian, however, the group's debut release mostly lives up to the hype surrounding it. Sure, the record might not change your life, and it'll certainly have its detractors, but Alan Palomo has demonstrated, at a very young age, that his songwriting skills can transcend the genres and fads with which he's been associated, and with the eclectic influences scattered throughout Neon Indian's debut (everything from Yellow Magic Orchestra to 60's psyche pop), its hard to imagine that this record won't appeal to a fairly large cross section of discerning music consumers. Our very own Frank Phosphates sat down with Alan to discuss Neon Indian and the upcoming tour, and here's what they talked about:(SR)

Why start the tour in Denton?

I have always tried to make it a point of testing things in an audience that I am comfortable with, and I feel like Denton is predominately just friends and allies and, even a few enemies now and then, which I always thinks makes things a little more interesting when you are trying something new but... well maybe not rivals, maybe just Rival Gang...LEANNE.

Yeah they'll fight ya!

I think there is something comforting on this occasion. For example for the Vega show we we..(at this point some adoring fans come and Alan is really nice to them and stuff) haha, the difference between this and the Vega show was that the Vega show was testing it out without and set itinerary, more just a labor of love really just trying things out...

Where was the Vega show at?

It was at Hailey's on New Year's. The way the stakes have changed now were literally on the cusp of (I offer him a cigarette) sure...If this was a Vega show I would not smoke this, but Neon Indian does not demand too much of my vocal range, so...you don't have to write that down...I feel like being on the cusp of a tour, and given that immediately three days after the show we're gonna be at Monolith Festival, Denton is the perfect environment to try it out because I can expect nothing but honest feedback, and use this as an opportunity to sort a few things out. And even then just put on a really good show for my friends. That's what I'm doing this for.

What kind of preparation have you done for the tour?

Most of the preparation has been adjusting to tour life in to begin with. I'm a pretty social guy, I move around a lot but I always do crave quite a bit of stability and this tour is literally the first time in my life where I have no set junction or time or anything. Our booking agent tells us when a show is coming up, or a string of shows or a tour for that matter, and we just have to prepare for it. What I have been trying to adjust to is things like sleeping habits, eating, trying to find the time to exercise, and feel like a normal human being in this really unusual context of constantly being on your feet.

For the Neon Indian show in particular, much of the preparation has gone into how we can differentiate a Vega show and a Neon Indian show given the vibe or presentation or something as simple as Theatrics. I recently came to the conclusion that it is something that will come with time, once we sort of feel out the audience. Our first take was all the ideas; like we walk up stage in a cloak and right before the first guitar lick starts, we just like remove them and just start playing our instruments, which we would have done if we had just made it to a Michael's and found some black bed sheets to do this with.

How did the tour come about?

It started with a few consistent show offers we started getting. I definitely had plans to do Neon Indian live and had plans of touring right around the time of the record release. It all kind of happened at once. We heard the album was coming out on October 13th, and then immediately after that we put up a link for our booking agent; we got about seventy inquiries in the US. A little overwhelming but we tried to do as many of them as we could, some of them fell through due to scheduling conflicts and all that, but the way it has worked up to this point is that we got all these dates and mapped it out to this logistical nightmare of how we'll get from one place to the next, which is it's own fun little ride to begin with. Even within these Neon Indian shows there are some Vega shows sprinkled in here and there. Up until this point cutting our teeth has all been done predominately through Vega shows, and the shows our booking agent has gotten us, and they have kind of been all over the place.

One thing I have had to learn is how to play to different audiences. You might play a bill where no one knows who you are and you just have to go in there and give it your all. It's pretty long and arduous, but the fact that so much preparation has gone into it, I feel confident. The most ridiculous shift we have to do is one night we are in Mexico City and then we fly up to Seattle and then c
ontinue to tour as if nothing had happened. It's pretty... well actually we fly out from Boise, Idaho to Mexico City for two shows that that promoter set up ... and you know it's fucking weird.

I feel like the biggest thing that's making it... it's not overwhelming by any means, I'm very excited about it, but whats very taxing in terms of prep-work and mental preparation is the fact that both Vega and Neon Indian are taking off at the same time, you know, just got to keep up with the work flow

Talk a little bit about the process of working with Neon Indian as opposed to the other projects you have worked with.

Vega has always been a project with a specific set of influences and very finite aesthetic, whereas Neon Indian started out more as a creative exercise. Try to write a new song everyday and we never spend more than 48 hours on it. Whatever the product turns out to be is whatever it is, and you can invest as much time as you want in it. I realized that really opened it up, especially when I wasn't concerned with "who's going to like this," or what is the sound it is trying to tap into, "Who would you associate with this?,"; I feel like that's when Neon Indian really became it's own thing. Before I knew it, in about a month I had an album. I realized that working in that way was so much more advantageous than the initial Vega work flow. Now I have modified Vega to be equally spontaneous in that sense. Especially now that sometime in January I have to start writing the Vega album. Definitely want to bring that to the table.

I want to talk a little bit about the music. Neon Indian has a very lo-fi, almost "druggie" sound to it. Yet the music still sounds rather positive, some almost like ballads.

Yeah, totally.

It's something we are not used to hearing from you. Did you go into the project wanting to channel something different; a different kind of outlet?

There is some irony to it all because of this contradiction where the songs sound generally upbeat. There are no dark, or unusual, dissonant songs on the album, but in terms of the lyrical content, it is very personal. It all derives from various heinous relationships. Not necessarily heinous but just specific relationships that I have revisited over time. Dissecting the moments when they have gone awry. They each have their own unusual kind of narrative.

So this is the first time you have tried that with your music, exploring those themes?

Yeah. It's funny because I would say eighty percent of the content, as far as lyrical fodder, definitely came from Denton. Most of those experiences were all very specific places in time. Looking back, I can say "Oh, this is where that happened," or "This happened over there."

Do you follow the press at all? Does it affect you? Does make any difference in what you do?

It never makes a difference in what I do. I am always interested in feedback. Music is still a very new thing for me. I'm still learning about the medium and every song is a testament to that progress. The purpose of Neon Indian was definitely to try out new production tricks. No idea is a bad idea, it's just a matter of what context you fit it in. It was definitely that kind of approach. I check blogs. I try to be an active participant in the online music culture. I think a lot of the bands that have come out of that culture have influenced what I do. I see it as a very objective thing, if you are not pissing somebody off, you're not doing something right. If you can elicit a response, whether it be positive or negative, means that you are trying to do something that isn't safe. I could speak about a lot about We Shot JR commenters. There is a very direct line in the sand. But I try not to address it, I don't let it affect me. It's whatever, you know?

Closing it up, is there anything you would like the world to know about Neon Indian? What can we expect?

I would like to eventually make it more of a multimedia project. I have thrown around the idea of a second album being the score to a screenplay I write. Music is a very interesting deviation, because I have always been a film guy. It affects the way I approach music. I would like to find a way to make an artistic project that is a conglomeration of those two ideas, and sort of do it from that perspective. I don't know if it will be the second or the third album; just depends on what time allows. You can also expect a Vega album in the upcoming future, by the way. The VEGA record will be a joint release through Fool's Gold and Downtown. And I'll just say, I can't say who it is just yet, but I will say it is a band of the last three years that has greatly influenced me, will be the ones producing the album.

Neon Indian's next local appearance is a free show at The Granada on Halloween.



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