World Of Hassle Is Alan Palomo’s First Release Under His Real Name
By Jeff McCord
Alan Palomo was born in Monterrey, Mexico, and as a kid, his only thought when his family hustled him out of the house on a US vacation was making sure he had brought along enough toys. Slowly, it dawned on him: they were not going back. It’s fair to say he hasn’t gone into anything this unprepared since.
You’d be forgiven if you didn’t know this bit of backstory. Denton-based Palomo, through a trio of Neon Indian recordings, spent the 2010s pioneering the Chillwave movement, which got both heads and minds moving without betraying many of its origins.
Post-pandemic, and well overdue for the fourth Neon Indian album, Palomo, concept in hand, set to work. But he wasn’t feeling it. In the interim, he had released his first Spanish language single, 2019’s “Toyota Man”, which told the tale – if not quite his, close to it – of immigration and encountering a new country.
The lyrics, translated: “We come to study/We want to work /And although they want to deny it /We are all Americans.”
Slipping back into the Neon Indian guise wasn’t ringing true.
“It’s funny,” Palomo recalls. He’s sitting with me immediately after his Studio 1A performance, still in his colorful stage outfit. He speaks rapidly, similar to the way he makes his music; funny, thoughtful, and focused.
”My music had always been, I wouldn’t say deliberately apolitical, but it just wasn’t necessarily something that I was trying to sing about or something that was inspiring me. [“Toyota Man”] was birthed out of a couple of things, one of which was some friends of mine said you should just write a song in Spanish. And it came off the heels of the Trump administration. It never occurred to me that my biographical story had somewhat become politicized and just telling it, the idea that you arrive illegally, you try to make right with the law and go in step with the American dream – what does that mean, at least for me? Why haven’t I sang about that in particular? It felt like the right moment. And part of how I address things is always through humor. So I liked having this opportunity to interpolate La Cucaracha with a synthesizer, you know, versus the national anthem played by Jimi Hendrix. It was kind of taking the piss, but also just telling the story that that is autobiographical, you know?”
This experience seemed to strengthen Palomo’s resolve to try something new.
“I just moved to Los Angeles, and started working on what I thought was going to be a fourth Neon Indian album. As I was writing it, it kept feeling forced. I was writing under very specific prompts, like my brother [bassist/producer Jorge Palomo] and I kind of had this idea we would make this sort of Cumbia record – and we got a good single out of it. It just didn’t quite come together as a record. When the pandemic started, I decided to shelve it in favor of this other idea. I started writing stuff that felt more natural to me. Having been a fan of pop bands like Prefab Sprout and Blue Nile and Roxy Music Avalon-era, I wanted to play around in that lane.”
Nothing on World of Hassle (released September 15th) is quite as autobiographical as “Toyota Man”. Instead, Paloma delves into characters. He was taken in by the wry humor of Leonard Cohen’s ‘80s material. And Palomo is an avid fiction fan, there are elements of McGuane, Pynchon, he name-checks McInerney. Humor abounds, there’s a hilarious low-bit animated video accompanying “Nudista Mundial ’89”, a song based on a video game that features Mac DeMarco.
Yet despite Palomo not wanting to steer Hassle into more serious ground, you can sense he feels this material more acutely. And there’s something else – the songs are intrinsically arranged. It’s his most sophisticated-sounding music to date. There’s a reason for this. During the pandemic, Palomo used his time to seriously study the piano.
“It’s funny, I remember a long time ago there was somebody at my label. He was having this conversation about all the best songs you can you can sit down and play on a piano – that’s when you know you have something classic. And as a 23-year-old, I sort of shrugged that off. I was a little cocky about it. I don’t write my songs on a piano. I write them on a synthesizer. And it wouldn’t be done any other way. But you do get to this place where, after a couple of records, the novelty of not knowing exactly what you’re doing eventually starts to get pretty old and you realize that your hands can’t keep up with the ideas that you have. Your ambitions are growing, but the technique isn’t there. It wasn’t really until when my brother joined the band on the third record, [that] I had to find players that could kind of speak his language musically. And then [I’m] suddenly realizing that I was the least musically adept person. You’ve got this time off now and there’s no immediate deadline to write or deliver a record, so I bought this old Yamaha CP 70 and I started learning how to play it and sight read.”
If this implies some sort of ultra-seriousness, don’t worry. World of Hassle is as much fun as any of the Neon Indian releases, and as a whole, even more satisfying. By ditching his moniker, it is as if Palomo has become more vested. Conceptually, the album is about an artist going solo for the first time.
“I had the idea for a while. It is kind of this mock going solo record, because at the end of the day, that ending was essentially myself, this idea of sort of going solo from yourself. But it was in part inspired by watching documentaries. There’s a great one with Sting called Bring On the Night (1985 doc directed by Michael Apted) where he quits the Police. And it’s this big dramatic thing where he’s going to go rehearse this band [jazz musicians like Branford Marsalis and Kenny Kirkland], and they make that first record, A Dream of Blue Turtles. And since [my] record was playing with that palette, it just felt funny to me. Going by my own name also feels more like a long-term investment. In my fifties or sixties, I don’t necessarily want to keep being Neon Indian and singing the songs that I wrote when I was 20 years old. I don’t feel like it’ll resonate in the same way. This is a moment where you can pivot and go in a different direction and you have this other body of work, and it just makes sense that as I start working outside of just the band, as I begin to do more composing for film and also filmmaking itself, it’s like at the end of the day, if and when I get to direct something like a modest first feature, it’s not going to be directed by Neon Indian. So it makes more sense to just bring it all into one under one umbrella.
As anyone who has seen Palomo’s videos can attest, he has a flair for the cinematic. He was initially a film student and went into music because they wouldn’t let him use a camera until his third year.
“I kind of just got frustrated. I was like, well, music is something I know I could do on my own with a laptop.”
On tour for the first time under his real name has created some challenges.
“It’s definitely in a state of transition just because, these days, streaming doesn’t make it easy, shifting gears. But I want to fly in the face of that. I figure it might not pay off right away with the first record, but as I continue to do it and build a body of work, it’ll even out. And when we play live, I’m like playing Neon Indian songs. I’m not trying to shy away from the discography. It’s just really fun to pivot directions and do something that feels kind of fresh. I will say this, it’s a little scary, too. Like, you know, you get to the venue and then you see your name. It’s on the marquee. It’s not it’s not some project anymore. It’s not some alias.”
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“Is There Nightlife After Death?”
Album: World Of Hassle (Mom + Pop Records)
Musicians: Alan Palomo – vocals; Ian Young – sax, EWI; Enrique Lara – drums; Max Townsley – keys, guitar; Jorge Palomo – bass
Producer: Deidre Gott; Production Assistant: Confucius Jones; Audio Engineer: Jake Perlman; Audio Mix: Jake Perlman, Rene Chavez; Cameras: Ivy Fowler, Michael Minasi, Renee Dominguez; Edit: Michael Minasi; Host: Laurie Gallardo