Tame Impala’s Kevin Parker Discusses His Band’s Success, Origins and Impressions of California
This article was originally on a blog post platform and may be missing photos, graphics or links. See About archive blog posts.
Perth is one of the most isolated cities on the planet. Cloistered in the southwest corner of Australia, it’s closer to Sumatra than to Sydney. It’s the former frontier country, the sort of place where secessionary sentiments always simmer and Wild West analogies are journalistic cliché. The last decade saw a handful of Australian acts achieve international fame: Wolfmother, the Vines, Jet, Cut Copy and the Avalanches, but all of them hailed from either Melbourne or Sydney. Perth’s musical claim to fame is that it produced Bon Scott; but he was born in Scotland, moved to Sydney to achieve success, and even after that, things didn’t exactly go as planned.
So consider Perth-based Tame Impala’s breakout success, testament to their dazzling and disorienting debut LP, “Innerspeaker.” Released on the Modular Recordings imprint, a label best known for dance-pop and heavy rawk, the geographic isolation of Perth manifests itself in frontman Kevin Parker’s decision to turn towards the stars for inspiration instead of his immediate surroundings. Song titles include “Runaway Houses City Clouds” and “Solitude is Bliss”—to say nothing of their debut EP, “Hole in the Sky.”
Hissing fuzz ricochets off psychedelic guitar lines and dust-caked drums—Parker’s voice is frequently buried in effects, making it seem like it’s tunneling out of another dimension. “Innerspeaker,” bears a heavy debt to its inspirations: “Revolver”-era Beatles, Cream, Love, and contemporary Swedish psychedelic wunderkinds, Dungen. Yet its intensely melodic beauty makes questions of derivation seem moot. It taps into a universal yearning for escape—the desire to disappear into a pair of headphones and map out one’s own cosmology.
Consequently, Tame Impala has crafted an album capable of playing in Perth or Peoria. In Southern California, with its perennial surfeit of sun and spliffs, the band has already attracted a sizable following, selling out a pair of shows tonight at the Silverlake Lounge. In advance of the performance, Kevin Parker spoke to Pop & Hiss about his album, making music in Perth and his impression of Los Angeles cannabis clubs.
How did the Tame Impala form?
I’ve always been doing something musically, whether it was Tame Impala or some other band. Tame Impala has always been a recording project about piecing songs and sounds together. I’ve been doing this since I was 12-years-old, using a cassette recorder in my parents living room. The live band has always had a different cast of people. At some point, there was a particular change, I started writing songs that were more melodic rather than more riffy rock ‘n’ roll stuff.
Was there anything that galvanized the evolution?
It was a very slow process. I used to write excessively melodic music from about 12 to 15. It was really weird and repetitive and almost genre-less. We started playing in the pub scene when I was about 18. In Perth, everyone plays in pubs to get recognized and they like heavy rock music. At the time, I was writing heavy 70’s-style almost prog-rock songs. Like Blue Cheer.
On our self-titled EP, there were a few songs in that style, like “Half Filled Glass of Wine,” which was our first song to do really well in Australia. It was sort of sassy and groovy, more bluesy than anything. Since then, I’ve tried to go after a more melancholy dreamy feel. I’ve always been in love with the wall of sound as employed by My Bloody Valentine. But really, the album was one kind of stage -- just a snapshot of where I was at the time.
Have you been writing new songs since the album was turned in?
I do it compulsively -- we’ve already got a whole bunch of demos for the next album. I don’t want to give away too much, but we’re using different instruments and sounds. It’s going to be a lot more decadent. I’m trying to make the most melodic, cosmic and pop music possible.
Australia has had very few breakout rock bands and the ones that have made it out, tend towards the harder and more rocking types. Was it tough to break out of that stereotype?
Australia is bad about that. We’ve been called ‘the next Wolfmother.’ People hear what they’re expecting to hears. They think that we’re just a bunch of stoners making psychedelic music that sounds like Wolfmother, even though we sound nothing like Wolfmother.
How has being from Perth impacted your sound. You guys seem to have a very West Coast Californian sensibility?
Whether bands are America or Australia, doesn’t really have much significance to me. I certainly don’t associate certain bands from America with where they come from. What comes from inside you is more important that your surroundings. We’re always compared to these psychedelic American bands, but I think more parallels should’ve been drawn to the fact that we’re from Perth, which I think leads to how distant and expansive everything sounds.
So what do you think of your time in Los Angeles thus far?
It’s completely surreal. It’s the center of the whole dream lifestyle. L.A. is at the center of the idea of getting whatever it is you want. It feels like you’re at the head of the lair.
You guys make a pretty stoner-friendly music. Have you had the chance to explore the cities dispensaries?
That’s been the most shocking thing. A friend of mine showed me his prescription and it was the most amazing thing I’d seen -- the fact that he had a legal document to smoke.
Is Australia pretty open about that sort of thing?
Not quite. There’s a stigma there, where if you smoke weed, you’re considered a drop-out hippie type. It’s definitely very illegal.
Have you been pretty taken aback by the success of the record? You guys went from unknowns in the states to selling out venues on both coasts.
It’s totally surprising. We tend to not pay too much attention to what people in the outside world think. Generally, to us, the world has the wrong idea. Coming over here, I thought we’d be a grain of sand thrown into the ocean. Though I can kind of imagine why the music is refreshing -- we always try to find music like ours and it’s surprising that we can’t find very much modern music in this vein, other than Dungen.
Specifically, what is it that you’re striving towards?
Music played with guitars and drums that tries to achieve the most electronic feel -- using organic instruments to make it as hypnotic and as dream pop as possible.
What’s next after your shows tonight?
A lot more touring. We’re going to Europe to doing the Leeds and Reading festivals, and then I’m not sure. We’re already talking about the next album, and I’m anxious to get some down time at home to get into it properly. We’ve got a whole lot of ideas. The first album was about doing the right thing and not going too overboard. Now we’re going to give into our temptation to get cosmic and weird.
Tame Impala Plays Two Shows Tonight, June 29 at the Silverlake Lounge, 2906 Sunset Blvd. First Show Starts at 7:30, Second at 10:30. Both are sold out
Clicking on Green Links will take you to a third-party e-commerce site. These sites are not operated by the Los Angeles Times. The Times Editorial staff is not involved in any way with Green Links or with these third-party sites.