The story is internet-famous by now: Neon Indian’s Alan Palomo crashed out on his NYC stoop in a tequila haze and woke to find his laptop—loaded up with almost two years worth of recordings for the follow-up to his critically beloved album, Era Extraña—gone, baby, gone. Palomo, who appears at Noise Pop this month, went back to the drawing board. The result, VEGA INTL. Night School, was named to Pitchfork's 50 Best Albums of 2015.
Presented by Noise Pop, Neon Indian plays Mezzanine on Saturday, Feb. 27. Until then, get to know Palomo, who caught up with 7x7 to recount the album's fateful making, life on the road, and going back to the drawing board.
7x7: You've had a few months off from touring. Do you feel pressure to record during the down time?
Alan Palomo: There’s definitely a lot of self-imposed pressure just to try to do something productive. During an album cycle, it’s good to have a routine—you’re burnt out from traversing different time zones and being on a weird schedule, and then there's the imminent waiting game to get back out there. As I get older, there’s less of an appetite for touring—in the sense that touring is this 18-month party. My dad used to say this is a honeymoon period; but on a long enough timeline, it’ll eventually feel like a grind like anything else. But that’s not to say it’s not incredibly fulfilling.
7x7: How has this most recent tour differed from your first tour in 2011?
AP: This is my favorite iteration of the live band. It’s a very tight band—just all friends from Texas; my brother’s in the band. I've always said, if you’re gonna be jet-set with a bunch of people for a minute, you might as well do it with your best friends.
The record itself, it’s a little bit hammier, it’s a little more technically proficient. The live show took a little more work this time around. Once we hit cruising altitude, it’s been pretty easy, pretty autonomous. In 2011, there was a little bit of uncertainty as to what I could bring to a live show. But I was focused on, as a player, to perform the songs with more accuracy. It took three records to hit the stratum of what that really means.
7x7: I read the Yours Truly oral history about the VEGA INTL. Night School's. Just incredible. Did you know immediately that it was gone forever? What went through your head...
AP: There’s always the suspension of disbelief—the willful delusion—that someone’s gonna bring it back out of niceness. I put up fliers all along that block and someone was mysteriously pulling them down. After about two weeks, I gave up on it. In a panic, I scribbled in a felt marker 'I won’t call the cops, here’s how much I’ll pay you, just give it back, call this number.' Never got a call.
But I’m actually pretty glad I lost that record in hindsight. If I would have been married to that material, the third record would have been a pretty different endeavor altogether. There’s a couple demos I’m always gonna be wondering about. But I think for the most part, I didn’t have the skillset then to execute what VEGA INTL. Night School eventually became. Starting from zero was just a way to address inconsistencies in what you do and how you like to do things. So I DJed for a long time, learned about music, and had fun and enjoyed some down time, and then slowly built a new narrative out of that. I think it was just what the doctor ordered.
Did you ever consider not re-building the album?
I don’t think [VEGA INTL.] is similar to what those demos were.I’ve always just approached [songwriting] as cool, you wrote 10 songs, you have an album. Ten songs and two instrumental interludes, you have an album. That formula really started getting boring for me. I made Psychic Chasms and Era Extraña as my reference points for what the structure of a record should be.
I caught myself in that motion: There’s always gonna be the single-sounding stuff that’s kind of top-heavy. There’s always gonna be an intro track. There’s always gonna be segues that act as the fulcrum. And then, at some point, it was just bullshit to me. I just said, let’s re-write this whole thing.
So then I just wrote a ton of material, a lot of stuff that didn’t end up on the record, and then I just collaged it. You hear a lot of stories about movies being made in the editing room, because they shot a surplus of story lines and then realize there’s only one that’s worth telling. It really was in the 11th hour that VEGA INTL. Night School became the record that it did. Once there was a thread to go off of, it started building all these things. Then I just built things that were intentionally different. Some of them overlapping, some of them non sequiturs,. It wasn’t like The Avalanches or J Dilla, something that sample-heavy. But something that’s a nod to that plasticity.
7x7: The album has received mostly positive reviews. Were there any reactions that struck you as interesting or surprising?
AP: Only the vaporwave comparison. At a certain point, I was just so glad the editorial M.O. has moved on from chillwave—that it’s so uncool to like chillwave. Now I’m free to write music, and I don’t have to be concerned with the landscape and how I fit in reference to that.
I wanted to be on my own little island, even when I started making music. Then it was like, 'Yo dude, you went all vaporwave.” And I was like, 'I don’t even know what that means.' So I guess the lesson is, you can never really control that stuff. There’s always gonna be some arbitrary system of categorization and you just have to let it be. But other than that, I couldn’t be more stoked. Even if nobody had cared, I think it would have been a really fulfilling experience because I put a lot of myself into that record.
With that record, I kind of said all the things I’ve wanted to say with Neon Indian. Not to say it could be the last album as Neon Indian. But it I were to continue, it will need to undergo an extreme aesthetic overhaul to remain interesting to me. I felt like it was a real M.O. record. I’ll probably take those set of influences and leave them there.
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