Friday, December 11, 2015

Life After Dark: The Neon Indian Interview


Neon Indian’s latest album, VEGA INTL. Night School, is an after-hours soundtrack that deftly captures the blurry euphoria of life after dark. The rituals of nightlife are chronicled across 14 tracks of dense, synth-drenched dance beats that recall ‘80s funk-pop like Ready for the World and one-time Prince protégé Andre Cymone on an Italo-disco jag for an imagined Patrick Nagel-drawn life simulation video game.

Created by band leader Alan Palomo, this third Neon Indian full-length is a Technicolor explosion of influences that’s the most accessible of his still burgeoning music career which followed a background in film study, which the Mexican-born and Denton, Texas raised artist pursued at the University of North Texas.

During a phone interview from New York between tour dates, Palomo was open and forthcoming about his latest creation and translating the new songs into an expansive live experience and possibly a full-length series. 

It feels like this album has touched a positive nerve with a much wider audience than ever in your music career. What do you think it is about this record that has such an appeal with new as well as old fans?
That’s tough to quantify. For me, I get tunnel vision pretty easily because I’m so focused on the task at hand that I never really entirely sure what the reception of anything is. I would venture to say that a lot of is due to the narrative that we’ve been building for years. The growth has been slow and steady since 2009 when the first record came out. I was surely trying the patience of fans that were expecting something much sooner. For the first time in my life I was getting straight up threats about my lack of output. As far as the sensibilities of the record go, I intentionally wanted it to be a very eclectic undertaking. In that sense, maybe there’s a lot for people to enjoy. You look at the song “Annie,” which is of the more compositionally developed and straightforward pop songs that I’ve written, compared to something like “61 Cygni Ave” or “Smut,” which might be a little bit more obtuse.

While it’s such an upbeat album musically, there seems to be an underlying lyrical darkness to songs like “Annie” and “The Glitzy Hive” – it feels like through all of the fun, there’s a grim ending for the song’s characters.
It sort of coincides with my personality. I’m certainly a social animal, both habitually and because it’s what makes me happy. But also I would say there’s always going to be some dark undercurrent. I occasionally see the world through the lens that I think a lot of people in this generation look at it with which is a sort of giddy nihilism. I’m always trying to offset that with a tremendous amount of positivity.

You’ve spoken in recent interviews about the structure of the music industry, and how bands are treated like horses or stock options that can be bet on. Do you have the sense that Neon Indian is currently filed under bands to watch right now?
Not necessarily. It’s one of those things where I’m always going to be my own harshest critic and always thinking about the next thing. My accomplishments with his record were fulfilled when I turned it in. I look at my calendar and I literally down have a day off until two days before Christmas, so that’s gotta be worth something.

Are you seeing this broader appeal reflected in the audiences?
This initial tour run we’re doing is more intimate venues, so that’s tough to say. I feel like you get a sense of where things are headed when you play a festival show. You get this very broad sampling of people and how many of those people are interesting in seeing you. We haven’t had much opportunity to do those kinds of shows as much lately, but the few we have, it’s been cool. There are new people jumping onboard.

What’s the experience been like translating the new songs live? Is there a particular track that’s resonating more than others?
“The Glitzy Hive” always gets people moving. When I tour with a live band, I’m always on board with a certain amount of reinterpretation. There’s some reimagining of the songs, which to me is kind of important to keep it interesting for me. I started writing some of these songs as far back as 2011, so by the time they actually got out there it was pretty wild. So in addition to the fact that I’ve been seeing the songs undergo all these different permutations, now they have to be performed every night. That’s what keeps the adrenaline going.

Is touring the fun part for you?
I think people look at touring like it’s a vacation, but it’s kind of grueling. I’m more of a studio rat by nature. I’d rather be creating than performing. But it’s for the fans. They’re the ones listening to the record, so you better give them a damn good show and you should sweat it every night. We have nights where we play a show and then just start driving through the night, stop in a hotel, sleep for three hours and keep driving. Those are the nights where it’s not quite the payoff that I think a lot of people have the perception that it is. We’ve had some really high highs, too. There have been some really affirming moments of why you became an artist.

What was one of those affirming moments?
The first show we played on this tour, which was our first show in three years, was in Mexico City. We played in a city square in Zócalo as part of a bigger arts festival that happens that. That was fucking insane. From not having played in three years to suddenly being in front of 15,000 people… We just got thrown in the fire and had to make it work. It was amazing seeing the show go from theoretical to practical over the course of an hour. I was making changes to the MIDI brain that triggers a lot of sounds and feeds the band with click tracks minutes before we took the stage. It wasn’t official until we went up there.

At the end of November you’re playing shows in China. Is this your first trip there?
We’ve done Japan, but we’ve never done Mainland China before. That’s gonna be wild. I’m pretty excited about it.

What’s something you’re looking forward to in China?
I just want to stare slack-jawed at the amazing, futuristic skyline. I can’t wait to see a skyline that completely dwarfs New York, because that’s just inconceivable to me. It will be an expansion what my interpretation of the world is.  

What’s your response to the petition to turn the Slumlord Rising video into a series?
I was really surprised by it, especially since it was the first time I really got to sink my teeth into some non-union directing. I directed an animated short with my friend Johnny (Woods) for the MOCA, and that was really awesome. But this was definitely the largest undertaking that I’d ever really done. The petition really made me start thinking about what that plot would be should it ever arise. If anyone ever wants to do something, they know where to find me.

So do you have an idea of where the story goes after the video ends?
Yes, to some extent. The intent when I was making the video was to imagine it as an excerpt, a climax of a film that doesn’t exist. Much of what we imagined was to try to have as much auxiliary story components written down. Like every character had a backstory that I explained meticulously to all the actors, even though none of that was going to be portrayed in the video. I just wanted them to have something to hang onto and inform what they were going to do. The only people that really have answers are (co-director) Tim Nackashi and myself. So unless we created some sort of series out of it, then none of those answers will get revealed.