We spoke to the man behind what may well be 2012’s most complete record
Tame Impala is the neo-psych rock project of Kevin Parker, who has followed up 2010’s mesmerising Innerspeaker with Lonerism, a nostalgic but pertinent prog-pop masterpiece which is anticipated to scale the upper heights of most credible publications’ ‘best of ’ lists as the year draws to a close.
Lonerism is a record which channels the essence of mid-to-late 60s psychedelia at its most euphoric, perception- altering peak. Drum rolls light the fuse for technicolour eruptions, the guitars deliver warm bluesy riffs and scuzzy garage freakouts, while watery, horizon gazing synthesisers and paranoia inducing voice samples decorate Parker’s surreal, lusciously textured wall of sound. Melodically, Parker’s voice distinctly resembles a spaced out, Revolver-era John Lennon and despite Lonerism’s unpredictable structure, Parker’s vocal hooks embed themselves deep within your consciousness instantaneously.
Kevin Parker’s homage to this era feels so much more enchanting than most of his retrogressive peers. Perhaps it’s due to his production techniques; Tame Impala’s sound possesses both a roughness and sparkle which feels as if it’s genuinely from the past rather than a decaffeinated simulation of it. Or maybe it’s because Parker is truly committed to the experimental manifesto of psychedelia. Certain experiments were carried out a long time ago, and according to Parker, some experiments are yet to be completed.
He argues that Lonerism is a more expanded record than Innerspeaker, and that this is due to an internal liberation from any self-imposed boundaries that may have held him back. “When I was writing this record I felt much more open to taking things to where they naturally wanted to go, because I wanted to find new possibilities”, he tells Crack. “I guess there had to be rules to an extent because I wanted it to have certain characteristics. I didn’t want it to sound like a dog’s breakfast. But this time I just allowed the songs to dictate where they went and how they unfolded.”
Although Tame Impala are touring as a fleshed-out five piece, Parker is quick to reaffirm that it is, in its essence, his solo project. As a studio obsessive with a penchant for unconventional recording techniques and a specific vision, he’s relatively cautious about inviting others to be involved in the process. However, Parker did enlist the esteemed producer Dave Fridmann to reprise the mixing role he provided for Innerspeaker. From working with the likes of The Flaming Lips and MGMT, Fridmann is a producer known to have faith in his clients’ most far-out ideas, and Parker tells us about testing his tolerance with a sense of satisfaction. “I think the greatest achievement on this record is the second last song Nothing That Has Happened So Far Has Been Anything That We Could Control. I put the whole song through a flanger. It took so long to mix because Dave had to work out how the fuck we were gonna pull it off. He was like “shit, you can’t put everything through the flanger!” So it made him think for a second, which is good for someone like Dave Fridmann, because he’s that kind of guy who knows everything already. I remember feeling deviously chuffed because it actually ended up sounding really cool.”
Tame Impala’s previous album was created in a creaky beach house situated on the idyllic Injidup beach in south west Australia. The ideas for Lonerism, on the other hand, were conceived while Parker was travelling, and recorded between Perth and Paris, the latter being the place which Parker had been calling home since late last year. Part of the incentive for Parker’s prolonged exile was to work with French singer-songwriter Melody Prochet on her album Melody’s Echo Chamber. “She came over to Perth for a while and most of the recording was done there. But she wrote a lot of stuff in Paris and in the south of France at her grandparents’ house. Melody had such a strong idea of what she wanted, so I was just the guy making the crazy sounds and it was fun to serve someone else’s vision”. Parker’s signature sound is all over the record, and by filtering Prochet’s enchanting Gallic dream-pop through his kaleidoscopic soundscape, the album becomes an accomplished fusion of sounds. So how does Parker feel about leaving Paris? “It’s bittersweet”, he tells us after a pause. “I only came to Paris in the first place to spend time with Melody. That was the reason why I was here before anything else. But it was good to get out of Perth for a while because there’s such an involved music scene which is totally inspiring and amazing, but at the same time it can be a bit too much. So it was good to get a breather, and now I’ve realised everything that I love about Perth.”
The scene which Parker speaks of is a tight knit community of musicians who are kindred in their love of raw sounds and psychedelic aesthetics. Parker’s been earning his stripes amongst the local live scene since he was a teenager, and the other musicians who tour with Tame Impala are prominent musicians within this laid-back network, all with their numerous side projects and spin- off bands. As well as playing with Perth bands such as Mink Mussel Creek and Space Lime Peacock, Parker drums on a part-time basis for the ramshackle riff heavy collective Pond. The band had the privilege of performing a completely improvised live set this year with Damo Suzuki, former singer of the immensely influential Krautrock band Can. “That was awesome. I’m a massive fan. We all are,” Parker exclaims. “Can have definitely influenced us, y’know, the way that it’s so hypnotic and repetitive. I love the way they’ve got this weird cross between being totally disciplined and machine-like, and being totally loopy at the same time. Suzuki has been on this never ending tour for years now where he plays with a different band in every city, and he chose Pond when he came to Perth. We all do a lot of improvised stuff together as friends and musicians. So we were just doing what we love, but there was Damo Suzuki on stage there with us! It was awesome, I got to pretend that I was the drummer from Can.”
So has Tame Impala’s international success had implications on the laid back buoyancy of his local scene? “ I don’t think so, because I think that the general ethos of the Perth scene is that we’re not really concerned about what’s going on with the rest of the world. It’s pretty closed off. The scene is so communal and everyone’s just making music for each other. So no one cares too much about Tame Impala getting big and travelling all over. Being important outside of Perth isn’t really important inside of Perth, know what I mean? And that’s totally a good thing, it keeps us grounded.” So when Parker gets back home, hopefully he’ll be able to join his old friends for a few improv jam sessions before embarking on Tame Impala’s world tour. There’s a wisdom to his modesty, suggesting he’s unlikely to allow the pressure to distract him from making the music he wants to make. And that in itself is impressive, considering all around the world there are fans eager to soak in every note he plays.
Lonerism is out now via Modular Recordings
Words: David Reed