Idiot Glee interviews Neon Indian

A few weeks ago I got an email saying that Alan from Neon Indian was going to be in Lexington for a few days and was available for an interview. I agreed without looking at a calendar and it wasn’t until the day of the interview that I realized I would have about 15 minutes to interview and photograph him. So instead I called up James Friley of Idiot Glee to see if one talented young musician wouldn’t mind interviewing another. He agreed and I snapped a few photos on the set of the “Sleep Paralysist” music video.

Idiot Glee interviews Neon Indian

James: You’re doing a music video for Sleep Paralysist Are there more people in the band or are you the only one filming?

Neon Indian: Um, I’m the only one filming just for this one. I mean, for the music itself and for this track and the record, it’s just been me. Sleep Paralysist was co-produced with Chris Taylor from Grizzly Bear, but he was at Cochella this week. But yeah, I’m the only one on the shoot for this one, although I think that for some of the one’s we’re planning for “Step Up”, we’re gonna get the live band involved. We’re trying to find some cool and interesting ideas and ways to sort of interject them into the narratives.

James: So they don’t really write, they’re just the live band basically?

Neon Indian: Um, well yeah. For my other project, VEGA, it’s a little bit more collaborative. You know, Ronnie and Jason, I’ve been playing with for a very long time. They definitely have more of an aesthetic footing in Vega– it’s more of a band aesthetic anyway. It’s kinda this disco band with really heavy percussion, a lot of guitar and bass arrangements and stuff. That sort of seems to be their areas of expertise. Neon Indian is just a little bit more stripped and minimalist in its arrangements.

James: I guess my next question is, how did you get here? I know about the Miller House, I’m from Lexington and I’ve been here but how did you find out about it? Did you pick it or did someone else pick it?

Neon Indian: Well I think when Ben and Aaron were talking to me about different ideas they had for location, they sent me a bunch of photographs and I just thought that it was one of the most bizarre, eccentric places that I’ve ever been in. And on top of that it was just also the idea that somebody lived here and that this was someone’s actual living space and that they were finding a way to make it work and that they built it. I dunno, it just seemed like a really great place to tell this really bizzre, disjointed story, you know? Or lack thereof. I just seemed like a really great place to create a narrative. And on top of that, just filming in New York would have defeted the purpose of trying to get in a frame of mind to make a video for this thing. So I was just very curious to see what Lexington, Kentucky had. And it’s surprising how much of an underbelly this place has– it’s got a lot of really interesting little nooks and we filmed some different scenes at people’s houses. We went to this one guy’s house that had this collection of shrines that he had been building for years…

James: Shrines?

Neon Indian: Yeah! Just like a lot of weird, esoteric Mexican iconography mixed with a lot of random references to Day of the Dead, death and a lot of stuff like that, but also sort of blended with little fragments of his life.

James: Hm. I don’t think I know him.

Neon Indian: Yeah, I’m trying to remember his name. It might be Bill or something like that. But yeah, I feel like in New York every living space is so incredibly small that it’s really hard to have it be representative of you– you see it as just a kind of transient storage sapce where you keep all of your shit. When you go to a smaller town and people have all of this space to create an environment that’s sort of their signature, it’s kinda cool to be reminded of that.

James: Do you like it in New York? You just moved there recently, right?

Neon Indian: Yeah I love it– I definitely have no intention of moving anytime soon. But I was raised in Texas so I know all about those creature comforts– you know, having the luxury of driving and not seeing anyone for a half hour. In New York, that’s kind of an impossibility.

James: Did you grow up in Denton or were you just there right before you moved?

Neon Indian: Um, yeah. I was born in Montery in Mexico and I moved to San Antonio when I was like five or six. And I just kind of worked all over the place. San Antonio was where I spent most of my life. For college I went to Denton and that place was kind of my musical stomping ground in a lot of ways and that’s sort of where I began forming these projects and then Austin was the last place I lived in right before I moved to New York. And Austin is where Neon Indian came to fruition.

James: Did you get to go into Downtown Lexington very much and hangout?

Neon Indian: Yeah, a little bit. Yeah I went to Stella’s Deli and little places like that.

James: Oh ok! That’s definitely where I would recommend to eat. Do you see any similarities [between Denton and Lexington?] I mean Lexington’s kind of a college town.

Neon Indian: Denton is very much so a college town, I mean really the only thing that has brought a lot of life to that city is the university. I mean, you know most of the community that I interacted with weren’t even in school, but that seems to be sort of the brain of it. You’ve got a lot of people coming in and coming out, so it’s a very transient place in that way. It feels like more of a college town than Lexington– Lexington still has a community and it has a lot of context outside of the university, you know? Just hearing about all the different communities that happen out here, whether artistically or otherwise. Denton’s just sort of all in the confines of a five mile radius.

James: So did you feel like you were abandoned when you moved to New York? Or were you like this “king of music” when you lived [in Denton or Austin] and then said “alright, I’m leaving…”

Neon Indian: No, not necessarily. In Denton, I feel like “king of music,” or a title like that would be a very strong term but yeah I was just kind of part of the community there. There’s a lot going on there and even though Neon Indian has turned into its own little monster, things were happening in Denton long before I got there and they’re happening long after I’ve left. The musical community there has been pretty active and definitely spawned a lot of interesting artists. I was just kind of another guy who left at some point. And Austin, I wasn’t really there long enough to make any connection with that place. If anything, I feel like what really made Neon Indian “happen” living in Austin– that city was so incredibly alienating for me, you know? I didn’t have a car, I mainly just went to classes. And I thought I had friends there and I mean I did, but it’s kind of that thing where you walk into somebody’s life and they’ve already fot a rhythm going and you feel like a third wheel in a lot of social situations. So as a result, I just kinda stayed in doors and just fiddled with my synths.

James: I guess I asked because I thought about moving to New York like so many times. And it’s just like I’ve already got so much here in Lexington, why would I abandon all of this? But in New York there’s so much more opportunity and that’s where it’s gonna happen… I dunno.

Neon Indian: Well I mean you know, at least with the Internet I can say that it can happen anywhere really. And I think that people can realate to a narrative that isn’t just someone who moved to New York to make it. I like the idea that I had moved to New York after things had kinda already established themselves. I could just take something there and kinda run with it. Most of the motivation to move to New York was that I was gonna write a record up there and that was just the place that I had been talking about with Fool’s Gold, who’s based out of there. I dunno, it seemed like a good excuse to kinda hang out there for a while. I mean, it really depends on what you’re looking for. If Lexington is where you find your creativity and where you find your musical identity then you can definitely stay here. I moved out of Austin because I just couldn’t live there anymore– I wasn’t really connecting. And then with Denton, if I’m not going to school then I wouldn’t want to really be there too much.

James: I guess that’s the difference. I’m not in school now– I got suspended because I didn’t go, that’s lame, but I still wanna live here.

Neon Indian: Yeah, totally. When you missed class and stuff, was it kind of family realted or…

James: Um, yeah, well I spent years in a band called Bedtime and I traveled two hours to where the other dudes lived every Sunday, and two hours back, to practice. Which was kind of ridiculous and I just got tired of it. But because of Bedtime and Idiot Glee, I couldn’t figure out what I was going to do with a music degree. Professionally, there’s nothing that I really want to do, except music, so that’s what I do. Plus I just stayed up a lot of times til three or four, just recording, and them slept through my classes.

Neon Indian: That seems right. My last semester at UNT (University of North Texas), if I’d go to class I’d go to check my email [laughs] and see how the bookings for South by Southwest were doing. Stuff like that. I definitely had quite the disconnect.

James: Did you get the degree?

Neon Indian: No, I stil have like a year and a half.

James: That’s what I have exactly– three semesters.

Neon Indian: Totally. And I mean that would be the bulk of my actual film degree. I dunno, it seemed at that point that I could either do one thing or the other really well and music is just what I was connecting with more. Even though film was still an incredibly stern interest of mine, I have every intention of getting into film after music. If anything, I see this as a really interesing deviation. But I duuno just right now getting a degree in film and connecting to a program that I didn’t really feel was giving much back just didn’t seem worth it.

James: On top of that, you should probably take advantage of Neon Indian while you can.

Neon Indian: Oh absolutley! It was also one of those things where I’ve got this momentum and I really want to see what it can turn into, you know? I wanna write a proper record with this, I don’t want it to just be some thing that I did “half-ass.” You know, just put out a couple of singles and just fall off the wagon for a while. College I can always go back to. But musical syngery and having found some kind of identity or objective with a certain kind of creativity that you have, that’s a really rare thing. That’s why you go to school to begin with if you want to study film or music. To try to find some sort of identity and trade, some set of skills. And it’s happening right now, and it’s not in the confines of some classroom somewhere. I’m getting to tour and live as a result of it.

Continue reading the rest after the break

James: Yeah. Well, the single for Sleep Paralysist is already out, right?

Neon Indian: Yeah. On Green Label Sound.

James: When is the video due out?

Neon Indian: Um, I’m not sure. If I had to think about the turn around time, it would probably be something close to a month or something I think. We have every intention of getting it done as quickly as possible and really, really pushing it. But you’ll definitely see it out sometime in late May or early summer.

James: And what were the directors’ names again?

Neon Indian: Ben and Aaron– I don’t know their last names. But, we’ve got Ben and Aaron!

James: Alright. Ok, I really love Mountain Dew. So I was wondering if you got free Mountain Dew for being on green label? [laughs]

Neon Indian: I’m sure if I wanted to I could [laughs].

James: If you do, just send it to me.

Neon Indian: Just like a Mountain Dew vending machine in my apartment or something. That would be rad. But no, this is kind of a thing that I talked about with some friends who had already done it– like Chromeo and Holy Ghost– and they had nothing but good things to say about it. It was kinda this thing where I was in between labels, constantly working on stuff, trying to try out different collaborations to find the next sound for the next Neon Indian record. This one I did with Chris seemed like a good enough track to at least want to expose it to people and when I got the offer to do this with GLS, it seemed like a really good opportunity to take advantage of it and just run with it. I think right now signing to a label and having to be a slave to one’s sound for the purpose of project consistency doesn’t really appeal to me right now. I’m still trying to find a good home for the next record, and I’m gonna take my time on that. But in the mean time this is still a good way to get my content done and out there for people to listen to. For me it was just a really fun and interesting studio collaboration. And there will be a lot more of those– I like working with different people and I’m always very curious as to what the outcome would be if I worked with this person or that person. I’ve always loved Grizzly Bear and all the stuff they’ve done, so working with Christ on Sleep Paralysist just made perfect sense. We didn’t even have an objective– it was just “let’s get in the studio, I have this demo, let’s see what we can do with it.”

James: That’s really cool. We had the Books play here…

Neon Indian: Oh yeah! They played in this house, right?

James: Yeah! You should come play here too. An actual show would be huge.

Neon Indian: Yeah, now that I’ve been here I’ve heard about all these connections to random bands and people that have heard about it that want to play here. And I definitely heard about the Books, and I’ve also heard that it’s pretty haunted here.

James: Uh, well when Coleman and his friend Caleb had a band called Babes they used to practice here– it’s a cool practice space. And they would do it late at night and apparently get really freaked out because they would hear shit being drug down to the basement and stuff. Just like loud sliding noises and creaking noises. They left and never practiced here again. So, I dunno, maybe it is. So, you’re not going to do the next record on Lefso?

Neon Indian: Um, no…

James: That wasn’t a contract for five records or anything was it?

Neon Indian: No not at all. I think whenever we started talking to Lefso, the objective really was to just get the record out. We were excited about it, they were excited about it– it just seemed like a good thing to do. We didn’t really jump into it with any long term commitments. I mean, they’re good buddies and all that. But I think for the next one– I dunno. I’m just sort of sitting on that idea of what would be a good home for it. I think I want to write it first and see exactly where it fits. We’ve definitely talked to a few people and I’ve got my ideas about what I’d like to do with it, but yeah, Lefso was just kind of a one-off.

James: Cool. So are you halfway done with the next record or are you finished with the demos, or…

Neon Indian: No right now I’ve just got a few raw ideas that I’ve been trying to flesh out and I’ve got this whole weird collection of different adjectives and ideas that I’m trying out. I remember I had this weekend where I wanted to just write songs where I sounded like if Black Dice wrote funk records. You know, just weird little genre mashings. And I also had this idea of like weird Bill Nelson soundscapes with Jesus and Mary Chain guitars– I dunno, I’m just trying a bunsj of different references and experimenting with the interactions in between the sounds. I really don’t anticipate finishing it until the end of this year, because right now the big thing I’m focusing on is the VEGA record and getting in the studio for that. So, right now any future Neon Indian stuff is just really in the conceptual phase.

James: What label is the VEGA record soming out on?

Neon Indian: Fool’s Gold.

James: Are they based out of New York?

Neon Indian: Yeah.

James: I feel like I’ve heard of it…

Neon Indian: It’s A-Trak’s label. He’s a DJ. He’s actually Dave One from Chromeo’s brother. It’s like this dance label– they put out Kid Sister and Treasure Finger, a lot of different people like that.

James: Sweet. When I was at South by Southwest, there’s this YouTube video of this place callled Mighty Fine Bugers…have you eaten there?

Neon Indian: Um, Mighty Fine Burgers…I think maybe at some point. What was the YouTube video?

James: I dunno if you’ve heard of Slap Chop, but it was a video of this infomercial of Slap Chop, and it’s remixed into a dance track or whatever, and the same guy did a Mighty Fine remix. I dunno, maybe it’s just an inside joke in Lexington or something, but I definitely had to eat there while I was in Austin and it was amazing.

Neon Indian: Awesome!

James: I dunno. I was gonna ask you about food because when I go on tour, that’s what it’s all about.

Neon Indian: Oh dude, fuck yeah! You gotta see what the cuisine is.

James: It’s like everywhere you go, what is it? And in Austin I had barbeque at Mighty Fine Burgers…

Neon Indian: I’ve been to Salt Lick and a few other places…

James: Is that a barbeque place?

Neon Indian: Yeah Salt Lick. It’s the jam. It’s funny because during South By, a lot of people make sure to make a pilgrimage to the Salt Lick and it’s always packed. But, there’s a lot of different nooks. There’s this place caled Juan in a Million, that’s this really amazing breakfast taco joint where they have the Juan in a Million platter that for like three bucks you just get this mountain of potato and egg and a few tortillas to just sop it all up. But there’s a few little places– Austin’s got really good Tex-Mex and Mexican food is like my weakness. Everywhere we go– when we first got to Lexington for the first day of shooting, they had tacos. I asked “how did you guys know, I love tacos!” They said, “well we asked if you had any dietary restrictions and everybody that knew you just said ‘tacos.’” [laughs] I’m allergic to anything that’s not Mexican food.

James: Yeah, Johnny makes awesome tacos.

Neon Indian: Yeah, he totally just nailed the cuisine.

James: Yeah, he had a place called Bus Tacos for a short time. Where they were supposed to sell them out of a bus, but they never had a real bus. Sorry, I’m jumping around here.

Neon Indian: No, you’re fine– by all means.

At this point a young fan came up to ask for Alan’s autograph and James stopped the tape. The recorder didn’t pick back up when they resumed the interview.

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