by Jack Diablo
Making lo-fi music is by no means a new phenomenon. Early music was lo-fi by virtue of the technology available at the time and for years afterward was the only means by which to make DIY music. It wasn’t until the digital age made recording and reproducing music so easy that it became any sort of novelty. But many have clung to the old ways of doing things whether it be for aesthetic purposes or retaliation against the status quo. Neon Indian is among those who make lo-fi music for the sake of focusing on content over production. Certain media outlets have dubbed their style “glo-fi,” a genre built on the foundation of analog synths, the tape aesthetic revival and something to do with summertime. It’s a genre so obscure and “new” that it has yet to warrant a Wikipedia entry for those of us who have trouble keeping up with our fellow music writers’ obsession with hyphens and the overzealous creation of new sub-genres to pigeon-hole every new band that comes along. Whatever you call it, Neon Indian make interesting and dreamy pop perfect for a venue like Club TSI where they will perform on October 17th. EU was able to speak with Alan Palomo, the man behind the music, just as the tour kicked off.
EU: Who and what is Neon Indian and how long has it been going on?
Alan Palomo: Neon Indian is essentially a project that began roughly in March. Initially, it didn’t necessarily start off as a band with the intention of interpreting it live or even having any plans of touring with it, it just kinda started as a little creative exercise to write songs and it wasn’t based on any expectations. But the live band consists of myself, Jason Faries and Leanne Macomber. Essentially we’re taking this on the road as a three-piece. The initial Neon Indian project was also with the visual assistance of Alicia Scardetta which hasn’t really developed yet but there will definitely be content in the future and we’ll exhibit more of those aspects of the project.
EU: The first night of the tour was actually your first live performance. Did everything go as expected?
AP: I think it was on par with the first VEGA show ever. You realize as it’s happening that there are no mistakes. Anything that happens is happening live and whatever is was that you brought to the table is the final execution and I think in terms of that, we did really well. But there were a few audio issues that we tried to work our way through, like figuring out specific feedback problems with the sound guy and kind of running around, just making sure that nothing was disconnected. Neon Indian has a lot of electronics on stage so it’s kind of its own little nightmare if something goes wrong with that. But luckily Denton was great. Part of what made it so great was that the show was predominantly populated by our friends so it wasn’t really any kind of serious pressure on our part. It was really just more of an opportunity to finally perform it in front of someone and get some pretty honest feedback. And from the feedback that I heard it went pretty well.
EU: So is that where you are from or based out of, Denton?
AP: Well, we all met in Denton and we have a lot of friends there. I’ve been living in Austin and my family has been living in Dallas but our practice space is in Denton and we’ve lived there for years.
EU: Seeing as how new the band is, are you surprised by the buzz your music has generated prior to any official release or touring and do the people’s expectations concern you?
AP: I’m definitely a little shocked at the reception, especially internet. I put those songs out there with no real expectation. In fact, I had initially done it anonymously just to see what would happen and what the reaction to the music would be. But I find it very funny and kind of ironic that the newest project is the one that kind of blew up the quickest and that it all happened overnight, whereas other projects that I’ve been involved with have definitely taken quite a toiling away and were very serious production-wise in terms of strenuous labor and trying to execute songs that sound a certain way. Neon Indian, being kind of ransack and spontaneous and having no set guidelines, was able to garnish such a reception is beyond me. I’m just happy that it’s happening.
EU: What do you credit to the success of this project over some of the things you’ve tried previously?
AP: I don’t know, if I had to speculate – I mean, it’s always really difficult to step outside and view these sorts of things objectively but I can at least put it to you this way – I felt a great difference in the way in which I wrote songs. One of the contexts of Neon Indian was to never lose the initial spark of the song idea and execute it as quickly as possible. The rule was never to spend more than two days on a song. I think that throwing myself into that writing style really freed a few things up and I don’t know, maybe I tapped into a certain style of writing that is far more successful or that more people can relate with when it’s not convoluted with production ideas. There seems to be a lot more transparency and maybe people relate with that or the fact that it’s more immediately accessible to someone because of that.
EU: Do you have any specific goals or is there anything you hope to achieve through this tour?
AP: The dogma of playing live seems to be trying to execute the music as well as possible, bringing it from a bedroom studio environment to a live or a festival environment. The main thing has been recreating the songs in a very real way and not just going out there with a bunch of pre-recorded material. If you’re comfortable enough exposing your music to people then you should also have a live show to back it up and that’s kind of been it right now. I feel like right now is sort of a proving ground phase. It’s our first time out on the road and people don’t necessarily know what to expect but I can speculate as to what it is that people will want to see at a Neon Indian show, and that’s what I want to see. Right now it’s just about getting a very good, honest, tight live performance out of it.
EU: A lot of music publications have tagged you with this lo-fi electronic label. Is that something that is an extension of the means available to you to make your music or is it more of an intentional philosophy?
AP: I think it’s a little bit of both. The philosophy behind it is that it was supposed to sound spontaneous and put together and if there was anything that I’ve always liked about the lo-fi music genre is that it sort of seems like the purpose is that you should always focus primarily on the song-writing and they seem to time and time again to prove this point that if you write a good enough song, it doesn’t matter the medium by which it was executed because eventually that becomes irrelevant. It’s more about having the ideas there and having just that raw, unadulterated song in its purest form and I feel that the aesthetic of it came out in that style of writing. I did sort of change mediums as well just as a fun experiment, but at the same time I do have a little bit of ambivalence about the lo-fi genre because I feel that people are very quick to coin music genres and especially that they are calling it “glo-fi”, which is something that is beyond me. It seems like this style of music has been around for decades and I find it kind of unusual that people would associate it with a specific spurt or wave of recent things. It’s funny, whenever certain musical movements come to mind, it’s always sort of centralized around a time and a place and a community of people that all knew each other but in the internet age, especially in blog culture, you don’t really chose your movements, people sort of arrange these things for you and say, “Well, this is who you sound like, so we’re going to throw you all together in a category,” which I find a little presumptuous. I mean, I like a lot of the bands that they are comparing Neon Indian with and I do find it exciting that people are attempting to make this kind of music right now but I feel like it never necessarily stopped. Ariel Pink has been doing this for quite some time and still very actively touring, and there’s plenty of bands. To call it lo-fi specifically, I think kind of confines it or sort of might pigeon-hole the music. If there was anything that I was specifically influenced by while I was making it, it was like Magnetic Fields’ Holidays album or Yellow Magic Orchestra, stuff that if you listen to it now might sound a little lo-fi in the way in which it was recorded but that really more reflected the tools that were available to them at the time. I feel like people kind of get lost in the idea that the medium by which something was created shouldn’t be the only thing to offer. It’s just got to be more about the music itself but at the same time, I love DIY, home-recorded stuff. I love the aesthetic of it, I love the tape aesthetic too. So I don’t know, there’s a little ambivalence there.
EU: Eight years ago today, September 11th happened. Where were you when you became aware of what happened and what kind of impression did it have on you?
AP: Wow, I just realized today is September 11th, isn’t it? Well, I guess I was in Grapevine, TX and I was in choir class in middle school. It’s one of those things where you can remember what you were wearing and who was in the room and all that. Somebody walked in and said that [it was before they thought it was intentional] a plane had crashed into the Twin Towers and for some reason I didn’t really draw the correlation. Later in the day, as the classes progressed and another one hit, the entire day immediately changed tone and it stopped being about an accident. It’s kind of one of those things where you can read it in a book, you can watch it in a film but when you internalize the idea of something like that actually happening, it becomes very different and suddenly social constructs and life itself, it all becomes very fragile. Fortunately I wasn’t directly affected by the experience as a lot of people were but there was still a lot to draw from that in the sense that so much has changed as a result of that and the way in which we conduct politics. And a lot of people have exploited this event and a lot of people have sort of turned it on its head to do a lot of things that personally benefit specific political factions and to me it’s very unusual when something like that happens and it sort of shows the true colors of people in general and how frail all of it is… But that’s what I drew from it. It was a horrifying day and I don’t think I really internalized the severity of it until everything came as a result from that, even to this day, and how it’s changed the face of world politics and all of that.
Interview: Alan Palomo of Neon Indian
by Jack Diablo