By Safiya Hopfe
Allowing himself to be pushed by what he calls “gear-lust,” and a fascination with the infinite possibilities of worlds of sound, Alan Palomo of Neon Indian has demonstrated graceful fearlessness since breaking into music in 2009 with Psychic Chasms. Tracks like “Deadbeat Summer” established him as a vibrant force to be reckoned with in the newly growing chillwave scene. Now, Palomo looks back upon his roots, reassesses his focus, and thinks about where his heart really beats as an artist.
In the course of a major move he has created a short film, and feels as at home as ever. He explains, “It was partially prompted by the move, because I knew that if I left New York without shooting something there I was going to be pretty bummed out about that (…) I think that maybe ten years into the narrative of Neon Indian, I’ve kind of been wanting to branch out a little bit, and return to that and see if I could somehow meld these projects in my mind.” After all, film is where his creative origins lie– it’s what he studied, and what he declares he’s “always wanted to do.”
This is not to say music was an afterthought– there are clear overlaps, especially in Palomo’s case. He explains that he has always approached music as soundtrack. “Even when i’m listening to the stuff that I DJ or the stuff I listen to at home, I gravitate towards things that feel narrative… whether that be lyrical, or just like, an ambience or a texture that feels like it would be playing in some specific space. And then you start to think about, you know, what is that space? Who occupies it? What are their stories?” Not to mention his approach to film through the context of music. “Even when I screenwrite it’s always to music. I always put together a playlist first, and am like, this is the dream soundtrack for this movie, and then I always kind of try to stay in that lane. So it feels like one begets the other, and vice versa.”
Now the parallel lines of his two passions meet, and he couldn’t be more pleased. “For the longest time, I was only really able to execute my ideas in one medium. And then a way to remedy that for a long time, especially with this last record, was just to start directing the videos, and in a weird way it felt like it was starting to consolidate what Neon Indian was always meant to be, both visually and musically. And now I’m kind of experimenting with these stand-alone, more visual projects where I can bring in the Neon Indian sensibility when need be.”
This journey has started to have an effect on Palomo’s relationship with narrative, lyrically and musically. His early days were motivated by texture and instrument, and he explains that, “in a weird way, the lyrics became this sort of afterthought. As time went on it’s almost completely flipped where like, I own a lot of instruments and have traded a lot of them and it’s slowly become less and less and less about getting some weird new toy that’s going to rattle some idea out of my head, and it’s more about writing these narrative driven pieces of music (…) Now I have a toolbox where I’m like, okay, I want to make this kind of song that tells this sort of story, or feels like this, and then I know what instruments will help me get there. It’s less exploratory in that way, but in another way, it gives the work a bit more of an urgency or a focus, and in that way I guess it becomes more narrative.”
And in ways he is well aware of, creating an album is a lot like working on a production. While his initial record was a solo endeavour, around 17 people had all hands on deck during the formation of the last album. The only question now is what magic will continue to emerge as Alan Palomo starts to blend the distinct yet entirely compatible worlds of film and music.