Alan Palomo is back in Texas, and he's in a pretty good mood about it. It's a Tuesday night and he's getting ready for a show in a town very close to Austin called Manor. A few year ago he left Austin, having lived previously in Denton, for New York City with his project Neon Indian. He's getting ready to release his third album under that name,VEGA INTL. Night School, next month, but he’s already on the road promoting it. He hits The Bomb Factory tonight and he’ll be on tour until a few days before Christmas.
If you avoided year-end lists or blogs a few years ago, Neon Indian’s Psychic Chasms and Era Extraña came out to a lot of praise by tastemakers in 2009 and 2011, respectively. But without releasing anything new until this year, skeptics could easily wonder if Palomo was a fluke. The kind of fluke bloggers write post after post about in a short period of time, but then suddenly don’t care about anymore. “I made the first record without expectation,” Palomo says. “It was a bizarre irony that the things you put the least amount of thought into come to define you the most. I made it as a fun thing in a month and it transformed my life, and suddenly there was a narrative that was built around me.”
He did think that if he didn’t consistently release new material, fans would abandon him. That pressure fueled Era Extraña, and while he still loves the record, he didn’t want to put that pressure on himself with his new record. No matter how threatening entitled fans would be about his multi-year break from music (in the comments on his Instagram account, for example), he wanted to give himself time to really commit to Neon Indian again.
In the meantime he wrote a screenplay, but he didn’t give up on music completely. He took inspiration from acts like Boards of Canada and the Knife in terms of how they took their time between releases. “It never occurred to me that this is the only medium by which I should express myself,” he explains. “And if it went away, it wouldn’t be the end of my life. I wouldn’t completely check out and give up, because this was something that wasn’t meant to happen anyway. It’s been an incredible tangent that I’ve followed to this extent. Obviously my commitment to make music has grown, but I didn’t want to make new music until I had something to say.”
Palomo’s musical identity has ties to North Texas. His previous acts, Ghosthustler and VEGA, mixed dance beats with layers of synth melodies and vocals, and he has built on that with Neon Indian. He moved to Austin and wrote and recorded Psychic Chasms, but for the past six years, he has called the Brooklyn neighborhood of Greenpoint home. “The first three years I was there, I wasn’t there nearly as much as I would have liked,” he says. “Much of the reason for the hiatus between records was that I had done the first two back to back. In particular, the second record was done very Led Zeppelin-style, like it was written in hotel rooms and between tours. I told myself I didn’t want to write another record until I had an idea that really warranted it.”
Recording tracks at night and in a quiet neighborhood helped him focus when he was ready to put together a new album. And while what it’s like to be active in a nightlife scene is touched on as a theme on VEGA INTL. Night School, his decision to work at night was largely practical. Since he lives across the street from a stone factory and continuously hears the sounds of jackhammers and 18-wheelers during the day, recording at night was a must. “Obviously it’s a great city of many distractions,” he says. “It’s a great place to be your own boss, but not necessarily your own employee.”
He doesn’t make light of his times living in Texas. “I wouldn’t want to treat the places that were incredibly formative for me as stepping stones to the next place,” he insists. “To whatever extent, there are really appealing things about Austin and there are really appealing things about New York. But for what I do, it’s convenient to be based out of New York. A lot of the time, places grow on you, and there’s a symbiotic thing where every time I visit Austin, it’s always a blast. But I don’t necessarily feel like it was, ‘Yes, I did my time here and now I’m going here.’ People that move with that mentality will probably be disappointed by wherever they go because they’re chasing some idea.”
As for Denton, he’s glad places like Rubber Gloves and Hailey’s are still around at least. “Anything I miss is gone,” he says. “That’s the transient nature of a college town.” He speaks highly of places like the Tomato, Time Bandits and Alter Ego Vintage, but understands how things can change quickly in a town like Denton. “I go back because I still have some friends who live there, but it continues to undergo various [changes],” he says. “That’s what it is. Some friends are from there and always come back to that. Or some people are totally stoked to be there and they make sure Denton stays fucking awesome.”
As far as Dallas goes, Palomo is happy to also return to the area. “I think it’s amazing that Deep Ellum is having this considerable renaissance,” he says. “I never thought it was gone. It just experienced a lull, but it’s rad to hear what goes around comes around.”