Interview: Neon Indian Explore Psychic Chasms

Interview: Neon Indian Explore Psychic Chasms

—by , April 23, 2010

Just outside the bohemian state capitol of Austin lies prospering urban municipality, Denton, Texas, where an exciting contemporary music scene now flourishes thanks to visionary beacons such as Alan Palomo. Ready to breakout and now residing in musical hotbed, Brooklyn, New York, the industrious composing architect contemporaneously helms zestful solo project, Vega, and more renowned electronic rock quartet, Neon Indian.

As a college freshman, Palomo abandoned distortion-pedal Casio rap when he discovered DFA Records’ dance-punk catalogue and disco-rock French duo, Justice, forming Ghosthustler to concoct several spontaneous tracks highlighted by syncopated oscillating gyration, “Parking Lot Nights.” This premature acclaim created what Palomo termed a “hostile current” amongst the band to make massive production strides in order to keep up with their electronic arts peers a la headliners MGMT or Chromeo.

But that was only the humble beginning. Graduating from electronic boot camp disciple to skillful compositional designer (and disenchanted by Ghosthustler’s counterproductive studio-infatuated mindframe), Palomo began contemporary disco venture, Vega. Though this outfit hasn’t released its debut long-player yet, Vega’s truest rivals may become synth-pop post-punks Cut Copy and Hercules & Love Affair.

Concurrently, Palomo’s iridescent “chillwave” archetypes, Neon Indian, have gained serious underground plaudits. Reluctantly identified with the prevailing glo-fi scene, their spectacular sugarcoated sun-baked electro-pop synthesist bursts wide open on surrealistic spellbinder Psychic Chasms. Unafraid to kaleidoscopically transmute ‘70s electro-pop into charmingly melodic stimulants, Palomo’s hyper-kinetic foursome (rounded out by guitarist Ronnie Gierhart, drummer Jason Faries, and keyboardist Leanne Macomber) fashioned the hallucinogenic soundtrack to ‘09’s Deadbeat Summer.

Laser beam spurts, squiggly aquatic squirts, bleating Casio-toned blurts, and intergalactic quirks bounce around in a mesmerizing whir on Psychic Chasms. Incandescent processed voices drift, echo, waver, and swerve through each percolating whirligig and the hazy convoluted narrative ultimately contextualizes its entirety. Peculiarly, the Doobie Brothers’ cheery “What A Fool Believes” keyboard riff consumes both ready-made intoxicant “Laughing Gas” and tunefully hook-filled regurgitation, “Terminally Chill” (where Paul Mc Cartney’s “Wonderful Christmastime” Moog droplets splash the Isley Brothers’ “Who’s That Lady” phase-shifting guitar in a panoramic carnival). Moving forward, floor-shaking electro-dance coax, “Local Joke,” duplicitously swipes New Order’s ‘80s-styled industrial music maneuvers to grandiose heights.

Hoping his impending body of work will be used to complement the visual realm like movie director John Carpenter’s concisely eerie score for Escape From New York, Palomo reckons he still has “many tricks up my sleeve.”

What’s the genesis of Neon Indian’s luminescent moniker?

In high school, my friend Alicia used it as a random counteractive phrase for Ghosthustler. I started writing music, specifically ‘Should Have Taken Acid With You,’ as an ode to her. The lyrical subject matter references a San Antonio high school periods’ mock band.

Why didn’t you take acid with her?

Couldn’t find the time. I was mixing someone’s record in Dallas. We were supposed to meet in San Antonio where our families were on a random holiday getaway that never reached fruition.

Your father, Jorge, had some Mexican pop acclaim. Who were some early influences?

I was a huge fan of Todd Rundgren’s production work as opposed to just songwriting. He’s the perfect summation of these two ideals. He writes simple, beautiful pop as well as intensely innovative sonic soundscapes that come from bizarre modular synth patterns. He exercises both sides of his creative sensibilities seamlessly. He’ll put a pop record like ‘Hello It’s Me’ near a 30-minute instrumental. It’s a weird conglomeration of sounds and ideas. There’s a lot of old wave early ‘80s stuff I’m into. The Mute catalogue—DAF, Fad Gadget. That’s the first genre I completely inhaled during high school. I was into great synth-pop records from that time. Yellow Magic Orchestra are a Japanese Kraftwerk.

Those artists were around before you were born.

Yeah. I’ve always had a weird compulsive urge to consume as much music as possible trying to figure out a chronology behind the music I was enjoying. That sound and time stops in the ‘80s with that unabashed whimsical pop that’s dead now, or approached sarcastically. That’s the last time there was any whimsical romance found in cheesy John Hughes movies—not feeling ashamed of the sentimentality associated with it. Even disco was a very optimistic genre riffing around the notion of a romanticized futuristic wonderland. I’m influenced by the idea of creating narratives within the music. It’s not like writing a song very self-consciously.

You borrow many eclectic musical sources for Psychic Chasms.

I like how abrasive the record was in terms of its narrative. Being able to sit down for an entire month and really set goals—no more than two days on any given song. Even with Vega, I’d run along a really long stride of production tedium’s as opposed to writing a song. I’d work on compressing and EQing drum sounds. An entire day of turning knobs and looking at things on a timeline when no music was coming out was laborious. Neon Indian negated those things and was a reaction against that. I wasn’t worried about how clean and pristine everything sounded, but instead emphasized being raw and visceral. Song ideas, one after the next without stopping, creating fluidity between influences, it ended up being a showcase of a lot of different sensibilities I have in terms of specific sounds and obsessions with rock bands that have one big synth track. McCartney II had that fantastic ‘Temporary Secretary.’ Paul McCartney’s a great example of a late ‘70s artist who didn’t mess with synths but was shown a Moog in the studio and decided to fire it up and get strangely effervescent, idiosyncratic sounds like the lead synth in Doobie Brothers’ ‘What A Fool Believes.’ It’s the goofiest thing, but fantastic for Psychic Chasms. Also, the original ‘Strawberry Letter 23’ by Shuggie Otis was something else. The Brothers Johnson version had that flanger in the middle, but this was out of synch and came from a rougher lower fidelity studio angle—real creepy.

‘Ephemeral Artery’ adapted a raunchy ‘70s Parliament Funkadelic groove.

There are two songs on the record that my guitarist in the live band, Ronnie, had ideas I wanted him to execute. I use simple frets, but Ronnie has a funky sensibility. We threw around ideas and that was the one track on the LP that was the odd man out. It had heavier low end and churning bass behind that. It had almost mockingly funky riffs that made me question the track, but that actually became our favorite song to play live ‘cause it’s executed in a very unapologetic way and becomes almost an inside joke amongst the band.

Are the segued interludes on Psychic Chasms meant to connect a semi-thematic whole?

Absolutely. The entire record has a convoluted narrative not necessarily dictated by lyrics. The ideas of creating affects that seem to exist outside the song give it context. Band like Aerial Pink and Boards Of Canada create a story around songs without lyrics directly dictating the mood. Those segues connect the more emotional, slower tracks like ‘Acid’ and ‘6669.’ They guide the story along. I wanted a cohesive whole instead of a collection of songs. I’ve made cassettes for girls having 90-second songs to guide ‘em into the next phase. Psychic Chasms hopefully is that mix tape. It has an introspective hyper-personal sensation complemented by the production. Obviously, this is all post-facto rationalizations. When I was writing the record, it was all very intuitive and meant to have no expectations.

Is ‘6669’ about the kick ass musical period between ’66 to ’69?

That was an odd inside joke about the most brutal sexual positions. Some of the albums language—having a song called ‘Terminally Chill’—creates an aesthetic set around a group of people and bring you into the world of deadbeat characters and weird colloquialisms that throw you into a certain mindset that gets you jiving in that wavelength. Random wording is part of the whole narrative of the last four years of my life.

‘Sleep Paralysist,’ a post-LP track done with Chris Taylor from Grizzly Bear, shows more restraint, greater emotionality, and a more approachable sound.

Totally. What’s funny is I was never commissioned to do a single before. It ‘s a very interesting experience to sit down in the studio to write this very particular kind of music. There’s always been this process of continual writing, then take things from it later. For this, I stressed myself out to write something, then realized I had this great template to try a collaborating for the first time. Much of the appeal of that song comes from straying away from the idea of making a single that would hint where Neon Indian was going. It’s a strange one-off track. Expectation is a dangerous thing, but if I keep it fresh and interesting for myself, then I wanna hear that.

Catch Neon Indian at Terminal 5 in NYC on May 12. For more, myspace.com/neonindian.

    reader responses
  1. all of these questions have been asked before and got the same answers.

    chad on 7/1/2010 at 06:45 PM 

  2. Denton is outside of Dallas. It’s 225 miles from Austin, about 3.5 hours drive.

    PEDANTERAST on 5/4/2010 at 12:47 AM 

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  4. how can I make techno sounds on my guitar for recording and live settings like industrial rock bands do?


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