Interview Tame Impala: ‘It’s All About Being An Imbecile’

Tame Impala on evolution, DIY and lost demos.

Two years ago Kevin Parker released Tame Impala’s debut album, and the world listened. The music press went crazy for ‘Innerspeaker’, the fans were ecstatic, and to top it all off, over in Parker’s birthplace Australia, it scooped the J Award for album of the year. Whilst Kevin Parker might claim to be full of nonsense, he is clearly one of the most innovative, and, it turns out, one of the nicest rock musicians around. Most people would need a bit of a break after the massive excitement of a stratosphere-smashing debut; Tame Impala took just one month out before getting back in the studio. With release date nearing for one of the most hotly anticipated albums of this year, El Hunt phoned up the man who can’t stop making music to get the lowdown on ‘Lonerism’.

You started work on ‘Lonerism’ almost straight after ‘Innerspeaker’ came out, how was that, going from one album to the next so quickly? Did you find it reduced the pressure on you at all?
Yeah I guess, although that wasn’t the idea. With me, I’m always recording music, and if I’m not recording music I don’t really find a use for myself [Laughs]. I love being in the studio and recording a piece of music I’m happy with, you know, the longer I go without feeling like I’ve done something, it’s like I’m not feeling good about myself. After the last album I had all these ideas about what I was going to do differently, and it just started happening.

‘Lonerism’, to my ears at least, does sound fairly different, as you say. There’s lot of elements like the rich, really prominent use of synthesiser sounds that I couldn’t hear nearly as strongly in the first album. Did you experiment with a lot of different stuff sonically?
Yeah I think for the time being I’d exhausted my love of experimenting with guitar sounds, so I was really eager to start other things. I was at my friend’s studio one day and he had this kind of vintage synth – I’d never played one before – and I just put my finger on one of the keys and found this whole unique world in a key [Laughs]. Not literally, but that’s what it felt like. I love finding new ways of making crazy sounds.

Is keeping that evolution going from album to album something that’s really important to you?
I guess so, I think it’s just my need to keep going into uncharted territory, I mean, for us, it’s kind of important to always feel like you’re doing something you haven’t done before – that exciting feeling of doing something new. Whether it’s just new for you or new for everyone, it’s that excitement from covering new ground and treading new paths.

You’ve previously said this album sounds a bit like if Britney Spears did a joint album with The Flaming Lips [Kevin groans audibly]. Do you think ‘Lonerism’ is a pop album?
I think that comment was probably taken completely out of context. I’m totally obsessed with these really sugary pop melodies – and I still am, it’s still true. The next single that comes out is going to illustrate that. I’ve always loved really cheesy pop songs, yeah, all kinds of pop. Michael Jackson and the Spice Girls. [Laughs] I was doing the same thing there as I am now with you, just dropping names. I didn’t make it [‘Lonerism’] to sound like Britney Spears! Anyway, it was the idea of all these sugary pop melodies, and crossing that with really crazy f**ked up production. For me the two kind of balance each other out, it ends up in this weird spot with really sonically challenging music, crazy mixes that make you go “Whoa, what the f**k’s going on?!”. At the same time I like that emotion, that kind of melancholy essence. I love the combination of that, weird and rough sounds with pure pop melodies.

Did you write ‘Lonerism’ in the same way as you did the last album, with the same kind of processes?
It was a similar process in that it was mainly just me in the studio - the band stuff comes in when we play live and we’ve not really played [this album] together as a band yet, properly. I think this time it was a lot less thought out than the first one, though. On ‘Innerspeaker’ I really knuckled down on the guitar and the song’s structure before I started anything else, that was really traditional song structure. This time I kind of just started recording – if I had an idea I’d record that. I didn’t even know where the hell a song was going to go or what I was doing, but the songs sort of just came together as it was hinting. It could sound more progressive because of that, I mean, there was the idea that anything was possible [on ‘Lonerism’].

You recorded this album all over the place, you were on tour during some of it weren’t you?
Yeah, for some of it, it was literally where I happened to be at the time. On the first album we weren’t touring as much, we sort of hired out this house for about seven weeks, and set up and did it there. With this one I didn’t really bother organising any session time – there were no recording sessions other than me just living in my studio [in Perth]; that was my home, basically. We did some recording in the back of a van, too, little keyboard parts or whatever just going on. I just play around with sounds on the road, you know, whatever I have with me I use. It did cause problems, I mean I recorded some drums in Paris and then they didn’t work, and that was sad. Most of the recording really was done in Perth.

Did you prefer working in that way, where you had the freedom to move around and record whenever an idea sprung to you?
Yeah, I’m a big believer in that. If you’ve only got two weeks to record an album, it can be really restraining. It’s a luxury of the way we record, which is really kind of DIY. Hey, wait, that’s the name of your magazine isn’t it?

We are DIY, yeah, in fact that’s a brilliant tagline you’ve come up with right there…
The luxury of the DIY, whatever you want, wherever you want.

We should collaborate.
[Descends into fits of laughter] Yeah, yeah, definitely, I like it a lot.

So on to your artwork, it’s of Paris, and shot from the perspective of a person looking through a fence, very much separated from all the people together inside – and then you’ve got the title, ‘Lonerism’. Would you say that the idea of isolation is a thread running through the album?
Yeah, totally, all the songs in some way are something to do with that. It’s about the persona of someone who is really isolated – but not necessarily deliberately. Most of the songs are really about other people, being amongst other people. It’s really just the idea of being someone who doesn’t feel part of the rest of the world, someone trying to figure out where their place amongst everyone else is, and having a really confusing time with it and then slowly accepting that it’s in their blood just to be a solitary wanderer. It’s meant to put it in a positive light but also a negative light, as the album progresses.

While you were traveling around recording, you lost an iPod with about half the demos on, didn’t you?
Ahh, I found it again [Laughs] which was quite relieving to say the least.

I can imagine! When you lost it, was the danger of the album leaking a main concern?
To be honest I’m not really worried [about leaks], I mean as long as the song is in a state that I’m happy with. When we start a song, the first thing I want is to play it to the rest of the world. Obviously it’s good to wait till the song’s finished, but when you fall in love with something that you’ve created you really just want everyone to hear it. It would obviously be bad if the album were to leak, but it’s kind of a secret wish of mine that the album would just leak out as soon as it’s finished. If it leaked tomorrow, I’d be really happy [Chuckles]. I know you’re not really meant to say that, but I can’t wait to hear what the fans think. For me, I guess money-wise it would be the worst thing ever if it were to leak tomorrow, but I wouldn’t really care because I’d be happy.

The latest song you released, ‘Elephant’, feels very different from stuff we’ve heard before – it’s really not faded or reverb drowned at all, and feels quite bluesy and very immediate to me. Why did you choose it?
Strangely enough a lot of people are saying it [‘Elephant’] is really similar, and that it bridged the gap, and I’m like ‘Oh, really?’ It’s cool though; it’s good that people hear different things. I think we just thought that was a cool single to start with, because it’s really instantly appealing. Other Tame Impala songs are growers, this one’s not really a grower at all, it’s kind of like ‘ayyyy!’

Definitely, yeah. What’s next then, I guess the next job is to try and get ‘Lonerism’ working live?
Yeah, we’ve been practicing, and I went for a couple of weeks to just jam with them [the band]. We’re slowly playing the songs together and getting a feel for what’s cool and what needs changing. We’ll start playing the songs as soon as the album comes out; we’re all really excited about that. We’ve been playing a few new songs already, a couple on tour, but we really want to play the rest of them.

Does that process - taking your album over to the band – ever present any challenges?
Yeah, totally, but depending on how you look at it. A challenge can be an opportunity to do something else. Like, if the album version had 20 guitars on it, all at the same time [Laughs], it’s just a chance to make the song a bit different, which is always something I embrace. It’s always a cool thing if a band plays a song a bit differently to the album version, whether it’s more mellow or a bit more crazy, or, you know, a bit more anything. The idea of being held back, I mean, we try not to feel held back by the fact we’re just five guys on a stage as opposed to layers and layers of things in the studio.

So, one final question – and it’s a toughie - what’s your favourite aspect of being in Tame Impala?
[Pauses for at least 30 seconds, ‘umming’ and ‘ahhing’] I guess getting the opportunity to travel around the place doing nothing but talking bulls**t all day and getting away with it, and that being my job. Not having to think clearly ever, never having to rely on logic. It’s all about just being an imbecile; it’s by far the best thing.

Tame Impala’s new album ‘Lonerism’ will be released on 8th October via Modular.

Taken from the October 2012 issue of DIY, available now. For more details click here.

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