Nick Allbrook opens up on “sentimental” Tame Impala departure

Nick Allbrook is in chilly Melbourne when FL reaches him on Heathen Skulls promoter Rob MacManus’ phone. It’s a couple days after he announced his sudden departure from Tame Impala, but he’s already onto his next project: playing bass for Black Elk Medicine Band (the new project for US musician Isaiah Mitchell) on the final show of his brief, Heathen Skulls-presented tour.

Allbrook, who also plays in POND, Mink Mussel Creek and Allbrook/Avery (with his Tame Impala replacement Cam Avery, also of The Growl), played his final gig with Tame at Belvoir Theatre on Saturday night. It’s also where his five-year run in the band began, supporting MGMT on their 2008 Australian tour. “I’ve just been doing a big lap,” he jokes.

While Tame Impala has always been Kevin Parker’s baby, it’s hard to imagine what their live show will look like without the hyperactive and impish Allbrook flailing about like a perfect cross between Johnny Rotten, Thom Yorke and Benjamin Button. Allbrook’s departure may’ve been announced in typically evasive style – the release said he wanted to “try and screw his head back on, and make an attempt to assimilate back into society” – but he opened up to FL about his “sentimental” decision to quit, his future plans and the new POND album, Hobo Rocket.

Good afternoon Nick. How are you enjoying this warm weather?

It’s not warm. It’s fucking cold.

I was kidding.

I’m not very good with jokes and brains. [Laughs]

I was pretty upset to hear you were leaving Tame. What prompted it?

Oh man. I guess it can be pretty hard to do stuff on tour, apart from be in a bus and be playing a show. To do that all the time, you can’t actually do anything else like make new stuff. People do, but you’ve gotta be a very strong-willed and mature—and I’m not strong-willed or mature.”

And you’ve probably spent more time in the bus than anyone over the past 12 months.

Yeah, me and Jay [Watson] have been doing the POND and Tame Impala thing, so it’s been constant for a really long time.

How many shows do you reckon you’ve played over the past year?

I dunno! [Laughs] Somewhere around 356.

Was it a tough decision to make?

Yeah, of course. Yeah, totally.

What do you think you’ll miss the most?

Just hanging out with Kev and Jay and Dom [Simper] and Julien [Barbagallo] and Matty Checker, our tour manager. They’re such sound people. But apart from that there are other things … It’s way more important to be in a normal environment for a while.

Does that quote about “screwing your head” back on allude to that?

Yeah, I guess so. That and having time to finish off all the fucking little projects I keep starting in my two weeks off between tours and then never having any time to finish. I can just finish things now and make them good.

How many projects are we talking about?

Oh, heaps. There’s all the stuff with POND, just recording new things and getting our future live stuff [sorted]. There’s mixing, releasing and mastering all three Allbrook/Avery albums, and maybe we’ll do some shows later as well. I’m doing books with [writer] Amber Fresh from Perth, getting those printed. And new recordings that need to be done with time off. I dunno, flower pots?

Can you tell me about the books?

They’re little escapist adult/child simple pretty short things. Hopefully to have a nice peaceful trip to the shitter. [Laughs] They’ll be a nice little full package with quality small items.

Suitable for kids as well?

They’re fucking simple, so you know. They’re for drunk people and children. [Laughs]

Does your decision to focus on other things affect POND at all?

No. I’m going to keep recording stuff. Obviously we can’t do full POND stuff because everyone’s away [doing Tame Impala]: Jay, Cam and Joe, the techie. It’s just me and Jamie and Jamie lives in Perth and I’m in Melbourne. But all the shit I’m going to record is applicable to any and all project, like POND. It’ll be the beginning point of the next album type of thing. I’m just going to move it along while everyone else is working. They can join in [when they come back], I guess.

Are you going to be touring the new record [Hobo Rocket]?

Yeah, we’ll do some stuff.

What does it sound like? Seven tracks in 40 minutes implies a jammy record.

[Laughs] Not really. They’re pretty structured songs. But we did it live, and it’s jammy and sloppy as shit. We were just gonna do it as something throwaway and quick and easy, and then we got carried away.

Tell me about the Black Elk Medicine Band shows.

It’s just temporary. I’m just helping Isaiah [Mitchell] with his little tour of Australia, just giving his a backing track so everyone can get their arses blown out by his guitar playing.

And you’ve moved to Melbourne, or just here temporarily?

I’m going to stay here for a little bit and just be around myself and people that I don’t know that well. It’ll be nice.

Tame Impala has had such a fluid line-up over the years. Do you think you’d ever go back?

Oh, probably. [Laughs] Cam’s got a lot of shit to do. He’s a busy busy boy. We don’t have any rules. It’s not like having an office job. You don’t clock on, or clock off—even though Kev told me to clock off after our last gig. But he’s a bureaucrat at heart. [Laughs] They’d just as easily get Kev’s mum to play. It’s fluid.

What was the last gig at Belvoir like?

It was great. A ripper gig. It was nice to end on a good one where everyone played well.

Was it emotional?

It was a bit sentimental, totally.

When was your first gig with Tame?

It was at the Belvoir Amphitheatre. I forgot when. We were supporting MGMT, I think.

And then Meredith must’ve been a week later.

Yeah. So that’s pretty crazy that it started and ended in the same place.

Nick Allbrook performs with The Black Elk Medicine Band tonight, May 22, at the Northcote Social Club in Melbourne.