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Chatting with Neon Indian

Posted November 16, 2015

VEGA INTL. Night School would be a very different record if it wasn’t for a drunken night out for Alan Palomo, the brain child behind Neon Indian, three years ago.

Unable to get into his apartment, he fell asleep on his stoop and woke to find his laptop has been swiped. And with that, two years worth of new material gone.

“I’m glad that I just walked away relatively unscathed — just missing, you know, a couple of hours of music,” he told Spin.

Faced with no choice but to start over, he took some time off to develop his sound. And it paid off, with Pitchfork calling it his “most comprehensive album yet.”

“In hindsight, I’m sort of glad I don’t have the record because I wouldn’t have the skill set to make the record that I wanted to make.”

Off the back of VEGA INTL. Night School’s release, we spoke to Neon Indian about what it was like growing up with a dad in the music industry, his experience using a sensory deprivation tank, & where to get $1 oysters in New York City.

Let’s start by talking about the new album. How would you describe it and what influenced you?

I would describe it as a screwball comedy about New York City. It’s like Scorsese background meets Airplane. There’s definitely a steady stream of ham and cheese on this record even though the material is very near and dear to me. For the first time I really wanted to emphasize it through a sense of humor while operating within this universe. The last few records were pretty back to back and I sort of burnt myself out so I had to find the love again. I was keeping myself busy, but while I was preparing the next idea I was working on, that one ended up being the primary part that informed what I eventually came to do. The record feels like a little DJ set. It feels akin to a club environment and performing onstage with a band. That was kind of an important idea to get across, to re-engage with that part of myself while voraciously hunting for records and building a new set of influences and references to start playing around with it.

I read that you had your laptop stolen after a drunk night out. How was it starting from scratch and how did impact out the music you wanted to create?

Well in hindsight I’m sort of glad I don’t have the record because I wouldn’t have the skill set to make the record that I wanted to make. I felt a lot of growing pains during the execution of this album because there were a lot of things I wanted to do but I didn’t know how. Eventually by virtue of time and patience, I slowly started untangling the threads of what the DNA of this record was going to be. I eventually came to know how to execute these ideas. It was a leap forward from what I had done before. If I had been married to the material that I had on that laptop that I lost, it might not have been the same thing at all.

What were some of the growing pains you experienced in that period?

I think in terms of certain production styles, there were some that I was just unfamiliar with. Bands feel it’s harder to maintain their nucleus because people aren’t purchasing records as much as they used to anymore. To offset that, having to churn out records constantly and never taking the time to better yourself as an artist then you’re just making content to appease people. For me, a lot of that was just improving as a songwriter and becoming a little more studio-literate, like learning more about compressors, EQs, mixing, and veering deeper into synthesis which is definitely the foundation of what I do as Neon Indian. 

You studied film in college,  you’ve collaborated with Mountain Dew, Adult Swim, & even created your own mini analog synthesizer. It seems like your interests stretch beyond music, so when do you feel most creative?

I feel most creative when I’m making a record. I think all of this is ultimately just fun gestures in conjunction with it, but I feel the real statement is happening when the album is happening. I would say that the collaborations that are near and dear to my heart like getting to work with Adult Swim would have been a hero of mine when I was seventeen. All of that.

Your dad was in the music industry before you. How did that affect your decision to get into music?

Well it didn’t directly influence it as much as once I was in music I realized that I developed a sensibility by proxy. My dad really didn’t force music on me. My brother is definitely more of a musician, but I was more interested in film and things that my mom was doing. She was working in broadcast television. When I started making music in college, I realized that I had absorbed these sensibilities just by observing my dad and my brother at work. The more pragmatic things that he had told me when becoming a musician had come true, like all the self-discipline required and what it’s typically like.

You produced Vegas INTL. Night School all over the US. Does your location influence the sound of an album? Do you search out different locations?

It’s nice to have a change in ambiance, but I’d say the most productive place to be working is in my house because it’s the best for facilitating ideas and there’s no pressure because when you’re somewhere it’s a lot. Helsinki was a big undertaking [for his second album]. I shipped all of my equipment out there and I had a limited time frame to be out there. There was definitely a bit of pressure how I was going about getting songs done. In that regard, those components were somewhat complicated, but I think in the end of the day what I enjoy the most is getting better at working in my self-imposed work space in the spare room in my house.

What made you decide on Finland for your second album Era Extraña?

Finland was one of the first places I had arrived in Europe and it always kind of stuck with me. The architecture, go figure, and Helsinki is pretty beautiful. It was nice to come back and I’m looking forward to reconnect with it when I go back for tours.

It makes sense that you’d want to have a space where you can work and be productive. Can you tell me how you balance living in such a busy city and closing off the outside world?

I think New York allows you to be your own boss, not your own employee. It takes a lot of self-discipline. My goal this year was to find said discipline. I would say it wasn’t until towards the end when I felt the album was really materializing that I had to really just go for it, have no social life, and just really focus on it for a while. The most productive friends I have in New York are ones that really know how to tug the line between being creative and being social.

When did you move to New York and why?

I moved to New York in January 2010. And I don’t know, it was always a place I wanted to move to since I was a teenager. I remember watching a documentary in 2005 or 2006 which was called ‘Kill Your Idols’ which is about the movie scene happening there. It talked a lot about Black Dice, Liars, and A.R.E. Weapons and all these other really fantastic bands that I wanted to see firsthand.

Would you say it affects your music?

I mean not necessarily. Yes, because conceptually it’s about the city I live in, but I think the the sensibilities of what I like would be like that anywhere.

What do you like to do in the city? 

As far as New York goes, if I want to see a DJ I’d specifically go to Bossa Nova Civic Club which is this amazing, densely fogged dive bar with a set of turn tables and incredibly booming sound system and great space. I’ve seen a lot of excellently curated stuff over the past few years. I believe Veronica Vasicka, who is this minimal wave DJ, did their Halloween which is really fantastic.

If I want to see live bands, then I’ll take it to Baby’s All Right which is where we played somewhat recently. Now it turns out that spot has always been a great stronghold, amazing Thai food. It always ends up being a custodial place and always nice.

As far as a couple more unusual and personalized things, I live in Greenpoint and I always love going to McCarren park. I love to sit out there and hang out for a couple hours. Need some place to lay down on a bench and think for a little while. I’ve also recently been going to this sensory deprivation clinic in Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn which is really awesome as well. First time I went there it felt like the Matrix where they go see the Oracle because it’s this tiny cramped apartment with a bunch of couches and there’s this business guy, a Rabbi, and some kid all hanging out and thumbing through a magazine waiting for a chance to enter sensory deprivation. You are put in a small tank and you’re floating in extra salt water. You’re literally deprived of all sense. You’re meditating in this black void. It’s like that movie Altered Space.

As far as cafes and bars, I always get my coffee from Brooklyn Standard. That’s always a really dope spot. They always have like next level breakfast sandwiches which is my morning routine: I get ham, egg, and cheese with guac on it.

As far as restaurants go, there’s this place called Five Leaves. That’s kind of like a date spot if you want to impress a girl, have some oysters, and have a bit of ambiance. That’s always been like my go-to jam because the food’s always amazing and it’s relatively close to where I live. There’s a really dope seafood place in the East Village called The Mermaid Inn where they have this comprehensive list of oysters and I’m obsessed with that.

I’m also a fan of this Mexican food spot in Williamsburg called Cerveceria Havemeyer which a friend of mine owns. It’s kind of like more street-style Mexican food. They’ve got a lot of smaller tapas. They also know how to make a strong Mexican drink. They have the best micheladas and put a little bit of tamarind candy in it which is really near and dear to my childhood.

For a place to get a drink, Alphaville in Bushwick some friends own that bar and it’s a stronghold for many friends. Whenever I just want to meet up with people, that place is pretty fantastic.

There’s also another taco spot in Sunset Park called Tacos el Bronco and that place is amazing. When I was making a record, an old buddy of mine lives down there in Sunset Park and every day after we finished mixing, we’d get tacos there. It kind of became this force of habit because the food is so amazing. They also paint these super bizarre murals all over the roof and these weird clouds in the shape of Mexico.

I’d also say whenever we’re trying to record, there’s this really dope place in Bushwick that I go to a lot—actually, no I go to this place in Greenpoint called Midnight Sun Studios that some friends operate. Their facilities are pretty great and it has a comfortable environment. For me, I just like working with friends so that’s pretty unique. Oh, and I’ll recommend one more place! There’s an amazing movie rental spot called Film Noir Video and it’s owned by this Polish punk guy who has immaculate taste in obscure movies and industrial records. That dude will recommend you some really amazing films. I’ve been going there for a few years now. You walk in and they’ll be playing some like harsh industrial noise and you’ll walk away with some really dope Dario Argento movies or something. That’s a pretty special spot. They have great records too.

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