No one should ever accuse Alan Palomo of being too chill. As the main musician behind Neon Indian, he’s less of a lead singer than a livewire, jumping around on stage with the confidence of an artist beyond his years. We caught up with him at Lollapalooza to discuss becoming an honorary Indian, decamping to Helsinki, and how he maintains his friendships.
My friend Sophie wanted to know how you can have time to work on any music when she claims she sees you at 285 Kent every night and wonders how you’re productive.
[laughs] Well, she’s definitely seen me there this summer. I got off the road in mid-June and I’ve been traveling and recording pretty non-stop for the past three years in a row, and haven’t devoted much time to any self-development or even maintaining the friendships and things that are most important to me. So it’s been a month of just kind of — maybe it seems a little bit like meandering, but it’s also much-needed meandering. 285’s a pretty dope spot to see some pretty great bands. And also, it’s strange, because going somewhere like that doesn’t even necessarily affect my schedule. I mean, I’ve always been a 9 to 5 dude, but 9 pm to 5 in the morning, so by the time I get home from 285 Kent is when I’m barely ready to work on some music.
Speaking of friends, I saw the trailer for the movie you’re in, Dosa Hunt. Is it really that difficult to find good Indian food in New York City?
I don’t think it was about the difficulty of it, it was about finding the best. ‘Cause there’s a lot of dosa in New York. It’s still very funny that I was involved in it, I think I was the honorary Indian of the trip, the Neon Indian, if you will. The Mexican comic relief, I guess. But no, it was awesome, I grabbed food with those dudes so much, for whatever reason, just being in town at the same time, or being at stuff like this, that it just made perfect sense to be like, “Why don’t we all just hop in a van and find the dankest fucking dosa there is in New York City?”
And it was great, it was a very Bourdain kind of experience. Everybody had their own spots that they already knew, and it required a trip well into very deep Queens to find this little place called Dosa Hut, that had the most exceptional dosa. And I love food. The more and more I tour, what keeps it interesting, returning to the same cities, is the food aspect of it. One of my bandmates is a chef when he’s not on the road. It always creeps its way into my day, so for me it made a lot of sense to hop on board.
So you said you were the honorary Indian, so you were born in Mexico, right? Do you mind me asking, what’s your makeup?
Just full Mexican, born in Monterrey, born and raised there. And yeah, I came to Texas when I was six years old.
Have you gone back since?
I’ve been going there every summer up til I was 18 or 19. The last time I was there was to play a Todd P show right by SXSW. I’m going back there next month, but it’s been a little more scarce. And it’s tougher to get down there because it’s really unfortunate but Monterrey in the past three or four years is really seen a type of violence that is completely unknown to it. Monterrey was always known as one of the safest cities in Mexico and it’s really bizarre that it’s been so reshaped by all the cartel violence.
Having gone back, do you feel like you’ve drawn anything from it to incorporate into your music or into your art?
I’ve had that question a lot, whether my ethnic background makes its way into my music. I guess to some extent, the performance aspect of it. Growing up watching the Mexican crooners, the unabashed emotional energy they pour into the performance. But sonically, I don’t draw a lot of influence from any one thing in particular. Neon Indian is such an impulsive project, it’s tough to draw some concept that’s based on a particular kind of music. There’s a lot of Japanese records I love, there’s a lot of Italian records I love, and there’s definitely a lot of Mexican records I love.
Were you attending college when you started the band?
Not Neon Indian, but technically, yeah. I started my first band, Ghost Hustler, first year of college. Then VEGA happened when I moved to Austin, and Neon Indian happened right after basically dropping out. It was this deus ex machina that just swooped in and suddenly-
Where were you at?
I was trying to get into the UT film program and I was taking classes at ACC, probably going nowhere, because at the time, I could either do school well or do music well, and I was definitely lacking in both. I wasn’t devoting the necessary amount of time into either, so I just decided I could always come back to school, but I was feeling a certain momentum and creative potency with Neon Indian that I needed to actualize and figure out what it’s all about and eventually, I would probably go back to finish school.
Because yeah, I was studying film, and arguably Neon Indian is a far better impetus to start doing that kind of stuff myself rather than doing it from the perspective of a recent graduate, but at the same time, if there was anything I got from college, it was the love of academia that you can’t really train yourself into. I mean, yeah, I like to read, but imposing that kind of self-discipline is a very rare thing, and I like that you get a kick in the ass now and again to be cognizant of something that might not creep its way into your brain on a day-to-day basis. I don’t have any problems with it, but it just ended up working out for me.
You did your first album at home at your second in Helsinki. Have you thought about a third place that you might want to go for your third record?
I think Helsinki was the first and last of that capricious way of looking at the creative process. I have the tendency to romanticize what it meant to be lonely, living in a place like Austin and not having a car and going through this very strange transitional phase. And then just straight up being in a country where I don’t speak the language and being completely alone in a different part of the world, different time zone, no real way to communicate with my friends. I kind of overshot that feeling, but it was a lot more conducive to personal development than it was album-writing. It was necessary just for what I got out of it.
I think personality is like a muscle, and you surround yourself with your friends and they help you maintain that muscle, in the sense that you lose communication with your closest friends and then suddenly you’re just lost in this place and not knowing who you are or what you came there to do. The first two weeks of being there were like, ‘What’s this record going to sound like?’ and then the third and fourth week there was like [in fake Scandinavian accent] ‘What is this music?’ In this really awful cathartic experience, but yeah, I think I’ll probably do the next one in my apartment in Brooklyn. Or maybe in Austin, maybe I’ll go back there.