Interview | Tame Impala

Tame Impala became one of Australia’s most popular exports after the release of their first album InnerSpeaker, impressing with their true revivalist take on modern day psychadelia. Their much anticipated second release,Lonerism (Modular Recordings) has been met with international acclaim since its release, and for good reason. It’s clear Tame Impala’s main man Kevin Parker thinks like a producer, and his known attention to detail in the recording room has paid off, with their brand of neo-psychadelic rock/dream-pop really coming into its own through the use of “new toys”. They’ve also added a new member, Julien Barbagalio, to join them on the road, which has opened up a whole new world of instruments and a new live experience, which they gave audiences at Parklife 2012 a taste of when they hit the stage. Backstage at Parklife, it was twenty minutes after their stunning set and they were ready to relax. After the fireworks of Riverfire subsided, and band members finished popping champagne bottles, I had a chat to Tame Impala about how Lonerism came together, their new toys, and what that means for Tame Impala’s live show.*

MM: That was amazing, it must be nice to be able to play new stuff, now that the record’s almost out.
Kevin: Oh yeah, it’s great after you’ve been kicking it for so long. It’s awesome, and we’ve got a bunch of new toys on stage. We even got a new guy to join us so that we can do these new songs live, so we’ve got more crazy stuff going on. When we play the new songs we’re kind of in full flight at that moment, because everyone’s doing their thing.

MM: So was it different writing, knowing you have more to play around with on stage?
Kevin: Yeah, I was using a whole lot more different instruments (sic). With InnerSpeaker, it was very much a rock band structure, guitar, bass, and drums. It was using those things, making as many far out sounds as we could. It was very much working within the confines of something, there was a perimeter around what we were doing. Now, we’re using everything, so we can kind of pick and choose throughout the songs, the instruments in the songs, like an orchestra. Like, some guy waiting there with the clash cymbals, waiting for one particular moment, then that would suddenly come into the song, and then disappear.

MM: Your first album was so successful, when you’re getting back into the studio do you have that in the back of your mind?
Kevin: I guess you do your best to forget everything that’s happened before that. Yeah our success or whatever, whatever came before, you just try and do your best to ignore it and imagine you’re starting again. You can lull yourself into that state of mind.

MMWhat’s the story behind “Elephant”?
Kevin: I kind of wrote it with Jay (Watson), it’s one of the songs by Tame Impala that have more than one songwriter, which had a kind of a collaborative vibe, which always leads to more hilariousness. That song is kind of hilarious because it’s this really brash rock thing. For us, we usually try to make it tasteful in some way, but that one we were like, “Right, fuck it. This song has this kind of Glam-Rock vibe, let’s just make it fuzzed out and Glam-Rock.”

MMSo Lonerism was leaked and obviously you wouldn’t be happy about that but it’s kind of a compliment that people were that keen to hear it…
Kevin: Yeah, it’s kind of bittersweet for me, because obviously we are concerned about the world of physical music, records, and CDs and stuff, which are kind of the more wholesome way.  If you think about it though, it’s just people listening to music, if you take away all the physical stuff, people are going to listen to music any way that they can. As you said, it’s a compliment that people are searching for it. So I was actually a bit happy, just relieved that it’s finally out there. It’s been finished since March, mixed and everything, so since then we’ve just been waiting. You know, our fans have been dying to hear something and so for me it was nice that it finally was released.

MMEveryone has been really getting into the new stuff, during your set you could tell people kind of calmed down and were just letting it sink in.
Kevin: Yeah, it’s totally weird when you play a new song that it’s not that automatic, everyone being like, “Oh, I know this song! Yeah!” It’s kind of like, “Oh, yeah?” It’s a really weird atmosphere.

Dominic: We never get sick of playing our older songs. If we ever got that sick of a song we wouldn’t play it. We have gotten tired of a way a song’s been played in the past and we just do something different to make it more interesting.  We never feel like, “Oh fuck, it’s this song.”

Kevin: Yeah, I guess that’s true. For me, once a song gets boring live or once the love of the actual song has kind of subsided because we’ve played it so much, it kind of just becomes about the audience. You’re just happy for them that they’re singing it or whatever. It becomes kind of like a service, you know, that’s kind of when you’re doing a service instead of just playing.

MM: Noel Fielding is apparently a huge fan of yours…
Kevin: Yeah, we’ve met him a few times. He usually gets backstage somehow.

MM: You seem like a really good match creatively.
Kevin: (Laughs) yeah, it’s actually freaky how similar he is to Vince Noir. You just feel like you’re in Mighty Boosh.

MM: You’ve obviously been touring for a long time, have you got a favourite gig experience?
Kevin: Recently, we went to South America for the first time. Usually when we go to somewhere new, it’s the most amazing thing in the world because it’s a new experience. It’s difficult to have your mind blown by somewhere you’ve been a million times. Even though, if you love a place, you love a place.

Dominic: The first time we went to America, even going to a gas stop was the most mind blowing experience. Everything you see looks like it’s from a movie, the whole American experience but you get so, kind of numb to it. The next gas stop you go to isn’t the same.

MM: How do your albums come together? Do you usually write with the intention of making an album or is it a collection of songs you’ve written over time?
Kevin: It’s kind of just the time between finishing one album and when the next album is vaguely meant to come out. I just take what I’ve been doing from then to then and scoop it up. I don’t like to think in terms of albums, rather just writing because I like writing music. When it comes time to pull it all together and make an album, you just look at what you’ve got and pick the best stuff or what stuff fits together.

MM: How did you guys come together as a band?
Kevin: We’ve all been friends for a really long time. The only guy we haven’t known forever is this guy (Julien Barbagallo). He’s from France, we found him recently. The rest of us have been friends for a long time in Perth and played a lot of music together in different bands and different things. Friends before bandmates.

MM: What would your dream gig be?
Kevin: On the beach in Rio. We went there recently, it’s pretty amazing. Unfortunately we didn’t play on the beach. Everyone dreams of that kind of gig.

Dominic: It’s funny how un-beach-like that Rio gig was. It was in, like, a school gymnasium.

Kevin: Yeah, totally. Yeah, it’s kind of like, whatever your dream gig is, if you like that kind of location… If you like to smoke bongs in your backyard that would be your dream gig.

MM: Is there anyone you’d love to collaborate with?
Kevin: I’d like to make a funk album with someone like Mark Ronson. I’d like to make an album with someone who knows what they’re doing, sonically. So you could just sort of sit on the couch and sing out melodies to someone who knows how to make it into something.

MM: What else are you looking forward to that’s coming up?
Kevin: Tomorrow, the next show.

Dominic: The day after that.

Kevin: Are we playing tomorrow?

Dominic: Yeah, we’re playing tomorrow and the day after.

Kevin: Oh right, yeah. Well, tomorrow should be good.

Lonerism is out now.

*Some of this interview was lost to loud conversations between bandmates about Freemantle and Justice, and the addition of Caroline from Chairlift to the table.