We had the chance to meet Alan Palomo from Neon Indian, thanks to Prasvana for bringing the muy caliente hombre to Jakarta. As you know before, Palomo went through a lot in making the latest work of art VEGA INTL. Night School. It does makes you wonder, what kind of night school does he mean? If there’s one, could all songs in that album cater whatever might happen in said school? Well, that’s the thing about what Palomo did with all the motives behind every album he made, he always try to translate what’s in his head, from any visualization to any sound that he never found before in real life just to get through the process and finally get the composed piece of ramble inside his head. As wacko as you can imagine, or if you’re already had mixed feelings about him, please do find how articulate he is in telling his viewpoints. Well, he’s a chatty man! But we don’t mind listening to him for hours since his big dark brown eyes sparks something we can’t translate, oh maybe we’re just starstruck and spaced out…
Hey Alan, so how’s your trip?
It’s been fantastic!
You have VEGA INTL. Night School released last month. How did it go?
So basically I did the first two records very back-to-back, the first one in 2009, second one was in fall 2011. I definitely written the second one sort of in a mid of touring, more like Led-Zeppelin style, it was written in hotel rooms, it was kinda recorded between tours. Eventually when I came to finish it, as much as I love Era Extraña, I didn’t wanna write a record again for the sake of circumstances, so I took a break and i started DJ-ing a lot which eventually became the primer for how VEGA INTL. Night School came together. It was heavily formed by this practice that I hadn’t really gotten the chance to do since before I had Neon Indian as a project. I started as a DJ, I used to DJ with my drummer, we had a residency at Denton, Texas where we went to school and I would say it was the very formative time of my life because I was ferociously collecting records. I was constantly sorta seeking out new stuff because that was the nature of it. You have to have new repertoire every week, so in that time I was finding a whole plethora of new influences and really built an ear for what I wanted Neon Indian to be. So I returned to that with VEGA INTL. Night School and I just kinda ended up taking my time with it. I didn’t wanna release something until I felt like it really weren’t sound existence and I wanted it being written at a few different locations, not because to try to be dedicated but it took 4 years, you always wind uptrying to do it at home or do it indifferent studios in New York, certain musicians that I wanna work with. So it’s kinda slowly came together until eventually I felt like there’s a perceival ending side and I have to just put it out.
How do you feel about it by far? Are you satisfied?
I would say for me the satisfaction came from finishing the record. All the auxiliary “success” stuff – I use success with scare quotes because I think it’s difficult to quantify what that is or maybe only because I don’t really give a shit about it. I felt satisfied when I turned it in and everything that happens is the direct results of that. I think it’s really special, but it’s not nearly as associating as the act of creating something. The irony of being a musician is how little music you get to make once you start doing it as a career, because you put a lot of effort to this one record and then once it’s out you spend the next two years promothing this thing. Touring on the road, and all of that is very necessary and it’s fun as well! But I would say I’ve been satisfied just for the virtue of having a new album, it was very difficult to complete it because I wanted it to be at a certain quality and I wanted to try a lot of new things; production wise, there was a lot of growing pains with that because I have to learn how to do them, so a lot of them were problem-solving. So by the time it came together, I was just happy it was a record.
We still think Slumlord Rising is brilliant and the music video is pretty referential. What do you have in mind when you want to translate your music into something visual?
My music is always has a certain visual component that exists in my head even I’m not necessarily perpetuating whatever that is to my audience, which I feel likeI maybe sorta changing them because part of them is inside jokes. But this was finally an opportunity to be able to say “Hey, this is what it always looked like in my head, now i can show you a little bit of that.” I don’t know why about the previous records I didn’t really have the balls to direct something myself, and obviously I got the chance to work with Tim Nackashi who’s a great friend of mine where we’re working together for the “Polish Girl” video. So that was really great, but I felt very compelled this time around given the album was so informed by cinema to make a music video that felt aligned with the aesthetic universe of VEGA INTL. Night School and to finally to be able to show that to people and present it in some cohesive passion, cause I feel like I’m always talking about movies, but it’s easy to say that but it’s a whole other thing to get finally go to travel and making something to give them that’s meant coexist with the album.
Do you think all your conceptual music videos have decoded all your purpose in delivering your imagination to people?
I would say that vary in degrees. You know I tend to get heavily involved with the process even if I’m not directing it. So whoever wants to be the director has to put up with my bullshit, I just kinda meticulously checking in every step of the way. But now as I’m a little bit older, I feel more comfortable with finally sitting on the director chair and actualizing myself.
Music has its own way to picture anything, be it the intricate arrangement or heavy lyrics. How do you define your music?
I would say, in terms of how it starts, it starts off very visual. All of the single covers and all that kinda stuff ended up being illustrated byRobert Beatty, those are the kind of things that come into mind before there’s an actual melody. I used to be very attracted to textures and the novelty of making electronic music and not knowing what I was doing. But the further along I got, the less of surprise it was, then I have to start really thinking about it in terms of songwriter. So now that’s how I surprise myself by actually focusing on songwriting, coz I already know to do the textures, I can fuck around with synthesizer til it sounds like me. But, what’s difficult now is getting to that place, I feel like even if it wasn’t covered with goop, sauce, and weird stuff that I define Neon Indian to be, the song itself would be compelling enough to be interesting and to be enjoyable. But, it’s hard for me to describe Neon Indian in terms of genre or style because I’m too close with the material, I know what I like. I don’t know, I’d say it’s anybody’s guess. It’s a slurpy-syrupy funky music, you now, at least it’s a record.
You chose to use Neon Indian to portray your cult of music. If it’s possible to identify it with only 3 adjectives, what would it be?
To fold inward, to evoke viscous liquids, and define beauty in heartbreak.
Yes, if you’re confused then you’re not alone, coz we all know that ain’t adjectives. But well, anybody can describe whatever you want with your own viewpoints. Ok let’s move along…
Now make a line and use those adjectives to describe your desire upon your music.
It’s a… I don’t know if I can. Well I would say…I’ve never been asked that before, that’s kinda difficult to put together! Maybe to rationalize heartbreak and then that would lead me to say that the greatest musical lesson I’ve learned in my 20’s that you can’t write a song to make someone fall in love with you, that doesn’t exist. And I think a lot of the ethos behind Neon Indian is deluding yourself in allowing other people to develop the relationship with that song. I think the beauty and the failed adjective of what you originally wrote the song for is to watch it mutate and take on its own life in the context of other people’s lives.
Do you think you have an old soul? Your 80s vibe is so strong!
To say I’m an old soul, it’s not for me to determine. I think a lot of people interpret Neon Indian as a very nostalgic project and I wouldn’t entirely wholeheartedly agree, if only because nostalgia implies that you’ve lived through something, implies you have perspective about the experience and are looking back on it fondly. I didn’t live through the 80’s, I was born in 1988, I have nomemories of the decade, but I find really interesting valuable things about the state of pop music of that time, and experimental music too. So I just find it intrinsically fascinating to shift through and to essentially Frankenstein new aesthetic out of these different tropes. But to personally say that I look back on it fondly, it’s somewhat inaccurate. I just find it’s an interesting blueprint and universe to pull things out, to try to redefine in some contemporary lens. I’m not after revivalism, I don’t wanna write Prince’s record because those are already exist and it’s too good to ever try to replicate. I just wanna make something else. Something to place with context and form, which is something that I find it in a lot of films that I like. Like I look at Paul Thomas Anderson’s Boogie Nights, which one of my favorite films, or you look at a lot of Tarantino’s movies! They take genres, they take clichés, they take expectation within those genres and completely flip it on their heads. And I find that to be really interesting in every postmodern idea that I try to interpret musically. I’m not trying to make an 80’s record because thoseare already there and perfect, but to mutatethe idea where you would hear the song and playing with that context with the narrative,not in the lyrics but in the context, what it means, what it would look like, why it evokes, what the story is. Those are all the things that are fascinating to me about making music.
So what’s your current/all-time fave album that can always make you get creative in a different sense?
I always come back to Yellow Magic Orchestra – Naughty Boys and The Avalanches – Since I Left You.
Now, do you think you got your music all pictured perfect for its niche vibe to the oddity in it or you have thoughts to be experimental just for the sake of it?
For me experimentation can mean a lot of things. To qualitatively define it in sorta like self-righteous cliché of what it means to be experimental and make serious music it’s not something that interesting to me. To me, I make music that feels playful and even if it blurred with pop aesthetics, I mean I’m not trying to be rich coz it’s never gonna happen with that kinda music that I made. If I’ve been writing music in the 80’s, maybe I would be more marginally more successful than I am now. But nobody really cares about that kinda music anymore. I mean I have my fans and I really appreciate that. But for me the experimentation happens in the textures of the songs, to experiment with melodies not something that I interested about because I have these things to enjoy. But to create palates that make you slightly uncomfortable when you’re listening to them even though the construct of the song itself is operating in some a pop platform, that’s the sweet spot.
Anyway, the word neon has subjective/contextual meaning. And as visual as we can be, imagining the name of this establishment and the music can add enough trigger to explore hot stuff. The music is multilayered, what makes you keep going? what did you do to be able to add layer after layer til it’s fixed enough for you to turn it in?
It goes back to the cinematic element, cause for me writing a song is not about what key at in or what the core progressions are, well those things are obviously things I’m aware of and looking for, but when I started making music it was really more about being surprised by some unusual sound and eventually now I’m growing more of a songwriter. But I think what keeps me going is I’ll get some itch of something that doesn’t exist and then I wanna see it happen. It’s like I hear something in my head and it isn’t out there. I’ll hunt for those records and I just can’t find them.
Did you dig deeper and try to show it to people?
More of show this to myself, really. I like my records. It’s more of “I finally found the sound that’s been playing in my head!”
You always imagine the context of your record complement scenes of film. What kind of film that can marry your music?
Depends on the song, but I would say “Slumlord” for Boogie Nights and then “Annie” for this French film called Diva from the early 80’s and “Dear Skorpio Magazine”for Ralph Bakshi’s American Pop.
I remember you stated this line on an interview, “You’re essentially handed scenarios where you’re performing music live”. So, what do you have for the concert in Jakarta?
All I can offer with being the first time here in Jakarta, is to please you guys with the music.
Awesome, thank you!