If you thought Innerspeaker was big, wait ‘til you get a load of Lonerism. Aarom Wilson speaks to Tame Impala’s central nervous system Kevin Parker about what it takes to create true art – of the explosive psych variety, that is.
From the moment Elephantstomped its mammoth musical imprint into our heads, you knew Tame Impala's next album was going to be a different beast. “If anything, it just came down to not being afraid to just do exactly what I, or what we, felt like doing at the time,” explains Kevin Parker, the lead curator of the follow-up to an album that received such accolades as placing in Pitchfork's Top 50 Albums of 2010, and scoring triple j's Best Australian Album (j Award) and Rolling Stone's Best Album gongs for that year.
This shift in sound is one evident in a number of tracks on new animal Lonerism, Parker describing this new sound as “more explosive”. Sure, cosmic psych rock bursts are part of the Tame repertoire, but tracks like Be Above It, Apocalypse Dreams and Elephant have a newfound propulsive gusto to them. “If there was this really chunky blues riff I would've dulled it back to being sort of a delayed guitar tone; washed it out to sound more Tame Impala,” Parker describes of his Innerspeaker songwriting. “I would have tried to restrain it. Whereas this time I was like, 'Well fuck it, this already sounds good when it's turned up and really jolting, so I'm just going to take it as far as it wants to go!'
“And for the drums, I really wanted them to have this kind of like digital dance, Daft Punk kind of edge as well,” he continues, brimming with enthusiasm. “In the past I would've been too afraid to just push each of those elements… And it was actually kind of the only way I was going to be able to fall in love with the music as much as I used to fall in love with music; by just doing something to the extreme.”
While Lonerism has a bigger sound, the album also more passionately embraces pop sounds. “The next single, for example, is a total pop melody which I think might throw a couple of Tame Impala fans off,” reveals Parker of Feel Like We Only Go Backwards. Don't worry, Tame haven't gone all Oasis on us, nor are they after the cash. It's all about the sensation. “Hopefully the production was crazy enough to swing those die hard psych rock fans back in after they've heard the chorus, melody,” laughs Parker regarding Feel Like. “For me I love everything; every kind of element available. I would never do a pop melody just to sell more records or anything. I genuinely love the emotion that a pop song can use to touch me. Pop music is in a way so much more pure than all other types of music - there's no intellectual level; it's just pure feelings.”
One thing that hasn't changed is Parker's references to the concept of being alone. Solitude Is Bliss was a highlight from Innerspeaker, celebrating time with yourself. But now Lonerism seems to convey a different attitude towards the state. Is the life of constantly touring starting to wear on Tame's main man? “That one song is like about how great it is to be alone, you know, the glory of being alone,” describes Parker of Solitude Is Bliss. “Whereas this one is kind of more from the persona of someone growing up realising that they are alone. It's more kind of like introspective. I mean, introspective is a pretty wanky word, but it's a different kind of… For me it's obviously still about being alone but there are no songs like Solitude Is Bliss where it's like, 'I'm alone, isn't this awesome, doo, doo, dah',” he sings. “It's more like someone trying to figure themselves out. The songs on Lonerism, they're all about other people – they're about the outside world, which all comes with the one word, 'Lonerism'; the feeling of not really being apart of the outside world.”
This idea is perfectly captured in the new album's cover artwork. Taken by Parker the day after he scored a Diana F camera, the photo invites the viewer to gaze from behind a fence at the world behind, thus creating a sense of exclusion. “Yeah, I didn't know whether people were going to get what the picture was getting at. Which was great in the end because I love that people can look at that picture and just see a picture of some people and think, 'What's the big deal?', and some people can see the meaning; the separation of the person looking through the fence.”
Upon closer inspection you might notice the red splotch in the top right hand corner, one Parker blames on the fact he didn't know how to wind the film. But that's just the beginning. “I love the expression of people's faces in this picture,” he enthuses. “It's kind of this snap shot of life, and the more you examine… Like, if you're going to get the vinyl version, you can really examine what's going on in the picture. There's some guy touching himself, I think, having some kind of fun. He's talking to some girl and he's got his hand on his crotch, and there's a policeman, and there's all this other sort of crazy shit if you look really hard. And the more you examine all these things, the more you realise you're really just perving from the other side of the fence.” Cue: Bonerism jokes.
While Parker points out that the album songs are, “definitely from the perspective of a persona, rather than me,” he does admit that the lyrics have been inspired somewhat by his own experiences. He's now based mostly in Paris with his partner - also a musician with a new album out - but isn't yet ready to call the city of romance home yet. Certainly the suitcase is one he's had to get used to, with touring increasingly taking up his time. “At the moment I don't actually have a home,” he sighs, demystifying the 'rockstar' life. “In Perth, all my stuff, all my recording equipment, even most of my clothes and things, are sitting in my manager [Jodie Reagan from Spinning Top]'s place!”
Certainly Parker's well known for his love of hometown Perth, and you get the feeling he misses these connections. He's had to learn to deal with it though. “In Perth the inspiration is coming so much from other people that make music. Because Perth is such a communal sort of life – a friends' based music scene – everybody's going around to other people's houses for a jam, and it's so much more relaxed and everyone's inspiring each other to make the craziest music or do the craziest thing on stage. And um, in Paris there isn't really much of a music scene. Well there is, there totally is, but it's kinda more structured. I mean, for me the inspiration has to come from within rather than from everyone else.”
Despite Parker's love of communal creative experiences (including remixes of tracks by Abbe May and Leure, producing Melody's Echo Chamber's new album, producing Pond and playing when he can in an extensive list of WA-based indie bands), as the conversation rolls on it becomes more apparent that being a musical loner isn't of concern for the artist. He's armed with an expansive and delightfully creative musical mind, and it's this that's fairly autonomously pushed the sound of Tame Impala to such heights. Sure he has a band consisting of regular touring partners/friends, and this album sees Jay Watson co-writing a song and Dave Fridmann (The Flaming Lips, MGMT) again on mixing duties, but generally Tame Impala is solely the creation of Parker.
“Yeah definitely… in a way… apologies for my vagueness,” he laughs as this scribe pushes the interview to the borders of wankerdom, searching Parker's thoughts on whether art from the self is one of the truest forms of art; the most honest expression of creativity. “Some of my favourite pieces of music are total collaborations, bands where everyone has the same input. But yeah, I wouldn't say it's the truest form of art… Creative output, when it's made by one person, it just kind of has this unity of expression, it just means it's one thing that's been amplified; this one pulsating beam of light, as opposed to lots of beams of light. You know, the 'lots of beams of light' is a really beautiful thing as well."
LIVE & LIFE
The upcoming Parklife tour will see Parker again being joined by fellow Tame band members Jay Watson, Dom Simper and Nick Allbrook, between them also covering turns in WA bands including Pond, Mink Mussel Creek, Allbrook/Avery and Gum. “Everyone's got their fingers in everyone's pies,” explains Parker. “That's always been second nature to us; to bring music into other people's bands – it's a really communal way of doing it. You know, I'd feel pretty apprehensive about entering a collaboration without already knowing the person – it's always been about the friends for me.”
With his new French connections though, the live band friendship circle has extended to Frenchman Julien Barbagallo, Parker pointing out, “he plays drums and Jay now plays the synthesizer and keyboard.” So hang on, they're changing instruments again? Is this just to annoy the rest of us who struggle to master one instrument, let alone all?
“For us there's no point staying on the one instrument. Even with our friends who... Like, I pretty much suck at the keyboard – I have trouble playing with more than one hand on the keyboard at any one time – but there's still keyboards all over the album. It didn't stop me! You shouldn't be afraid to just have a crack if you think you're going to be able to express something. You should just have a whale,” Parker laughs. “All of the music of the last ten years that's been popular in the world should just prove that; that you should just stop worrying about how much of a fucking virtuoso you are and just do it! Meg White for example, Meg White's an amazing drummer, and she just had a crack. So, you know, it's not about how good you are. There's one for the kids!”
Tame Impala will be playing the following shows:
Saturday 29 September - Parklife, Brisbane QLD
Sunday 20 September - Parklife, Sydney NSW
Monday 1 October - Parklife, Perth WA
Saturday 6 October - Parklife, Melbourne VIC
Sunday 7 October - Parklife, Adelaide SA