photos by Jennifer Sowell
My favorite new band of the year is hands-down Tame Impala from Perth, Australia. I was lucky enough to sit down with Kevin Parker, the brain child behind my latest obsession, before their Portland show at the Doug Fir.
I played the EP released in 2008 early that year because one of the audio producers at the station (Michele Khazak) gave me a copy thinking I might like it. I loved it and played it right away but it was a burned copy and I misplaced it. You did it as a solo project and recorded everything on it, correct?
That’s the way it’s always been. We’ve got kind of a communal living style. I have other outlets of music. Share music. Tame Impala is kinda my little one I do.
It’s your baby.
It’s my baby.
Did you ever think you’d reach this point where you’re on a big tour bus?
No, obviously not.
Is it surreal?
It is surreal, but the things that are surreal about it. The practicalities about it. It’s always great. Bizarre as hell when you roll into some city you’ve never heard of and then there are all these people to see you and know your name. That’s the crazy part. It’s surreal when you realize when you’re somewhere on a map and you wouldn’t be able to point out where you are on a map, not know what day or sometimes what month it is. You leave grounding completely. What’s going on around you and stuff like that. That’s what’s surreal about it. You have no idea what is going on.
We all have those moments. How does it compare to touring in Australia as opposed to the States?
It couldn’t more different if we tried. In Australia there’s no point in driving between cities. So you play a show, sleep in hotel, get up next morning and fly to the next city. Or a few days later. You can do some regional shows. We did a five-week tour of Australia, something really extensive once in Australia, similar to what we’re doing now but we were driving a van with one techie. Still had to setup our own stuff. You’re in new places all the time and you forget the novelty of the new place wears off. Every time you roll in, you think “here I am.” The more gigs you play, the more you sort of only start thinking about playing your instrument and only start thinking about playing the show moments before the show. As opposed to the old days when I would get really nervous before the show, and not eat all day. Because I was freaking out about playing. I literally don’t think about playing guitar or singing until moments before the set.
How do you feel about the music scene in Perth? Do you ever think about moving to Sydney? I don’t know where is the best place in Australia.
I don’t think it really matters. Perth is great for me. Everyone who lives in Perth is always trying to get out.
Is that where you were born?
No, I was actually born in Sydney but lived most of my life in Perth. Moving somewhere bigger and better, like Melbourne, Sydney or London or somewhere like that. I guess that’s how everyone is always trying get out of the city they live in and so the music seems really good. It’s loyal. Bands that are Perth bands are proud to be Perth bands and it’s really close-knit scene, quiet, separated from the rest of Australia.
What up-and-coming bands would you recommend?
Lots of bands. One band that’s been around for a while, they made a couple of albums, they’re called The Silents. Kind of quite dark, psychedelic pop I guess. Really melodic but quite moody. They’re a good band. A lot of the bands I know really well are people I live with, even the rest of the guys in Tame Impala are in other bands.
I put Pond on my podcast as well and the British band Wolf People who you played with in London.
All of us are in at least 4 bands. Tame Impala is the one that’s most different from the rest because it’s a solo project. The rest are very much collaborative, all friends, all-hands on deck kind of thing. Pond. Mink Mussel Creek. Space Lime Peacock. Whale Hammer. There are so many, and the fact that they have names is almost futile sometimes. It’s just lots of people making lots of noise. We sort of put loose boundaries around them and call that a band.
For your next album are you going to collaborate more with the band? Have you recorded any of the next album?
It’s kind of what I do compulsively. Because I record at home. We don’t rehearse for a couple weeks and then go in studio to record the album. It’s the complete opposite. By the time we play the songs as a band, they’ve already been recorded, finished. On the recording side, it’s a very slow and casual piecing together of sounds and choruses and melodies until a song is finished and then an album is finished.
Are you going to record the next album on your own?
Jay has been helping out a lot and we’re writing a lot of the music together so he’s written a couple parts for songs already. Definitely the most reaching out I’ve been with Tame Impala for other people’s input. Usually I’m quite closed off.
Do you just close up at your house? And people ask “Have you seen him lately?”
People who know me, know me as the guy who leaves his house only if he has to. Which is kinda ironic since I’m on a 7-week tour.
At least you can look at it then when you emerge from the bedroom, they can hear the songs and know you’ve been working. Not just hibernating. Good stuff! Not a total waste of time.
It was a waste of time sometimes. I was quite content. Obviously I had ambitions for a greater audience to hear my songs rather than just my friends.
Do you come from a musical family?
Yes. My dad was a musician and always played in cover bands and played instruments. He bought me my first guitar and taught me E major and stuff like that. My brother played drums.
What cover bands?
He played with friends and they covered everything from the Beatles to Traveling Wilburys. All that kind of stuff. Dad rock.
My Dad played The Doors and Doobie Brothers.
My Dad wasn’t even that cool. I guess I come from a reasonably musical family.
I asked Jay last night in Seattle if you ever play “41 Mosquitoes Flying in Formation” live?
We did for a while but we haven’t for a little while.
He said you thought it was too rockin’.
Is that what he said? Well, we probably make an attempt to steer our set away from being a riff fest. Because playing on stage, it’s tempting to spill over and just give the audience the most impactful and most distorted heavy. I’m definitely conscious about doing something different to the rock thing. It’s so easy to come across as a rock thing. Just rock ‘n’ roll. Anything that’s slightly leant towards something that is rockin’ has a tendency to become dumb rock.
Why do you guys play barefoot and why is Nick get to wear his slippers?
Each member is allowed to wear whatever footwear they want. I personally, I’m pretty sure I’ve always not worn shoes playing live.
Easier to push all the pedals?
I guess playing barefoot has facilitated that over the years that my pedal board has grown that I can actually be modifying sounds as I’m playing. And I couldn’t do it if I’m wearing shoes. That’s not the reason why. It’s kind of a balance thing because if I’m wearing shoes I feel like I can fall over. I find it’s a comfort thing. I feel like my feet can’t breathe if I’m wearing enclosed things. I used to get shivers thinking about playing with shoes on.
I would worry about getting electrocuted. I could never be in a band because I get sparks plugging things in.
Oh, you’re one of those people. That’s why Jay is the drummer.
How did you come to work with Dave Fridmann?
He mixed the album and was involved in at the very end. I was trying to mix it myself much to the dissatisfaction to record label and I couldn’t get the proper impact, I couldn’t get the sound. I was afraid of taking the recording method I used and turning it into something that sounds like everything else. It was a complete miracle that Dave was keen to work on it, had some time free and he liked the idea. So I was lucky enough to go to his log cabin in upstate NY and mix it with him. That was one of the many things that saved the album.
Did you meet [previous tourmates] MGMT through him?
Just a coincidence. We seemed to have met many people just by coincidence. We met a few of the Flaming Lips guys. Not through Dave. I guess Cliff from Flaming Lips heard Tame Impala and thought someone was cashing in on Fridmann’s mixing style and they told Dave someone was stealing it, and Dave said “no I mixed that.”