The Creators Project: Neon Indian began as a one-man project and now you’re playing huge festivals and getting interview requests by the dozen. Did you ever think success would happen this quickly for you?
Alan Palomo: No, not at all, actually. It’s kind of funny. Ghosthustler was my first real attempt at music. If anything, that’s where some of my more grandiose, ambition-directed expectations were focused.
When was this?
It was 2007 and there was this sort of influx of dance music. I think that I, like everybody else who was kind of tinkering with synths at the time, got really excited by watching live footage of Justice where they’re in front of tens of thousands of people and falling into all these misadventures. It just looked like the most epic, exciting thing. Ironically enough, I had very low expectations about Neon Indian. It was all more of this thing of writing music with my friends than having the idea of being like, “Whoa, we could be traveling and playing music in front of people too!” It was the result of this really alienating year when I was at that final fork in the road of whether I would continue college or I would continue music.
Your gear was stolen while you were on tour last year. That must have had a serious effect on your music, but the band pressed on. How did you cope?
It happened right smack dab in the middle of the tour. The only thing I was surprisingly enough able to acquire again was a Prophet ‘08 synth, but of course the patches change and that in and of itself kind of changes what you can and can’t do in a live performance if you don’t have the time to retailor all of those sounds. It was definitely a game-changer for a while and I found myself going to friends’ houses and tracking stuff there, which is actually how a lot of the remixes I worked on happened—the Grizzly Bear and Silent League stuff.
On that same front, how hard is it to interpret your songs in a live setting? Do you try to get it as close to the album as possible or do you let it become its own thing?
It does require a bit of recontextualization, I think. Much of the challenge that was behind trying to take Neon Indian on the road was that it was so very much a studio-based labor of love. When I was creating the sounds I wasn’t thinking about reimagining them live or reinterpreting them. It’s like the James Murphy quote that I always thought was pretty funny when he said that he played in the “best LCD Soundsystem cover band” around. In relation to the live show, that really is what you’re kind of doing. You’re trying to find these sort of vague approximations for a synth sound that you have. I really didn’t want to be just some guy with a laptop and a microphone. Not that that’s a bad thing, because I think a lot of people totally tear it up with that setup, and there are definitely some people who perform well under that condition live, but for me it’s kind of a thing where I would have felt like a sitting duck.
Visuals are another aspect that’s very important to your live show. How do you conceptualize those?
I collaborate on visuals with my friend Lars Larson, who lives in Austin now and works at this synth shop called Switched On where he’s kind of the in-house repair guy. We tend to rely on technology that produced these cheap, esoteric ways of creating visual effects before there was anything that people took seriously. For some of the shows we did in New York, he had his whole video-synth rig set up and he was doing live video-feedback loops while we were performing. It’s about taking these childhood references or these sort of buried references and reconceptualizing them. We want to bring it back for the summer tour, but he also has a family so it’s really tough to get him on the road. We need to find a way to make it a more portable setup that we can take with us and interact with while we’re performing—we could be feeding it some sort of data to be triggering clips while we’re playing certain songs. The visual element is important to me because the bands that have created the strongest impression on me have been the ones that take advantage of different multimedia aspects. For instance, Black Dice has just a strong visual presence, or even something older like the KLF. I’ve definitely brainstormed some things for the future, and ideally if I could make some sort of short film and have the score be the next Neon Indian record then that’s obviously an opportunity I’d seize.