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Neon Indian is the indie-electronic project of 23-year-old Mexican-born Alan Palomo. The band wowed the music blogosphere in 2009 with the song “Deadbeat Summer” and its psychedelically inspired, saturated lo-fi drum machines and Back to the Future-era synths. Palomo followed up the buzz from “Deadbeat Summer” with the release of his first album, Psychic Chasms, inspired by the fun, analog vibe from his single. After touring, Palomo released his second album, Era Extraña—an album that took a more serious, introspective look at the sounds from the previous album. Neon Indian is currently starting the second half of his tour and will be playing at MoMA’s Armory Party 2012, a gala on March 7 celebrating the opening of the Armory Show. The Eye talked to Palomo about the party, songwriting, and a certain mysterious “Polish Girl.”
How did you get involved with MoMa and the Armory Party?
Well, they actually reached out to us. I’ve always fantasized about the idea of a museum show. There have been one or two situations where we’ve gotten to play small galleries, and it’s just a completely different vibe from playing a normal show. I feel like people evaluate or experience your performance much in the way that they observe a piece of art they’d be seeing there. And you try to add a different element: production accompaniment. As soon as they asked, it made perfect sense to me.
The sounds on your album are so complicated and multilayered—how do you take those sounds and put them into a live show like the one you’re going to do at the Armory Party?
It’s as if you’re covering your own songs. When I go into a studio, as much as during the recording of Extraña I was aware that I would eventually have to perform those songs, it never really informs what you should do, necessarily. You have to just kind of give your band mates enough leeway to re-imagine those songs, to sort of create their own interpretations of the music, as far as whatever instrument they have is concerned. It’s always been a process, but I think, that being said, it’s something we can only really flesh out at a show. We practice, but it never really fully translates and makes a whole lot of sense until we’re there.
How much of the spontaneity on stage is from the instruments themselves?
Well, there is somewhat of a skeleton we’re always following—and for every sound—that I can’t completely replicate. I either change altogether, or we use some kind of sampler to be able to just trigger a sound or something. I’d say much of it is pretty live and on the spot.
I love the lo-fi, tape-saturated sound that has this great ’80s, analog vibe—how do you replicate that sound?
I play with different formats. All of the more emotive melody work and instruments sounds are always this kind of murky, distant gauze, but they still have this really boomy, very futuristic low end and high end. Lo-fi is dynamic, not just sounding like it was crunched in a tiny little bar but being able to sound like it has a certain punch to it.
Especially with the first album—all things that made their way on it—it was music that was very personal to me. It made it feel like this sort of scrapbook or collage of sounds in that sense. I’ve always loved the idea that it can be musical too—I feel like if you make music that evokes a certain time, it’s amazing. And what is even more amazing is when you can make music that evokes a certain place, and yet being unable to peg what time and what place that is.
What initially sparks you to create a song?
Well, it got started when I got tired of writing dance music. Eventually I just wanted to write something that felt transparent and honest and that wasn’t trying to tap into something. And it almost kind of happened by accident—it started with “Should Have Taken Acid With You.” I wrote that song in, like, six hours. And I just kept moving from there. The next day I wrote another song, and the next day I wrote another song.
So when you write a song, there isn’t a particular direction, like lyrics before melody?
It really is on a song-by-song basis. In some songs, if I already know what the hook is or if I just have a concept in my head, I can lay it down like that, but for the most part, it’s just a little four-bar loop—a micro loop—that I start with and I repeat endlessly. Then it’s just this kind of circular process—four bars turn into eight bars turns to 12 to 16. And I think there are certain hurdles I can’t get past until I get the lyric.
Kind of a silly question: “Polish Girl”—is that a specific person?
Yeah, she definitely exists. [Laughs] You know, it’s funny—I’ve developed a relationship with my songs where once you’re done writing, you kind of just immediately move on to the next thing. But once you put it out there, it’s not just about your relationship to the song—it’s about everybody else’s relationship to the song. Especially when you perform it every night, the context kind of starts to change. This time around, for the sake of having a personal spin on “Polish Girl,” I’ll keep the story to myself.
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