Name: Tame Impala
Progress Report: Kevin Parker chats about Lonerism, the pleasures of touring, and covering Fleetwood Mac…
This October Australian psych-rockers Tame Impala will roar back with Lonerism, the band’s hotly anticipated follow up to 2010’s Innerspeaker. Based on the first two tracks to be revealed from the record — “Apocalypse Dreams” and “Elephant” — the band is still falling down the same arena-rock-meets-acid-flashback rabbit hole that made their first album such a heavy/heady listening experience. I spoke to Kevin Parker, Tame Impala’s musical mastermind and sole songwriter, about the pressures of working alone and the simple joys of trying to make things sound as cosmic as humanly possible.
Stereogum: Hey Kevin. Where are you?
Kevin Parker: We are just outside of Chicago somewhere at a Super 8 motel. We encounter these places so frequently that it’s easy to actually forget where you are.
Stereogum: I heard that you guys were en route to go open for The Black Keys. Where is the show?
Kevin Parker: It’s either in Iowa or Ottawa … or is it both?
Stereogum: I’m guessing Iowa. Have you done this kind of touring before, the kind that involves driving through the middle of America?
Kevin Parker: Yeah, we’ve done it a couple of times, but it really is a pretty unique experience compared to the kind of traveling you do anywhere else in the world. In Australia you could drive across the country, but there just aren’t very many cities….so you could literally drive for 20 hours and not run into another town. At least here in the states, even if you get lost, eventually you’ll run into another city eventually.
Stereogum: I’ve been listening to “Apocalypse Dreams” a lot today. I was kind of trancing-out to it earlier while cleaning my apartment.
Kevin Parker: That’s good. That sounds appropriate.
Stereogum: In regards to your forthcoming record, did you guys take a lot of time off after your last tour, before you starting working on something new?
Kevin Parker: We don’t really view touring the same way other bands do. I couldn’t really tell you when touring for the last album actually began or ended … we tend to just always keep touring. Since we very first signed a record deal we basically just kept touring, so it’s always been that thing where you come home for a couple of weeks, stay away for a few weeks, come home for a week. You just get used to that way of living eventually. I think we started working on this new album, more or less, as soon as the last one was actually finished. I like to record as much and as often as I can, whether I’m at home or we’re touring. I try to make touring as comfortable as I can, so you are basically doing the same things that you’d be doing if you were home. I take my 8-track recorder or my computer with me everywhere and record little things wherever I am. That’s not to say that this is some kind of touring album or something written on the road. We did tour a lot, but there were lots of little periods of time at home scattered throughout.
Stereogum: How does the song-making process usually work in Tame Impala? Do you just demo out the songs and then give them to the band, or do you guys ever write songs while jamming?
Kevin Parker: It’s usually just me in my little studio room. For this album, I mostly just worked from a room in my house. I picked the largest room in the house and converted it into a studio. I just locked myself in there and worked on my own, which is how most of Tame Impala’s songs were created. It’s essentially a solo recording project. Songs just kind of happen, to be honest. I don’t have any specific way of working. I just have an idea for a song and then spend the rest of the day or night working on it until it’s done … and then I’ll spend the next year or so coming back and listening to it, taking things away or adding things.
Stereogum: So are some of the songs on Lonerism things that have been with you for a really long time?
Kevin Parker: Most of them are pretty new, actually. Most of them were written within the past two years, some of them were written before the last album had been released. I remember when we were mixing the last record and I’d stay up late at night playing around on this old organ that they had there. Some of the songs came from that time. “Elephant” is actually one of the oldest songs that I have, it’s just been in the vaults this whole time. I’m not sure why we never recorded it before, but we were just playing it at a sound check one night and everyone in the band was like, “We should just put this on the album”….and so we did.
Stereogum: You worked with Dave Fridmann again on this album. Do you go to his studio and stay with him while he’s mixing?
Kevin Parker: Yeah. He mixed the record, so everything is basically recorded and done before I go there. I go and stay for about two weeks at his amazing log cabin out in the woods. We work for about 12 hours a day every day. It was really cold when I was there, so sometimes I wouldn’t leave the house for days. In terms of mixing, I tend to just send him my own rough mixes of things the way I kind of think they should sound — which isn’t always great because I’m admittedly not the best mixing engineer — I just throw everything together. He sifts through all the material and then recreates the tracks in a very clear and impactful way, trying to keep in mind my original intentions.
Stereogum: Were there specific things that you wanted to avoid this time around or things you wanted to be different from Innerspeaker?
Kevin Parker: I definitely wanted to open up the possibilities a bit. Looking back, I was a little closed minded with the previous album. I wanted to use a very specific number of instruments — I only wanted to use basic guitar, bass, and drums to make sounds that were kind of pseudo-electronic. This time I was a little more open to using whatever was available to me. I was willing to use anything to make anything. So I used synths and guitars and drum machines and samples — all kinds of stuff.
Stereogum: Does bringing in all those added elements make the entire process even more complicated?
Kevin Parker: Yeah, it’s more complicated. The more options you have the more of a brain fuck it is. Having limited choices often forces you to be more creative. I recorded this one differently as well — I used a computer rather than an 8-track. It made me realize why albums sound the way they do these days and why so many records all have the same sound. The technology lets you fix and erase every little blip and mistake. I felt myself wanting to succumb to that temptation, but I tried to stop myself. At the beginning of the process of making an album you always have these grand ideas and ambitions, for me it’s always chasing after these crazy noises and clunky drums, just romanticizing the crazy shit. By the end of the process you get really paranoid and you find yourself forgetting how you originally wanted everything to sound fucked up and you find yourself trying to get clean drum sounds and for all of your singing to actually be in tune. You get sick of listening to yourself sing out of tune … but in the end, I persevered. All the out of tune singing is still there.
Stereogum: It must be extra difficult to keep from second-guessing yourself whenever you are generally working by yourself.
Kevin Parker: Of course.
Stereogum: Does adding all of these new elements to the mix provide an extra challenge when it comes to playing these songs live?
Kevin Parker: It’s really fun, actually. The time when we are all listening to the recording and then converting it into a thing that will involve several people…that’s always really satisfying. It’s always really amazing for me to hear us playing the songs live as a band after I’ve been listening to it for so long and it’s just me. Because there’s no ego during the recording process, we don’t have….like, there’s no bass player complaining about how you can’t hear them enough in the mix. Nothing like that. The only goal we ever have in mind is to just make it sound the most cosmic when we play it.
Stereogum: You are on the road right now, are you playing any of the new songs?
Kevin Parker: We’ve practiced a lot of it, but we don’t want to play any of the new songs yet because we want the studio versions of the songs to be the first versions that people hear. We’re doing festivals right now and often the local radio will record the show or stream it…and they usually do a shitty job with the sound.
Stereogum: And you are totally at the mercy of everyone’s cell phone, which is such a bummer. It keeps bands from testing out new material on the road, which used to be the way lots of people worked out their songs before they recorded them now. If you do that now, you are faced with a shitty YouTube version being the first time people hear it.
Kevin Parker: It’s true. We’ve always been very protective of our sound, you know? I just want people to hear things in the best way…at least at first.
Stereogum: You also contributed a great version of “That’s All For Everyone” to the recent Fleetwood Mac tribute record. What drew you to that particular song?
Kevin Parker: To be honest, I was never actually a huge Fleetwood Mac fan … except for that song. All my friends were huge fans and were always going on and on about Tusk and Rumours — and I actually really love Rumours now, but I was never that crazy about Tusk. So anyway, when we made our first album our first idea is that it would be a double album and that it would finish with a cover of “That’s All For Everyone.” The joke being that we’d choose a song from Fleetwood Mac’s double and use it to close out our double album, which was also our debut album. It never actually happened because we realized that making a double album was gonna be way too much work. So it was great when we got the offer to be included on that compilation because it meant we finally had a reason to record that song.
Stereogum: What happens next then?
Kevin Parker: We just anticipate touring for a really long time. We hadn’t played any shows for about six months and it had been almost a year since we did a proper tour, so I actually got kind of nostalgic for the touring life. I’m really getting back into it now. I love the idea of just being a nomad. In fact, at the moment I literally have no home.
Stereogum: Why not?
Kevin Parker: Well, I was living away from Australia for a while and then I came back to Perth and just rented a house for a month. We finished rehearsing while I had that place and now that the month is over I have no place. All my stuff is at our manager’s house…I’m not quite sure where I’m gonna stay when the tour is finally over.
Stereogum: Will you go back to Perth? If you have no home, you could literally go anywhere.
Parker: Oh yeah, I’ll always go back to Perth. I could never leave that place forever. It’s the ultimate place for a person like me. It’s really laid back and you can rent a house for cheap and just fill it full of musical gear. It’s kind of the most perfect environment for me.
Tame Impala’s Lonerism is out 10/9 via Modular.
[Photo by Maciek Pozoga]