Interview: Neon Indian
Thu Aug 5 2010
It was only last summer that Neon Indian plunged into the blog scene, tapping into young hearts with a blend of nostalgic '80s synth sounds and hazy memories of teen delinquency in songs like "Should Have Taken Acid with You," and "Deadbeat Summer." Neon Indian's rise may have also caused a ripple effect among other bands: Throughout past year, similar ambient, psychedelic, electronic one-man projects like Toro y Moi and Magic Tapes kept cropping up, prompting bloggers to peg the trend with ambiguous labels like "chillwave" and "glo-fi." We recently chatted up Neon Indian creator Alan Palomo about those labels, his preference for playing big festivals and what effect dreams have on his music.
Time Out New York: You're playing Governors Island on August 14th—how far along into the tour are you?
Alan Palomo: I've been in the middle of touring all summer. Obviously, in my off time, days here and there, I've spent prepping for the second album. We're doing a lot of preparatory stuff in the studio and fleshing out a couple of ideas that I've been tinkering with in my head while I was on the road. We're getting ready to play that show, and it's kinda funny, I think it'll be our last New York show for a while. And I think before we take that break when touring ends, we have the notion that we want to do something big right at the end of it and put together a bill that would be predominantly good friends of ours, and just generally kind of make a party out of it.
You've played a lot of big festivals in the past year.
I guess the most recent one was Detroit, which was one of the most fucking awesome weekends of my life. The cool thing about summer festivals, especially that one, is that when you're fortunate to spend a couple of days there, it feels like a summer camp for bands. It's sort of this consolidated space where everyone who you've met along your travels hangs out. And you just play catch-up for awhile, and then you get to see them play.
Do you think your sound lends itself to big outdoor festivals?
I think it has slowly evolved over time. These days, the bigger the better, just to facilitate a lot of the sound and the more soundscapey things that we're doing these days. Obviously the record came out close to a year ago, and after touring with it for so long, you have to constantly find ways to recontextualize the sound, to make it more suitable live and a little bit more fun for us to perform. We've reached an apex where we know the songs so well, the only way we can keep them interesting is by completely deviating from them in weird and abstract ways. We've definitely accumulated a lot of esoteric gizmos in the process and played around with them onstage, and we sort of create these transitions from one song to the next and always make sure there's some kind of fluid sound onstage and we want to interact with the audience.
What are a few of your favorite NYC venues?
For a while I think the dirtiest and funnest times were at the Market Hotel: I mean, aside from the fact that a lot of friends played there, it was always sort of this go-to place for really grungy, sweaty times. In fact, that was definitely one of our favorite shows. It was one of the most chaotic-sounding and problematic, as far as the set was concerned, but people were raging so hard they knocked over the PA twice. Aside from that, Music Hall of Williamsburg has so far lent itself to the best live experiences, for sure. I saw LCD Soundsystem there for the first time, and it completely blew my fucking mind—it was such an amazing show. It's just the right kind of intimacy given its location, and it's sort of synonymous with the community there. It's big and you get quality sound out of it, but it's not so big that it completely just masks the experience or gives you a weird, alienating vibe. When we played there recently it was pretty intimate, which is how I like it within the context of a venue like that.
Chillwave is a term bloggers have tagged Neon Indian with. Does that word accurately fit some of these new synth-pop bands?
I've never seen a collective of journalists talk about something so self-consciously. They're always having to incorporate scare quotes when they say "chillwave," you know? The irony is that none of us really knew each other, whereas before musical movements would rise from people who had similar musical objectives [and] are all part of one community. Now all it takes is a snarky blogger who is looking to coin something or to generate content and create this. I'm kind of neither for it nor against it; it just kind of exists as something. Obviously if it helps facilitate the music for you or if it exposes you to a couple of really good artists, then yeah, I'm totally for it. But to be asked to define it for someone...I don't think I'd even know where to begin.
A handful of songs from Psychic Chasms and your latest single, "Sleep Paralysist," deal with dreamlike states. How do your own dreams inspire your music?
I've always found that the more revealing qualities about myself, where I'm really kind of sifting through things—it has always sort've been in that state of mind. It's a RAM collective of memories and ideas. And that's a good way of really fucking with your day in such a way that you have a dream of someone or something that you haven't really thought about in a while, and it has this potency to reengage you in that state of mind that you were once in. And it just kind of trails and echoes throughout the whole day or week, even. I've found that I can reconnect with people in my own mind that I haven't spoken to in years, and it just kind of works like that. I'm always fascinated by that bittersweetness you can gather from something like that. That's usually a constant tone in my music, and maybe that's sort of where I'm at at the moment.
What's been inspiring you lately?
I'm always trying to dig from experiences. I've always had that practice of shooting from the hip and really writing things that are close and personal to my life, whether actually happened or fantasized. I can't really write based on some sort of abstraction. Writing about like an empty field or clouds—it doesn't really work like that for me.
What does the next year look like for Neon Indian?
As soon as I'm done being on tour, I'm just gonna completely immerse myself in recording the next record. The objective is to finish recording it by November or December, and put it out sometime early next year. Oddly enough, it's something that I need to get out of New York to do, just because I have a lot of friends here and in order to really put myself in that frame of mind I need to go somewhere I don't really know that well, maybe rent an apartment or something and just lock myself in there. I think the fantasy now is Helsinki. It's all sort of talk right now, but if I could, ideally, that's where I'd like to be. I'm planning a project that's turning into more of a band effort, but I think the nature of Neon Indian is the fact that it's comprised of whatever random utterance just pops out of my brain. And it'd be better to just stay true to that for now.
Neon Indian plays the Beach at Governors Island Aug 14.