Recent Brooklyn transplant Alan Palomo has been recording under the name VEGA for a few years now. But last year, during an eight-month stint in Austin, Texas, the now-21-year-old holed up in his apartment and recorded an album called Psychic Chasms under the name Neon Indian. It’s been described as “chillwave”–not all that inventive, given that one of the catchier Neon Indian tunes is called “Terminally Chill”–but Psychic Chasms‘s understated charm lies within the fact that it’s a psychedelic record that’s simultaneously dancey and mellow.
The last few months have moved rather quickly for Neon Indian: he’s recently played Late Night with Jimmy Fallon, started working on a new song for Green Label Sound with Grizzly Bear’s Chis Taylor, and tonight starts a three week run of shows at Webster Hall. We caught up with Palomo late in the afternoon earlier this week, just as he was waking up.
I don’t know what “Psychic Chasms” are.
At the time, it was just this name. During the writing of the album, I was having these post-fractal rationalizations about what I was doing. But the significance of the name for me comes from the time frame of where I was: I was living in Austin and becoming sort of detached. When you separate yourself from a group of friends you were very close with, you start being reminded of who you are. Those interactions define you in a certain sense, and if you pull yourself away from that–I don’t know, for me, it was just a very introspective phase of writing Psychic Chasms. The album is sort of like this interior land survey, trying to see your headspace as this tangible place, where you explore memories and try to make sense of them. And the music serves as an audio documentary or soundtrack.
You don’t hear of people feeling isolated in Austin. Seems like a friendly town.
And it is. I moved down with the expectation of tapping into some musical community. The whole thing with Austin is that it takes awhile to really get integrated into that community. Austin is a little bit more homespun and can be tough to infiltrate. I really only spent eight months there, and that isn’t enough time to get settled. But I didn’t have a car and I was just going to ACC [Austin Community College] but then this music thing picked up. My personal experience just became very alienating.
People talk about your ’80s influences. Is this true?
Yeah, absolutely. But for me, I’ve listened to so much music from that era, I don’t hear the decade anymore because it’s integrated into my taste pallette. I guess someone will say, “Man, this is totally ’80s. It sounds like a warped Prince single.” For me, I try not to think of the music as nostalgic, in any cultural sense. It’s personally nostalgic around everything that happened at the end of high school.
What do you think is contemporary about Psychic Chasms?
Music is becoming more referential anyways. You have these genres that blending in on themselves, constantly. Music is about context and reference–and being able to play with that creatively is just as significant as the song itself. That’s why I’ve always loved Boards of Canada and Ariel Pink: Ariel Pink are basically the masters of that; they’re basically a walking AM radio, where they’re bits of all these forgotten songs. They’re great at creating these little rhythms that reference that so well. But it doesn’t come from the songwriting, but also the innate ability to play with that context.
That’s a challenge for people, to make a record that’s going forward, even though it’s a product of the time in which it was recorded.
Absolutely. And I think it takes exceptional artistry to really be able to create something so unique that you feel it transcends time.
People love the song “Should Have Taken Acid With You.” But have you heard whether or not this is indeed a good song to take acid to?
Oh, you know, people will leave a comment on the [Neon Indian] MySpace and say, “I listened to ‘I Should Have Taken Acid With You’ ON ACID!” And it’s rather comical to me. I’m sure there are textures that tickle you when your three hits in. What’s funny about that song is that it says, “Should have.”
It’s a very regretful statement.
Yeah, it’s not actually about an experience with psychedelics. But it’s funny that a lot of people think that by just seeing the world “acid.”
I had this experience in Australia. Usually when I play that song live, I crack a few jokes about the easability to find acid. I was in Melbourne and I walked offstage and this guy waves me over. I said, “Hey, what’s going on.” He said, “If you need to find some acid, man,” and gave me his phone number. I think I’ve created this persona for myself and I don’t want to disappoint people. So, I was like, “Yeah,” and then his girlfriend chimes in and was like, “You know, we’re going to go to this party later, and there’s going to be a bowl of punch there, and there’s going to be some acid in it. And I remember thinking, ‘That sounds fucking awful.'” You can’t go to an acid party with strangers in a foreign country. You can’t have some crazy meltdown catharsis when you have to be at soundcheck the next day.