Tame Impala: “It all just happens in one big blob of expression”

Tame Impala’s Kevin Parker is that rare pop visionary who can bridge the past and future, writes DOUG WALLEN.

Tame Impala’s second album is chock full of acid-fried jams that could easily work as instrumentals if they weren’t such effortless pop songs. But maybe “band” is the wrong word. Below, Kevin Parker clarifies Tame Impala – in the writing and recording phase, at least – as “one big blob of expression” where he plays and produces everything himself as a holistic project. That’s not to dismiss the touring band, which shares members with Pond, but it confirms the immersive introspection that defines Lonerism as well as 2010’s global smash Innerspeaker. With just a gear-filled room and an obvious fondness for the ripe lineage of psychedelic music, Parker continually stakes a claim as the rare pop visionary who can bridge the past and future.

What are you doing in Paris still?

I’m just hanging out, basically. Not really doing a lot. Just relaxing, I guess, before I fly back to Perth to jam with the guys again before our next tour.

Do you know when you’re touring Australia next?

Well, we’ve got this Parklife tour coming up. After that, I think we’re touring in December. I’m not sure if I’m allowed to say that, but that’s what’s happening. [Laughs]

I was curious about Paris because I saw you produced the new record by [Paris artist] Melody’s Echo Chamber, and drummed and played bass on it.

She just came to me, basically, and said, “I’ve got these songs. It’d be awesome if you could produce it.” Because she likes my drum sounds on albums. I was excited because I really liked her first album and her demos, and I was looking forward to being someone who could just make crazy sounds for someone. Just be the hands of the album, basically.

Did you think about having someone else produce the new Tame Impala record?

For me it was always obvious. It was always [that] I was going to record all of it and then get Dave [Fridmann] to mix it [again]. Because for me – well, for Tame Impala at least – I really wouldn’t know where the artist role ends and the producer role begins. For me, it’s kind of just making a song. I wouldn’t really know what a producer does with Tame Impala, because it all just happens in one big blob of expression. To let someone else produce it would just be weird. For me, it’s all just one big job.

Did you have a better recording setup for this record?

Yeah, I guess so. It was more kind of just all over the place. With the first one it was quite organised, but with this one I just threw a whole bunch of gear into my studio, which was just the biggest room in my house. I just plugged in as many things as I could at all times, so I could just randomly play them. As a result of that, there are more sounds on this album. But some of them are actually terribly recorded, because I’m actually a terrible recording engineer. Some of them are recorded really well; I do take great pride in the way I record drums. But there was one guitar take where I wasn’t even in my studio. I literally just plugged the guitar straight into the laptop and recorded it like that. [Laughs] Which is probably the worst way you can record a guitar. But it had a lot of expression in it, this guitar take, so I didn’t want to lose it.

“There are more sounds on this album. But some of them are actually terribly recorded.”

What song was that on?

‘Apocalypse Dreams’. One of the guitar takes is just straight into the laptop. [Laughs]

I was struck by the bass lines on the record. They feel so unfettered. Bass is often a grounding thing, but they just have this drifting, up-in-the-air presence.

Sometimes I take a lot of time to do bass takes. I just feel like the bass can add so much emotion to a song. Such feeling. The idea of just playing root notes, to me, is kind of a waste.

So many bands just go on autopilot with it, so it really stands out when people do it differently.

Yeah, it’s true. Sometimes the only thing the bass needs to do is lay the grounding, as you said. I do that sometimes, but a lot of the time … for example, a lot of the songs on this album, the bass is literally just first take. I hadn’t even practised it. Just pressed record. It’s just adlibbing, basically, and I thought it sounded kind of cool so I just kept it.

Do you play everything when recording, and then the band comes to it?

Yeah, I just do it by myself, basically. The bands comes in when we play live, when we tour the album. So I guess you could say it’s not really a band. Well, on the album. That’s the way it’s always been. People call us a band, but it’s not really very accurate. I just lay down each instrument as I feel inspired or whatever, and eventually the song is finished. That’s how it happens.

I was interested in the first track ‘Be Above It’. It has a real function as a first track. Is there a story behind that, with the repetition of “Gotta be above it”?

Yeah. It came together pretty naturally. It was finished in a few hours. I just had this idea for a song that was like a musical representation – or interpretation, let’s say – of someone reciting a mantra to themselves. So it starts with someone telling themselves something over and over again, and the music building up from beneath it. The idea that music comes from the mind.

Sort of psyching yourself up for something?

Totally. Or psyching yourself up from something, in a similar kind of way. It just seemed fitting that it was really repetitive and really hypnotic, in the way mantras are. But it wasn’t actually built for a first song. I just finished it and realised how fitting it was for a first track.

Were there a lot of songs that didn’t make it onto the record?

Yeah, yeah. Like with any album, I guess. Which is always sad, because it’s like a mother selecting only a handful of her kids and then throwing the rest of them in the river. But I guess you just have to be brutal. But I mean, those songs will all see the light of day someday. They’ll wash up on some bank and someone’ll collect ‘em and they’ll come back to their mum and say, “Hey mum, what are you doing? I’m back. I’m back and I’m awesome.”

“Tame and Pond, are really just two pieces of the rest of the puzzle”

One thing I liked about the last record was the introverted theme to a lot of the lyrics. And this one is called Lonerism. Is it a continuation of those themes?

I guess in some ways it’s a continuation, but for whatever reason it just feels like a completely different idea. The last album was more about … the songs were all over the place [and] about different things. I guess there was ‘Solitude is Bliss’, which was a happy song basically. This really joyful song about how much the person loved being alone and didn’t need the rest of the world. It was very glorious. But with this album it’s more about the person. Someone growing into this person who’s a lone ranger kind of thing. It’s sort of…

Empowering maybe?

Yeah, totally. Definitely. But this album is more about the outside world than the last one. It’s about someone observing the outside world and directing that back on themselves.

Is that because you toured the world and were exposed to the whole globe?

Yeah, definitely. It reminded me of when I was a kid. Turning into a teenager [and then] turning into an adult was this process of discovering the world and sort of ultimately turning away from it. It totally reminded me of that.

I read that Todd Rundgren inspired some of the synths on this record, and you got him to remix ‘Elephant’. Did you get to talk to him?

Unfortunately I didn’t. The record label [Modular] did it all. They asked him, because they knew we were big fans. And he said yes. It wasn’t as romantic as it probably could’ve been. [Laughs] I still haven’t met him or spoke to him.

Are you happy with what he did to ‘Elephant’?


Tame Impala – ‘Elephant’ (Todd Rundgren Remix) by modularpeople

Is it interesting for you guys to play Pond and Tama Impala off each other, and have both bands to have your different roles in?

Well, I’m not currently playing in Pond. I played drums with them for a little while.

But you worked on the record and played on the record Beard Wives Denim.

Yeah, I played drums on their last album. It’s good for us all to have different musical projects. These two, Tame and Pond, are really just two pieces of the rest of the puzzle, which is all the other things we do. Which is arguably less commercially accessible. (Laughs) It’s just the way we’ve always been doing it.

Lonerism s out through Modular this Friday (October 5). Listen to it in full here.