Neon Indian's Alan Palomo on nostalgia, buzz and 'Wonderful Christmastime'

Perhaps by instinct, children of ’80s suburbia will be drawn to the music of Neon Indian.

Armed with vintage synths and arcane samples, group mastermind Alan Palomo writes songs reminiscent of, among other things, Wham hits, Sega soundtracks and Cameo-era funk jams. Listening to Neon Indian’s debut, “Psychic Chasms” (Lefse), is like sleeping over your at best friend’s house in 1987 and staying up all night watching WWF videos, playing Contra and blasting Top-40 radio. Lest this sound hokey, rest assured the music is less about gimmickry than sweet remembrance.

Listen, Dammit, recently chatted with Palomo as he drove through New Mexico, and here are three facts we learned:

1. When buzz comes, it comes fast: Palomo composed the songs that would make up “Psychic Chasms” at his home in Austin, working on the music while on break from his full-time band, Vega. “Here we are a few months later, performing them to drunk kids that are chanting the lyrics,” Palomo says, reacting to the blog hype and critical raves that have followed the album’s release. “It’s been a strange trip, to say the least.” Neon Indian’s touring lineup boasts four musicians, and when Palomo plays venues such as New York City’s Mercury Lounge, which he was thrilled and surprised to sell out, he won’t have to go it alone. “The main challenge has been recontextualizing some of the bedroom elements into a four-piece rock band and making it entertaining and maintaining some kind of accuracy and trying to stay true to the original material,” he says.

2. There’s nothing wrong with nostalgia: While fans and critics agree Neon Indian’s music is nostalgic, everyone has their own idea of what, exactly, Palomo is referencing. “It’s this little audio documentary from various parts of my life,” he says of the album. “I like the fact the music has this strange stream-of-consciousness to it. The instruments are constantly undulating. The samples undergo some kind of transformation by the end of the song. The idea is that it’s based on memories that are buried in experience. You can’t peg down the finite details because you experienced them.” He adds that while he never set out to make video-game music, as some have alleged, it’s entirely possible elements of Sonic the Hedgehog 3 crept into his writing.

3. Synths: always a good idea. Compare parts of “Psychic Chasms” to Paul McCartney’s holiday oddity “Wonderful Christmastime,” and Palomo will act as though you’ve uncovered a key ingredient in Neon Indian’s secret formula. “That would be a perfect example,” he says of Macca’s 1979 hit. “I have this strange infatuation with rock bands that had that one song that was, like, the synth track — the one song where someone brought a Yamaha DX7 to the studio and was like, ‘Let’s fuck with this for a while.’ It doesn’t come from the same school of thought as electronic artists. They’re trying to find ways to incorporate it into this pop band. It always sounds really goofy and sort of flippant, almost. ‘Wonderful Christmastime’ has that vibe, I think.”

— Interview by Kenneth Partridge, photo by Dagny Piasecky

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