Had a chance to catch up with musician, composer and filmmaker Alan Palomo, whose work as Neon Indian helped define an entire genre of music in the late 00s.
Currently working on his upcoming record, which will be more on the jazz side of things, he talks about his vinyl collection, synthesizers and more. Exclusive photos of Alan provided by Ambar Navarro.
Synth History: In an apartment laden with vinyl, I have to ask, what were some of your favorite records growing up?
Alan Palomo: I think my earliest song memories started with Paul McCartney’s Silly Love Songs. They’d put it on and my brother would dance to it back in Mexico. My dad was a Beatles guy and sufficiently imposed those sensibilities on my brother and I. At one point he bought their Ones compilation on what was the newly proliferating CD format from some Columbia house catalogue and we ran that thing ragged. There was generally a lot of that, some AOR type records like Doobie Brothers and The Eagles. There was Mexican stuff like Mana and Selena. I don’t think I made any discernible choice to listen to a particular type of music 'til MTV 2 chose Daft Punk’s One More Time as one of their launch videos. As a then - and maybe still now - became an anime dork, that left a big impression on me. Then once I saw the video for Radiohead’s Pyramid Song it was kind of all over.
Synth History: What record do you have on repeat right now?
Alan Palomo: Lewis of Man’s Sonic Poems, L’Imperatrice’s Tako Tsubo, and anything off D.KO Records... lots of great music coming out of Paris at the moment.
Synth History: Do you know off the top of your head what the rarest vinyl you have is and/or the most sentimental?
Alan Palomo: It would probably have to be this box set of Supersempfft’s catalogue I got some years ago. It’s the only known pressing of their work and includes their later project 4D’s album Dimension, which I’ve yet to hear digitized anywhere. I was introduced to them by hearing I See Stars on Intergalactic FM in my early 20s and became completely obsessed. They’re tragically underrated. Like a cartoon Kraftwerk. They seem to take the sound design serious but never the songs. It’s all so beautifully goofy. One of the few bands can I put on and have literally no framework for how they achieved their sound. I think one of them built their own drum computer and sold it to Quincy Jones? Wild stuff.
*Side note: the P-Thugg Hiroshi Sato interview and Alan holding up Awakenings was completely unplanned - how cool?!
Synth History: What things are inspiring you the most currently? Could be anything.
Alan Palomo: I’m always curating what I expose myself to when album writing as for better or worse it finds its way into the work. Reading Thomas McGuane’s Panama helped me find a lyrical thread for the album. His demented ennui. His way of matter of factly and dry talking about something absolutely insane. Leonard Cohen’s I’m You Man was another lyrical revelation. I think I stopped at his folk records in high school and was due for a revisit. His capacity for humor in the midst of his compulsion for universal truth spilling is really something to behold.
Synth History: Looking around your studio, you have some pretty amazing synths! What have been some of your past favorites and your current go-tos?
Alan Palomo: My first record Psychic Chasms was all done on a Prophet '08. Then when I had a little bit of a budget, I went ham and used a whole plethora of stuff to make Era Extraña. Though it was fun to figure out how to use it all, I learned that often it’s better to work within constraints. It makes for more focused and cohesive results. I think I eventually struck a good balance balance on VEGA. I decided ahead of time I’d mainly use a Minimoog Model D, a Memorymoog, and a Korg PS-3100. The latter is still probably the best thing in my collection, it’s so lush. It somehow sounds like modular polyphony. These days I’ve been delving more into digital stuff. I was never a big Modular guy until they started revisiting FM. To be able to manipulate FM synthesis through all these elaborate patchable avenues has been a fun revelation. Mutable Instruments, Industrial Music Electronics, Intellijel. They’re all making exciting new stuff!
Synth History: What was your first hardware synth?
Alan Palomo: I used student loans to buy a Juno 106 back in Denton. I wasn’t prepared for it. I just didn’t understand its potential. I sold it prematurely only to pay king’s ransom recently for another and fell in love all over again.
Synth History: Do you think there is an audible difference between analog and digital synths? Do you prefer one over the other?
Alan Palomo: Sure, there’s plenty of difference but I wouldn’t say that either is particularly better. I think it depends largely on what you’re trying to make. If you’re trying to make early Italo, maybe don’t use an M1. If you’re trying to make 90s house, maybe don’t use an ARP. There must have been an awkward era of early digital synths modeled after analog stuff that just fell short and caught a bad wrap. Once digital synth manufacturers realized how much more it could do than it’s subtractive synthesis predecessors, things got really interesting. I love weird later stuff like the Roland JV-800, Waldorf Microwave, or Ensoniq Fizmo that never intended on trying to sound like an analog synth.
Synth History: I saw that you have a Voyetra. Did you know that New Order used to tour with a rack containing four of them!? Having said that, how do you decide which gear to take on the road? Do you take whatever you use on your songs, or downsize, and are there certain ones you leave home for safety?
Alan Palomo: I do! The whole reason I got one was because I saw it in the Jonathan Demme directed video for Perfect Kiss in high school. I thought to myself, “What is that thing?!”. Sure enough when making the second record I got one of those and an Emulator II in an act of utter New Order fandom. The sad part is that a lot of the more power synths I use on the record rarely travel with me. The risk of damage or failure is too high. One of the few vintage pieces I travel with these days is the Korg MS-20 'cause that thing is built like a tank. On the last record I wound up recording keyboard overlays with the more exotic gear and played it on MIDI keys out of Ableton.
Synth History: What is your favorite part about touring?
Alan Palomo: The giddy delirium. Being sleepless but in beautiful places you’ve never seen before. Other than that, I’d probably say fans and food.
Synth History: Do you prefer touring or writing in the studio?
Alan Palomo: I’m a studio rat by nature. I like chipping away at things and slowly returning to ideas for another coat of polish. The front man performance is something that grew out of necessity to perform my music live. In an ideal world, I’d record more and tour less. One of the ironies of being a musician by trade is how little of it you get to make. Once you finish a small collection of songs the next year or so is spent playing the songs on a stage.
Synth History: You mentioned to me at one point that this record will be under your name, not released as Neon Indian. What inspired that?
Alan Palomo: It’s such an 80s male rock cliché to leave your band to make a jazz record. It has yielded both glorious and hideous results. My upcoming [music] is sort of playing with this concept.
Synth History Exclusive. Photos by Ambar Navarro.