Neon Indian: You can’t write a song to make someone fall in love with you

Sound Dessert caught up with Neon Indian’s Alan Palomo on a chilly, rainy Saturday during the ten year anniversary of Fun Fun Fun Fest. Palomo electrified crowds with his perform on the Blue Stage later that evening ahead of sets from Grimes and Wu Tang Clan. During the interview we spoke about hotlines, ghosting, and the inspiration behind Neon Indian’s latest release, Vega Intl. Night School.


Sound Dessert: You’ve been quoted saying, “most of what I’ve learned about human nature in my twenties has happened after dark.” What are some of the biggest lessons you’ve learned from “night school?”

Neon Indian: I would say lesson #1 is: you can’t write a song to make someone fall in love with you. That doesn’t exist.

SD: Is that something you’ve tried to do?

NI: Sure yeah, I’d say my biggest song was probably kind of like reaching out you know?

I think the pleasure in writing music is deluding yourself into thinking that you can, and then realizing that once you put it out there, it inspires this whole other life with the people that have connected to it for different reasons.

Second lesson would be that Brooklyn is a city of the transplant. You get a lot of people that move to New York from high school or college and they don’t necessarily know how to carry themselves in a nocturnal environment. They haven’t really determined who they’re going to be and you see this sort of posturing of who they want to be versus who they are, and it’s really bizarre, especially because when you think of the motivations for anybody to go out it’s typically to get altered to some capacity, whether it be booze or drugs, or to get laid. I mean who’s really sticking around at last call just because they like the ambiance?

So I thought of it as a really interesting backdrop to tell a story for this record: the nature of what it means to go out in New York.

You can’t write a song to make someone fall in love with you. That doesn’t exist.

Neon Indian

Neon Indian performing on the Fun Fun Fun Fest Blue Stage.

SD: Do you feel Austin is becoming a city of transplants as well?

NI: Absolutely. I grew up an hour South in San Antonio and every time I wanted to see a show, it always involved a trip to Austin. The mutation that it has undergone in even just the past five years is really insane.

Through the virtue of drawing attention to [Austin’s live music scene] as an excuse to move here, or as a marketing angle to bring tourism here, it kind of starts to slowly push out the creative class that initially gave it that title or that name. It’s weird. I feel Austin’s undergoing some growing pains but I’m very curious to see what kind of city it is in another five years.

SD: The single “Annie,” is Neon Indian’s “Hotline Bling.” Would you say ‘ghosting’ has become an unintentional theme in music right now?

NI: I can definitely say that’s a generational theme. It seems more deliberate to call someone, and back when everyone had a landline you could assume that maybe you have the wrong number, or they’re just never around, or they left the city. Now, if you don’t text someone back in the next half hour, they’ll pretty much assume that you’ve read it but just didn’t take the active effort to respond to it.

It’s funny because the nature of “Annie,” it’s kind of throwback because the hook of the song is “answering machine,” and who has those anymore? If this was a study in ham and cheese I’d call it “867-5309” or something, but I’m glad that Drake’s written the “867-5309” of our generation.

Pitchfork wrote this think-piece about this being the year of the hotline. There’s a real phone fetish happening this year and I’m not really sure why. Drake probably put it the best, I think it’s a really dope concept of a song.

There’s a real phone fetish happening this year.

SD: If you’re going out what music do you want to hear?

NI: It depends on the vibe. I always in my mind imagine stepping into Discoring, which is the Italian Top of the Pops, so everything is lined in this tron-grit of neon and Valerie Dore, or Pink Project, or La Bionda, or some Italo-disco group would be playing.

So many places look like Slow Club (Blue Velvet) but they don’t sound like Slow Club. I wish there was some really moody, almost deliberately slowed down jazz happening at all these places. So if I walk into a place with a checkered board floor and red velvet curtains, I probably want to hear some backwards talking and Angelo Badalamenti, David Lynch score.

SD: When you want to take a day to treat yourself, what does that look like?

NI: I kind of did that yesterday, it was rainy and I woke up super late – waking up late, that’s a delicious treat that seldom happens on tour – but I went to a sensory deprivation tank place which has become a recent curiosity.

I would venture to say it’s not exactly psychotropic in the way that a lot of people would lead you to believe, it’s probably kind of bullshit if anyone is like, “you’re going to trip balls in there,” but you do experience mild auditory hallucinations and you’re basically daydreaming in a black void which is really interesting.

SD: Do you have vivid dreams afterward?

NI: To some extent. It definitely puts you in a very contemplative state of mind. This may be a really crass thing to say, but if meditation is like Xanax, this is like morphine. I would say sensory deprivation is a very intense means of binding your senses to be in a meditative state. This will be my fourth time floating in the past two months, so I’m starting to get into it. It’s becoming my day off activity.

SD: What’s your biggest goal for 2016?

NI: I’d written a screenplay a couple years ago and I haven’t really had a chance to come back to it. I would really like to edit it into something that I could potentially make, so that would be a big one. I know what is in store for 2016 is to tour relentlessly, so I’ll be working on it from van, plane, hotel, and green room along the way.


Neon Indian’s Vega Intl. Night School is available now. Get it here. This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.

Featured image source: Work It Media

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