In a very, very extensive interview with Under The Radar, Kevin Parker opened up about the impetus behind his two newly-released songs from Tame Impala’s third album Currents, among other things. It’s a great profile and well worth checking out, but the most interesting parts are when Parker gets really personal about “Let It Happen” and “Cause I’m A Man.”
He describes the thrust of Currents in terms of watching a friend or someone close to you change into a different person:
The album is called Currents, and it kind of documents — though ‘documents’ is a shitty word — but it follows the progression of someone feeling like they are becoming something else. They’re becoming the kind of person they thought they’d never become. It’s like if you know someone and you’re close to them, and you can seem them changing and morphing into a different person. You’re like “Oh, man. This person is totally changing. They’re not real the person that I used to know. It’s kind of a bummer.” And this is meant to tell the story from the inside, like what’s going on in their head and why they’re seeing things differently and feeling like they go somewhere else mentally.
At this point, it seems pretty clear that “Let It Happen” will serve as a sort of centerpiece for Currents, and Parker talked at length about the song’s nonsensical closing lyrical drone. He eventually dubs it “speaking in tongues”:
A lot of my vocals are the first takes. So much is that true, that on the first song [on Currents], “Let It Happen,” there’s this part at the end where I’m singing through this keyboard sampler thing, almost like a vocoder but not really. And the first take I did, I was just singing gibberish and making sounds with my mouth just to test it out. And I didn’t even know what I was saying. I was saying words and stringing sentences together that weren’t really words. I do that a lot when I’ m demoing and fleshing out ideas, because I’ve got the emotions in me, but I haven’t turned it into words yet. So I was just doing that, and then I left that for months and months, always planning to go back and re-record it with real lyrics. And I only did it a few days ago, a week before mastering. I’m totally contradicting what I said before, but I couldn’t get back the same groove I did when I was speaking in tongues. So I had to make the decision, like, “Fuck it. I’ll just leave the speaking in tongues version on the album.” It will never make sense, but the song is called “Let It Happen,” and it’s about allowing what is overtaking you to take control. So I was, “Well, if there’s one song where that is allowed, I guess it’s this one. I have no idea what I was saying, but I guess fans will string the words together and try to work out what I was subconsciously thinking.” Because that has been a layer to it, as well, letting your subconscious battle.
As far as the song’s content, he discusses it in terms of fighting against a river’s current or letting yourself get swept over the edge of a waterfall:
For me, [the song is about] finding yourself always in this world of chaos and all this stuff going on around you and always shutting it out because you don’t want to be part of it. But at some point, you realize it takes more energy to shut it out than it does to let it happen and be a part of it. The analogy I use is that you’re stuck in this really rapid river, and it’s washing you somewhere, and there’s a wharf at the end. You’re clutching at these branches or logs and trees, trying to not let the river wash you down. You don’t want to be washed away; you want to stay in control. But at some point, you realize that you’re only wasting energy by trying to resist. You might as well let go and let it take you where it’s going to take you and let it rush you off the side of a waterfall. Who knows? It might be amazing down there.
Parker also said that the lyrics to “Cause I’m A Man” are “tongue-in-cheek”:
It is very direct. Lyrically I’m not usually that out there and straight up saying things, but it’s meant to be really tongue-in-cheek at the same time. The song is about how weak men are, basically, and how we make all these excuses but really we’re just these odorous male members of the animal kingdom. We don’t have any self-control and are pathetic, basically. Again, that was probably a bad description of the song, but I guess I’ll let people figure it out for themselves.
And, he acknowledges that his vocal performance in this song is much more front and center than it usually is:
It’s meant to be kind of sassy and tongue-in-cheek to some degree. It’s meant to sound kind of sexy, but I don’t know if that’s how it comes across, with its laid-back beat. I’m really putting myself out there vocally more than I have before. I usually bury my vocals and sing quite ethereally and stick in a laser beam melody washed in reverb. I just love that dreamy, silvery vocal sound. But here I just forced myself to put myself out there and really try something more than what I would feel comfortable doing with a vocal performance. I was like “Fuck it, man. Just do it.”
But he’s adamant that it’s not sexist, and thinks that people interpreting it like that would be upsetting:
When I say it’s tongue-in-cheek, I’m not saying it’s insincere. The apology is sincere, but the excuse of saying, “Oh, it’s because I’m a man” is the tongue-in-cheek bit. I hope people don’t see it as sexist in any way. That would upset me, but I wouldn’t put it past people to interpret it like that because people have wack interpretations of things sometimes.
The interview touches on several of the album’s songs that haven’t been released yet, too. One is a breakup song called “Eventually” that Parker said he came up with while riding on a friend’s scooter in Perth:
The song is about knowing that you’re about to damage someone almost irreparably, and the only consolation you get is this distant hope that they’ll be alright eventually, because you know they aren’t going to be now or soon. It’s like “Fuck!” That’s all I remember. I was on the back of the scooter and the wind was rushing through me. I guess I can’t really deny [that it’s a breakup song], but at the same time I like songs to be ambiguous. I hate to say that a song is about this and you must interpret it this way, because one of the cool things is to hear someone’s interpretation of one of your songs that’s completely different. That’s when you feel like you’ve done something that belongs not just to you. That’s when you feel like your music belongs to the world.
Another is a song called “Yes I’m Changing” that he has absolutely no memory of making:
This is one that I just came across. It was a weird experience, because it was like it was someone else made the song. I had no memory of imagining it. I don’t now where it was or when it was. All I know is that I had this demo on my laptop and I was listening to it going, “This is really good. I wonder why I forgot about it.” To this day, I don’t know, and I’ll never know. It is there.
The interviewer says that another track, “Less I Know The Better,” has a Michael Jackson or Stevie Wonder vibe. Parker, on the other hand, says it’s dorky:
That song originally I thought shouldn’t be on a Tame Impala album because it has this dorky, white disco funk. I wouldn’t call it cheesy, but it’s not trying to be cool, because the lyrics are pretty dorky and groove is pretty dorky. But at the same time, for me, I love that kind of music. I don’t know why, but I’ve been obsessed with disco for the last year or two.
As far as their past music, Parker says he thought the group’s most popular song, “Feels Like We Only Go Backwards,” sounded like The Backstreet Boys:
I thought it was just this super clean pop song. Then I listened to it a year later, and I was like, “Fuck! This is like a boulder.”
Actually, I think he’s right, though. I can hear a little bit of “I Want It That Way” in there. It’s always compelling when a songwriter opens up about the stories behind the songs themselves, and after reading all about this I’m looking forward to Currents even more than before.
[Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images.]