Alan Palomo made a name for himself trying to sound like someone else. His breakout, however, didn't come until he settled for just sounding like himself. It was an unlikely break for Palomo, but then his entire career is full of such unlikely things, like Ghosthustler, his previous project, for instance. If ever there was an unlikely place for a drum-machine-driven synth-pop act to find its feet, it's probably Denton, Texas. But that's exactly where and how Palomo got his start. In advance of his performance with Neon Indian at Saturday's Westword Music Showcase, we caught up with Palomo on the tour bus from Cincinnati to Pittsburgh to talk about being a synth musician in Texas, potent hallucinogens and just going with random ideas.
Westword (Jef Otte): You just came off an appearance at Bonnaroo. How was that?
Adam Palomo: It was great. I don't think I've ever played before to a crowd of that kind of size before. It was kind of crazy; during one song, somehow these topless girls in neon headbands got past security and were dancing along onstage. But the crowd was really responsive, just really getting into it and dancing and stuff, so it was really a lot of fun, yeah.
WW: You posted a tweet a few days ago about a show where a microphone got thrown and your shoe fell off. Is a certain level of chaos something you aspire to at your shows?
AP: I don't know if I aspire to it. I mean, obviously playing a show where everything is kind of controlled and smooth, I guess, is ideal. But yeah, I kind of prefer when shit gets crazy, and all this chaos and debauchery breaks loose. At that show, what happened was all these beach balls were kind of going around, and I tossed one, and it ended up hitting a mike stand, so the mike fell into the crowd and made this insanely loud noise. But the people there were way into it, everybody went crazy. I mean, you could tell everyone in the crowd was on some kind of potent hallucinogen.
WW: Speaking of hallucinogens, you have a song called "Should Have Taken Acid with You" -- are hallucinogens something you're into?
AP: Well, it's not necessarily something I do all the time. Given the nature of my music, I think a lot of people assume I must have a kiddie pool full of peyote in my back yard or something. But that's not something I use to justify what I do. Just carrying it around as like a permission slip to make psychedelic music is not really the intent there. For me, it's always just something that's been in the cultural backdrop, I guess. It's just something I'm interested in. I think it's fascinating.
WW: As far as cultural backdrops go, you got your start in Ghosthustler in Denton, Texas. That seems like kind of a strange place to be a new-wave band.
AP: Well, it's a way to entertain yourself. But yeah, you kind of stuck out like a sore thumb. There's a really small community of people there who are into electronica, but it's the kind of thing where everyone kind of knows everyone. So it was pretty easy to kind of start working with these people in Houston or Austin or whatever, who were doing the same thing we were. But you know, we were trying to connect to people who weren't even in our community, and we were really trying to integrate into this kind of larger scene were in.
It made making music after a while kind of miserable: We were spending so much time in production, getting everything cleaned up and trying to get these sounds we were trying to make to sound just right, or trying to make it sound like New Order, or like these musicians we admired. So I think a lot of the glitches on Psychic Chasms, or the sounds that are sonically unstable, it's like a reaction to tweaking knobs in Ghosthustler.
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WW: For some of those glitches, you used field recordings and found sounds, right? Tell me about that process.
AP: At the time, whatever idea popped into my head, we'd put it on the grid and just go from there. Like, I did dream logs, which I'd never really done a dream log before. But I started doing that, and basically, I'd just wake up in the morning and hit record on GarageBand or whatever, and then just start talking into the microphone. So some of that makes it onto the record, although it's kind of buried in there.
Really, we were trying to capture emotion, and just capture this kind of spontaneity to how that works. Because music degrades in the same way memory does, like if you keep going back to this memory and playing with it, turning it over in your mind, it kind of degrades. The pure emotion of it wears away.
To me, Psychic Chasms kind of served as an audio documentary, this little collection of songs. It was a thing where it ended up feeling like a collage -- my dad even makes it onto the record. So it's very personal in that way. And really, this record was not something that I really intended to, I guess, present to the world, or for it to be self-defining. It's really more self-serving in that way.