Tame Impala: ‘When We’re At Home, It’s Like Nothing Ever Happened’
His band may be a global phenomenon, but Kevin Parker has realised how he missed Perth, he tells DARREN LEVIN.
“We had to sign so many of these.” Tame Impala’s Kevin Parker is poring over the liner notes of the band’s new album Lonerism. It’s the first time he’s seen the finished product – complete with embossed detailing – and he’s noticeably elated.
Parker is sitting in the downstairs boardroom of Universal Music’s Melbourne headquarters, and looking slightly dishevelled: T-shirt, wavy shoulder-length hair, black cardigan and two filthy Parklife wristbands. “I just came straight from the airport,” he apologises. “We flew in from Sydney. It wasn’t even that long, but some of us are hungover so that just multiplies the length.”
The last time I spoke to Parker he was full of a cold in a Melbourne hotel room in 2010. It was just around the release date of the band’s debut Innerspeaker – which went on to top the M+N Critics and Readers poll for that year – but he was more interested in talking about his next move, a synth-heavy opus inspired by Todd Rundgren’s A Wizard, A True Star.
That album, Lonerism, is finally out – and what a journey it took to get here. Parker says he crafted it over three years in "studios, planes, hotels and homes around the world," with Flaming Lips producer Dave Fridmann having to clean up after his self-described “terrible” engineering skills. “I think I kinda blew my load with this one,” he smiles, fumbling with an oversized lighter.
When I last spoke to you, around the release of Innerspeaker, you were already thinking about the next record. I’m wondering if that’s the case today.
Not really. [Laughs] My brain kinda collapsed in on itself. For the first time in so many years, I’m enjoying not really thinking about – I’ve just been lazy in taking the music from my brain to recording. I don’t have a house at the moment, so I’m floating around house-surfing and I don’t have a studio set up; it’s all in boxes at my manager’s house. I guess I’ll have to wait until I get a house and then I can put ideas down. I’ve got some ideas for it – it should be really cool. It’s a kind of weird idea.
This record was three years in the making then, I guess?
Yeah, however long it was since Innerspeaker was finished.
And you’ve given up the idea of living in Paris, or was that just a temporary thing?
It was pretty much temporary. I was there for almost a year and it’s a really cool city, really beautiful, but I think I’ll be in Perth for a while. I realised just how much I love Perth while I was over there.
Was Paris a creatively stimulating city to live in?
Yeah, totally. But everywhere is in its own respect. It’s so beautiful that you can’t help but have romantic images and music playing in your brain while you’re walking around. It’s one of those cities.
Does the title allude to the fact that this album was a solitary experience? Was this a bedroom project?
Yeah, but it’s not the title that reflects the method of recording. It’s more that the method of recording reflects what the album is about, given that it’s my own personal experiences.
Did Paris influence that?
I was there to see my girlfriend – she lives there. It could’ve been anywhere, really. It wasn’t like I chose to go to Paris to get some French inspiration. It was nothing like that. It was purely circumstantial.
Australian artists have a habit of going overseas and getting incredibly homesick and reflecting on that. I wonder if that had an impact on some of the themes?
Not really. I was never one of those people who was itching to get out of Australia anyway. A lot of people talk about going to Europe to get inspiration. I was never one of those people. It just seemed like a good idea at the time. I started to miss Perth, but it wasn’t making me sad or bringing me down. Not enough to inspire a song.
What’s the title about then?
It’s meant to make the idea of someone who’s a loner sound like a lifestyle, like a life choice. Lonerism makes it sound like – how do I say this without being too wanky – a condition, a thing. It’s about discovering other people and then discovering how separated you are from them. Most of the songs are about other people, it’s not even about being alone. It’s about other people and trying to establish connections, and realise you’re not very good at it, or you just don’t belong in the middle of the rest of the world, you belong on the outer rim.
Is it an extension of the idea behind ‘Solitude Is Bliss’ [from Innerspeaker]?
Well, not really, because ‘Solitude Is Bliss’ is a happy story about being alone and how great it is. With this album it’s about the person and the ups and downs, the situations and things that would turn them into a loner.
Was the album recorded anywhere in particular?
Mainly in Perth. Ninety-nine percent of it was in my studio in Perth. I did some in Paris and some in random places where I could.
And mainly just you?
Todd Rundgren is a name that comes up a lot. Does his approach inspire you? I guess he made records like that for most of his career, building studios and recording it himself.
Totally. Just the way he was so adventurous in the studio. He was never really afraid to try crazy things, which was really inspiring.
Did you engineer it yourself this time, too?
If you want to put that role to it, yeah. But for me, if you want to record some drums, you just plug a microphone in. I’m a terrible engineer. The guy who mixed it [Dave Fridmann] was the real [engineer]. He had to fix all the tracks up because they’re all recorded so terribly. That’s just the way I love doing it. I’d rather it sound a bit terrible than have to work with someone else.
You had an amazing engineer on the last record [Tim Holmes from Death In Vegas], who I recall wasn’t really utilised all that much [Parker told M+N in 2010 that he spent a lot of time fishing, reading books, drinking tea and smoking].
I learnt a lot from him, and I’ve gotten a bit better at plugging microphones in. Back then I was completely useless. [Laughs] Now I’m only moderately useless. It was really awesome having him. We were using hired gear that I didn’t know how to use. This time it was stuff I accumulated.
Do you find it hard to work collaboratively?
Yeah, if it’s not my really close friends. I’ve been making music with them for years, so it’s pretty easy for them. It wouldn’t be Tame Impala if we did work together. If someone else was really involved in a big way, it’d be a band that we probably already have.
From the outside, it’s this complex network of bands, but do you all have a clear idea in your heads of how all these projects are connected?
We think we do. [Laughs] We think we have an idea of how everything operates, which is a start.
Has Pond’s success made things complicated?
It makes it a bit more squeeze-y between tours. I haven’t been involved in planning tours or anything. I’m not touring with Pond at the moment, so I wouldn’t know. They’re probably a bit more tired than they used to be. While Tame wasn’t touring they were touring the whole time. They haven’t really had a break and I’ve had a year’s break. I guess that’s the price you pay for having your fingers in seven different musical pies.
And now a couple of them are going on tour with Tame Impala again. They must be pretty exhausted.
It’s easy for us to swap between bands because we used to do that before we never toured. Do a gig with Tame Impala on Thursday and a gig with Space Lime Peacock on Friday. [Laughs] We’ve always been doing that, it’s just the time [constraints that are different] now, really.
Now that things have gotten so much bigger than you probably ever expected, do you miss those days when you were playing in a million bands and mucking around?
Yeah, I guess so. We still get to do it. When we’re at home and one of our bands is playing gigs, it’ll be like the old days. Stuff the drums in the car and drive to the gig; drink our six-pack of warm beer backstage; play the gig to like 10 people; rock out; go home. When we’re at home, it’s like nothing ever happened.
Perth is a good city to be anonymous.
Totally. Our friends just make fun of us. We only cop shit about it. One of our friends made a belt buckle with [drummer] Jay [Watson’s] face on it just as complete piss-take. No one really takes it seriously. The whole thing that we’re touring around the world, and that people wait outside gigs for autographs is just completely absurd – even to us really. It’s even more hilarious and absurd to our friends.
Are you getting used to it?
I guess, so. But I’m not getting any better at reacting at the time … It does still feel really awkward.
“If you can get over the bar without drugs and then you want to take drugs to get even higher over the bar, that’s cool.”
Does that [scrutiny] change the way you look at the record or write songs?
I sometimes think about it, but in those times I don’t write songs. They’re not the times I feel creative, when I’m analysing what the outside world thinks of Tame Impala. I just usually wait until I don’t care about it. That’s when creativity comes.
The words “trippy” and “acid-fried” always get applied to your band. I’m wondering how much of an actual part hallucinogenics play?
[Pauses] Ah, I don’t know.
I don’t want to get you in trouble with your parents.
That’s OK, that won’t happen. [Pauses] Well … I smoke weed sometimes when I’m recording, but I don’t feel like I need it to be creative. It’s like high jump at an athletics carnival, where getting over the bar represents enjoying music or being creative. If you can get over the bar without drugs and then you want to take drugs to get even higher over the bar, that’s cool. But if you need drugs to get over the bar in the first place, there’s something wrong. It should be an enhancer … It shouldn’t be necessary to do it. You shouldn’t need to be stoned to listen to your favourite album.
And you certainly don’t need to be stoned to enjoy this record either.
Thank you. [Laughs]
‘Lonerism’ is out now through Modular/Universal.
TAME IMPALA TOUR DATES:
Thurs, Dec 6 – The Forum, Melbourne, VIC
Tues, Dec 11 – HQ, Adelaide, SA
Wed, Dec 12 – The Tivoli, Brisbane, QLD
Fri, Dec 14 – Enmore Theatre, Sydney, NSW
Sat, Dec 15 – Fremantle Arts Centre, Perth, WA