Neon Indian - Alan Palomo on Acting, Scoring, and “VEGA INTL. Night School”

Spectrum of Inspiration

Jan 13, 2016 Photography by Pooneh Ghana Issue #55 - November/December 2015 - EL VY
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Alan Palomo has made no plans for a follow-up record to VEGA Intl. Night School, his third LP as Neon Indian. He prefers not to think that far ahead, and leave himself open to the possibility of exploring a new medium altogether. Palomoa former film studentmoved movie-making on the back burner when his music career took off, but that hasn't stopped him from finding ways to dabble in it: he's directed a short film, scored an upcoming indie movie titled Lace Crater, and had a small acting role in a yet-to-be-titled feature by Terrence Malick. We chatted with Palomo about movies, books, and more in our extended Q&A. [Note: These are extra portions of our interview with Palomo, quotes that didn't make it into our main print article on Neon Indian].

Austin Trunick (Under the Radar): The last time we spoke you were in the middle of [Neal Stephenson's] Snow Crash. What are you reading now?

Alan Palomo: Well, as of late I've been finishing Money by Martin Amis, which to some extentwell, maybe this record wasn't as informed by literaturebut I do think Martin Amis has a pretty strong link to what my interests have been as of late. It's an '80s story about a director trying to secure the funds for his first feature, and he's sort of hopping back and forth between London and New York and seems to be a bit of a rampant alcoholic. It's funny, because it definitely feels something like Scorsese's After Hours, which was a definite reference point for making the record itself. I would probably say that movies were more in the forefront as far as what I was consuming to piece together the thread of this record.

In your TED Talk, you described yourself as a collaborator even when working on your music alone, because the music is so referential. Who do you consider to be your "inspirational" collaborators on this one?

Well, there was certainly a desire to make something that felt more like a collage, which I reference in the TED Talk. Something like J Dilla's Donuts, or something like Beck's Midnite Vultures, which, even though they feel like these cohesive songs, there are these non-sequiturs and sharp left turns that play with style as part of the overall statement of the record. You have a song like "Hollywood Freaks," where he mentions 808s, and then suddenly there's a short break in the song that becomes an early electro-hip-hop track before it veers back into the funk territory that he was in. I always found things like that really exciting. I hear that in The Avalanchesthey play genre like an instrument. And that was certainly the case with the thrust of this record: I wanted it to feel chaotic and frantic, and [for listeners] to be along for a ride. In a way, I feel like the list of influences is too broad, but there was definitely a lot of Belgian New Beat, a lot of Italo Disco. For me, I wanted to inject the joy of DJing into the feeling of listening to this album.

You scored a movie called Lace Crater, which just played at the Toronto International Film Festival. How'd you get involved with that?

In the brief experiences I've had with scoringand obviously, this is the biggest project I've ever been involved inyou walk into it with a different mentality. When you're making a record, it has to represent you as an artist and you have to really think about what its statements are. Or not think about them; you can let the work speak for itself. But when you're working on a film score, you're one cog in a larger machine. Your job is to do a service to the film. Obviously you want to have a quality of work in everything that you do, but what that entails is really entirely up to the director. In this case, the director was my friend Harrison [Atkins]. We competed in high school speech and debate back in Texas. Two of the actors in the movie were guys that we knew in high school. It's cool that we were all able to come together in that way. It was easier then to access a more freewheeling collaborative rapport; it didn't necessarily feel like you were walking into a project that you didn't know much about. Harrison had sent me the script early on and I was getting updates as everything was being shot. He sent me the initial assembly cut and I was super excited that it had materialized in the way that it did, and I couldn't wait to get started on the work. But he definitely had a lot of ideas of what he wanted, and had some really strong notes.

I have to ask about your involvement in the Terrence Malick movie formerly known as Lawless. That had to have been exciting for you, as a film fan. Can you tell me a little about your role in that, and how you were approached to become involved?

This is one of those things where I'm not sure how much I'm supposed to reveal about it. [Laughs] But my takeaway is that they approached us because we were going to be at Fun Fun Fun Fest. The music supervisor is a good friend of mine from Austin, and she just asked if we'd have some time to be involved. Initially they were going to shoot the set, or have it be in the background while they were watching other things happen in the foreground. But because of some technical issues, they weren't able to get there in time. The consolation prize instead was to be involved in a different way. I got to sort of act a little bit alongside Rooney Mara, which was an absolutely amazing experience. As brief as it was, it was cool to see what the environment is like and how he creates when he is on a set, and what the teams are like and how much of a communal effort making a film is. And then I got to do the same thing at South by Southwest the following year. I still don't really know much yet about its release, or [how large] my involvement wound up being once a cut was made, but I'm super stoked to see it because it's just as much a mystery to me as anyone else.

Back to Night School. The album announcement contained a quote from you that explained the title, that "most of what [you've] learned about human nature has happened after dark." I'm wondering if you can share one of those nighttime lessons about human nature?

When I talk about human nature, I'm also talking about myself. Sometimes my most creative hours happen to be nocturnal ones, and I don't say that with any sort of romanticism. I'm not trying to be like, "Oh, yeah, I make my best shit at night." To some extent, I would love to be a morning person. I would love to wake up in the morning and go jogging and have some coffee. I'd like to set up my life in that lane, but any time I've worked on music on that schedule it's wound up being somewhat unsatisfying. Partly because I find that throughout the day it's hard to find the focus and shut the world out and just be thinking about music. It's easier to do that when there's no communication, when your friends are going to sleep and things seem to quiet down.

Especially in a city like New York, where everything's an economy of space. You have to make do with your environment. I happen to live across the street from a factory, and they're making all sort of insane industrial noises. I'm surprised I didn't write a [harder] record, listening to jackhammers 24 hours a day. But that being said, for me, working at night, there's a little bit more control then. You've already spent the day processing all this other information, and all you have left to do is tackle this one creative endeavor. It seems to free up ideas, and you also have a lot more to draw from.

Also with my experiences going out in New York, bars close much later and even then, bodegas will continue to sell you alcohol and facilitate your nightly experiences. It happens to be a little more nocturnal in that sense, as well. Obviously people go out with very specific intentions, whether that's to see their friends or to get laid. Sometimes those intentions are of a much more egregious nature, or sometimes they're just part of the experience. If you're at a bar at last call, 3:15-who all is going to be there? Obviously, in that sense, your true colors show. People are trying to figure out who they're going home with, or they're just too drunk to get in a cab. It seems to be a wonderful, cartoonish shit show as much as it doesn't necessarily make for healthy behavior.

I realize there's a mythology to New York to exploit for the purpose of your art, but I would say that it does have something to it. It's a city of transplants. There are a lot of people who come here not really having lived in many other places before that. A lot of people arrive here for college, or just as they're finishing college, and there's no protocol for how to go about living in a city on your own when there are so many possibilities. People kind of lose their shit, and it's always fascinating to watch that. There's a kind of honesty. Everybody's responding to it differently.

[Note: This article first appeared in the digital version of Under the Radar's November/December Issue, which is still on newsstands. This is its debut online.]

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JJon
October 6th 2016
9:36am

Omg. I like these songs :)