June 12, 2010 | Brillobox | Pittsburgh, PA
Photos by Laila Elizabeth Archuleta
A couple days before New Years my friends and I were gathered in an upstairs room of a house we were renting. The effects of the night’s consumption were just starting to over take our eyes and ears. The flower curtains were blooming, the table tops swirling, sounds splitting and then rejoining. Each of us were taking turns on the stereo, curiously choosing songs or albums we thought would blow our minds while under the influence of what we had taken. I giggled to myself as I scrolled through my iPod and landed on Neon Indian.
Everyone stopped. “Who is this?!”
"What album is this?"
"This is so awesome!"
"This is exactly what I want to be listening to right now!"
Since that night, Psychic Chasms has been my go to album whenever I needed a smile plastered across my face.
I arrived at Brillobox in Pittsburgh with half my friends from that trippy winter evening in tow. Laila, the photographer met us outside and we introduced ourselves. A mutual friend had put us in touch when she learned I was in desperate need of a photographer for the interview. We immediately hit it off. As we entered, I could hear Neon Indian still sound-checking upstairs, so I ordered a beer to calm my shaking hands and thumping heart. The restaurant of Brillobox was small and intimate with red booths lit warmly with yellow glass shaded sconces. My friends and I couldn’t resist the delicious smells that were emanating from the kitchen so we ordered a few appetizers while I waited for Alan Palomo to come downstairs.
I was mid-sip in my Dortmunder Gold when I saw him out of the corner of my eye. Up shot my anxiety. I always get a little bit worked up before an interview, but this is an artist I creatively admire and had a total geeky crush on.
Alan’s tour manager approached me and introduced himself then called Alan over. He politely shook my hand and smiled shyly. He was a bit shorter than me, about 5’6” with a mop of dark brown hair, and intense eyes shielded by large framed glasses. We settled into a corner booth towards the back. Alan was sipping a rather spicy looking Bloody Maria…
Alan Palomo : It’s funny, I didn’t start drinking Bloody Marys until I moved to Brooklyn. It’s kind of like a Sunday custom because everyone in Brooklyn has brunch. Everybody wakes up, incredibly hung-over around eleven.
KP: There’s a place in Columbus that has the best Bloody Marys I have ever had. So, if you ever come through there you have to stop by.
AP : What’s it called?
KP: Betty’s. So good. You just came back from Bonnaroo, what, a day ago?
AP :Yeah, like 2 days ago.
KP: How was your Bonnaroo experience?
AP : It was unbelievable. It was definitely one of the most surreal experiences I’ve ever had. I mean, when you look at a crowd that big and you realize it’s like 10,000 people, I mean you stop seeing individual people and it just becomes this big undulating flesh toned mass and you’re just trying to process it. So, yeah, it was pretty incredible. The only thing, was during Deadbeat Summer, a group of questionably wasted chicks climbed on stage with like, Indian Feather headdresses, completely topless, with paint, and just ran on stage and just started dancing. I mean, you’re in the middle of a performance of that stature, and you can’t really stop, you don’t know what to do. So we kind of like just soldiered through the song and it just felt kind of awkward. I think as far as they thought it through, it was like, “We’ll get on stage!!” and then once their up there they just kind of danced aimlessly. Yeah, people thought that we hired them.
KP: Yeah, I saw that on Hipster Runoff.
AP : It was like, why would I compromise the biggest show we’ve ever played by hiring a bunch of drunk girls to dance on stage in a very tacky fashion.
KP: He tends to misinterpret a lot of stuff.
AP : Of course, that’s his whole deal, his whole sleaze.
KP: You just signed to Fader Label a week ago?
AP : It’s actually more a collaboration with my own imprint, Static Tongues, So, I mean, I guess it’s going to be working with those guys because I mean, Static Tongues is a completely new endeavor.
KP: Are you going to re-release your album?
AP : Well, yeah, Psychic Chasms in all actuality never really has had a proper full release. I mean, the album was available online and …
My beer glass slides like phantom across the table.
AP : Wow, that was weird wasn’t it. Just moved on its own!
KP: That was so weird…
AP : It was available in some stores, but if you really went to any record stores, like Amoeba, or Ear Wax in Brooklyn or something, you could never really find it. So this is finally the opportunity to put it out properly. Aside from that, we have a re-mix album that’s coming out with it. It’s going to feature some stuff from Javelin, Yacht, DNTEL, Who else is on it? Why am I drawing blanks? I’ve been so lethargic today. This is going to kill me, it’s on the tip of my tongue, Here we Go Magic as well, a couple of bands.
KP: How was your experience working with Green Label Sound?
AP : It was good. I mean, like for what it was just putting out a song that was just a collaboration between me and Chris Taylor. I’d definitely say that the experiences were positive. It’s always funny though when you’re interacting with an entity that is in some way affiliated with a company and you kind of have to very distinctly clarify your motivations. You know, it’s like you’re going to get a budget to make a really awesome music video and have the opportunity to really put your music out there then it eventually becomes about that, it’s not really about that, it’s not really about creating a certain beverage which is just kind of ridiculous.
KP: Yeah, I always thought that was weird that they were associated with Mountain Dew.
AP : Yeah, exactly, but, you know, you have like the Kia singles. Scion sponsors every party. I mean, at some point it becomes a little bit inevitable to flirt with commerce a little bit. You just have to maintain it or manage it in such a way that so that it doesn’t compromise your artistic integrity.
KP: Yeah, they’ve worked with so many artists already. Would you recommend it for bands starting out?
AP : Um, yeah, as long as you have a very distinct and finite vision of what your project’s about and how you want people to interpret it brand wise. Yeah, I’d totally recommend it. I mean, if you’re just someone who takes the road passively and just sort of let people do promotion for you then, I don’t know if I would. You have to take a very active role. Whenever you’re involved in anything like that, I mean, I’m always kind of a skeptic for companies. It seemed like a really great opportunity and the people who were working it were actually really phenomenal.
KP: The music video was really rad. I really enjoyed it. It seemed like you guys had fun shooting it too.
AP : Oh, totally. For me, right from the get go one of the primary motivations was Psychic Chasms didn’t get any proper music video before its release. We’re finally working on them now, which is more coming from the motivation of wanting to make something unusual but make it more centered on the video rather than the singles which have already been out. Sleep Paralysist was an opportunity to have a new song and then shortly thereafter have it come full circle. It was funny because I don’t think people really fully interpreted the song until they saw the video and for me that’s when it finally reached the end game of what I wanted to do with that. People could finally see what it was about. When they see the making of the video at some insane fucking house in Lexington, Kentucky… We just had a really amazing three or four days there.
KP: It seemed like a really cool process. I was reading your tweets about the horse with the LED lights and then I saw Green Label Sound updating the making of it. It was really cool to watch that unfold online.
KP: What’s it like playing with a full band?
AP : Well, I mean…
Glass moves across the table again.
AP : Wow! There’s some ghosts in the machine!
KP: [Laughs] I’m just going to set this over there…
AP : it’s interesting… because the record was written entirely on my own with the exception of Ronnie on guitar for Ephimeral Artery and Terminally Chill. So it was kind of this thing where I had this collection of songs and I knew that I wanted to work with my friends from Denton and I was already working with Ronnie and Jason and Vega. You’re putting yourself in a position in which you have to re-contextualize your own songs to make them enjoyable for a group of people is like kind of a feat. It’s not something we did right off the bat. I think it took a good twenty shows to let it evolve in such a way that it could really feel like one long fluid set. I mean I think we had a couple of really awkward first runs. You know, each night you’re kind of culminating different ideas until you realize what works, what doesn’t work. You get to the point where you memorize the parts well enough so you can start deviating from them in fun and interesting ways. The best way you can describe it, I remember what James Murphy said about LCD Soundsystem, it’s like you become the best LCD Soundsystem cover band you can be! It feels true in that respect, coz when I was recording it, I never had any intention of putting it in a live format.
KP: So, What’s your recording process like, how do you start creating songs?
AP : Well, it’s kind of funny because with Vega its always been like this formalized pop esthetic where you write a song and it starts out with this verse and it leads into this bridge and chorus.
But with Neon Indian since I tend to work with sequencers so much, I have this simple drum rhythm or synth line that’s like looping, four bars become eight bars become 16 bars, its just like a circle that keeps expanding, and eventually you hit this four minute mark where you think you have a song and then you start adding all kinds of weird auxiliary shit to kind of make it a little more spontaneous. It’s really weird coz it does feel kind of circular, coz I kind of just you know, space out on these really simple loops and it becomes something else entirely.
KP: So, I’ve heard two things about “I Should Have Taken Acid With You”…I heard it started it started with an acid trip, or it started with a dream about an acid trip?
AP : It started with a dream about an acid trip.
KP: So, how was that translated into a song?
AP : Well, the full story is that I had a dream that I had taken acid with my ex-girlfriend Alicia, and um, I shot her a text about it. I was like, Ah man, I had this really bizarre dream She said, oh, is that something you’re interested in doing? So, a few months later sometime in December, we were supposed to get together and have this experience where we take acid, or at least some kind of potent hallucinogen, I think she had like Peyote or something. Unfortunately I wasn’t able to make it coz I was in Dallas and logistically I just couldn’t drive down fast enough. I missed her by a few days. So, needless to say, I felt kind of bad, and a few weeks later I was just thinking about it. It almost started as some tongue in cheek apology. In like six hours I had this track that just kind of flowed out. It was weird coz I didn’t really know what to do with it at first. I tried to re write it as a Vega song, and it totally didn’t work. I realized that that incarnation was exactly what it needed to exist, and if anything, I should just start writing more songs like that. Then I just wrote an entire album.
KP: So, that was the start of Neon Indian. That’s really cool. So, are you still planning on doing Vega, or Ghost Hustler, or anything?
AP : Ghost Hustler is definitely done.
KP: Isn’t a member from Ghost Hustler in Miniature Tiger, or is that somebody else?
AP : Yeah, that’s something else. Miniature Tiger is just some friends from New York. I’m trying to think, one of the Guys in Ghost Hustler is in Fur now. The other guy has his own project called Love Life. They are all out doing different things. I remember when Hipster Runoff wrote about Love Life, said, kind of sounds like Neon Indian. I was like, man, Noah is not going to like this. I felt kind of bad coz I mean, it sounded like its own thing.
KP: He really likes to start shit. It’s so funny.
AP : Yeah, he stirs the pot! I mean, I know him. He’s a guy from Texas. Yeah, some of the more audacious things that he likes to claim. I have a lot of ambivalence about it. The readership is divided into two kinds of people, right. It’s like the kind of people who understand it as like this jokey voice, his very self referential humor. There’s this kind of like satirical quality about it. Then you have this other fan base, it’s just people who take it completely literally and essentially, it shaped their sensibilities. Its really weird coz he has like this whole mock racist tone and says some really offensive stuff. Then you have like, tweens that are just completely eating it up and taking it without a grain of salt with complete sincerity. HRO is definitely a very ambivalent topic.
KP: Yes, and he likes to latch onto you a lot too.
AP : Yeah, maybe because we know each other. I think at the same time it’s also because he is obsessed with the notion of chill wave given that that was him who coined it. It’s funny because the interview question that I get asked the most and I have nothing to do with the conception or the coining of chill wave. I mean, I didn’t find out about Washed Out, or Memory Tapes, or Toro Y Moi until much after the fact until we were all apparently part of some movement together.
KP: I actually interviewed Chaz two days ago.
AP : Oh, yeah, Chaz is awesome. Man, that kid is so incredibly talented. I am just incredibly impressed with some of his stuff he’s doing.
KP: Yeah, he’s a really gentle spirit which I liked.
AP : He’s a total sweetheart. He’s a really nice kid.
KP: So, my last question is, Fathers day is approaching, and I know your dad was…
AP : Wait, is that this Sunday?
KP: No, I think its next Sunday so you got a little time, gave you a fair warning. [Laughter] So, your dad was a musician, and he was pretty popular in Mexico, right?
AP : Yeah, yeah I mean, I wouldn’t call him a pop star necessarily coz its also just weird saying that about your dad, But he had a stint in the late 70’s and early 80’s where he had quite a bit of moderate success being a singer in Mexico and he put out two records. By the time I was born, by the time that my brother and I were born, he had already put out a whole discography.
KP: So what kind of influence did your dad have on you as a musician?
AP : Well, if anything, I’ve always really respected that he, especially living in a community and growing up around musicians that are just the most unreliable drugged out, or just the most incredibly drug addled crowd of people that I’ve ever run with. He’s also had this mentality about it that I also see in a lot of musicians that I really respect in general. Like Scott Walker, or Todd Rundegren where they are like these total formalists where they seem that being a musician is a discipline like any other that involves a lot of self sacrifice. He’s always kind of had that. I mean, obviously I’m way looser, because I mean we’re a pretty laid back crowd. You know, we don’t always make it to the hotel lobby on time in the morning, or make sound check. He helps me sort of see it as a vocation and it makes you feel like you’re really doing something and it’s something completely worth losing yourself in. He’s been doing it his whole life and he’s still doing it. I got to respect that.
KP: So he’s really supportive of what you’re doing right now?
AP : Yeah, totally. I think that when I first decided to take some time off school, to just pursue Neon Indian. It was definitely this thing where he was like, “Oh yeah, you can take some time off. I mean it’s not like we didn’t come to this country so you could get a college education…” Immediately I was like, fuck! What do I say to that!? I got nothing! I mean I think it took a little time to fully convince them that what I was doing was very much real, and wasn’t just an excuse to sit around and get high and play Guitar Hero or something! It was like, I’m really doing something Dad! But it’s funny because I don’t think it was really until Jimmy Fallon or something like that. You can tell your parents that you’re being written about in some blog like Pitchfork or Gorilla Vs Bear or something, but it’s not really going to translate until they see it on some medium that they completely identify with, you know.
KP: I find that that’s a really common theme when I ask people about their parents and how supportive they are. They say their parents didn’t believe it till they saw a write up in the New York Times, or some familiar press.
AP : Totally.
Psychic Chasms is available for purchase through InSound. Any of you planning to go to Pitchfork Festival? I’ll be at Neon Indian’s set on Sunday dancing my face off. Make sure you say hello!
Thanks to Tracey for transcribing this interview for me!