Tame Impala don’t have to do drugs or dig up the past to resurrect the soul of psychedelia, Aidan Smith discovers
‘Hang on a minute, dude,” says Kevin Parker, “I need to get comfortable.” And while his bandmates in Tame Impala retire to the back of the tour bus with their South Park DVDs, their leader gets horizontal in his bunk – a pretty regular state, you’d imagine, given the kind of music he makes.
Tame Impala are your favourite new, too-young-for-it-the-first-time psychedeliasts, at least until MGMT stop hating their success and make another great album. The Impalas’ first album Innerspeaker garnered four-star reviews and now follow-up Lonerism has been picking up fives for its update of the woozy, spacey, far-out, freak-out sound which was at its zenith 44 years ago.
With the mounting praise have come bigger crowds for the dudes from Perth, Australia. Today they’re just arriving in Vienna from Berlin. The next stop will be Milan, where they’ve never played before, though for Parker – who basically is Tame Impala, dreaming up all the music in his bedroom – it will have to go some to improve on Stockholm. “I’m actually in love with all of Scandinavia,” he says. But the 26-year-old is surprised by the neo-psychedelic tag.
“For Lonerism I really wanted make a non-psychedelic record. That’s why the dominant instrument is the synthesiser, but maybe it didn’t quite turn out that way. Listen, I dig psychedelic music and can understand why people think we’re psychedelic when they hear the grooves: the delays, the phasers and the weird shit. But I don’t try to recreate ’68 or ’69 or whatever. I actually think looking to the past for inspiration is pretty redundant. I don’t wish I was around back then and I’m not obsessed with the period, swotting up on it and stuff. I just know what I love about the time and am trying to make music that’s relevant to now.”
Parker is perplexed by a lot of what’s said about Tame Impala, most of it gushing. He laughs at the idea they must all be stoner-slacker beach-bums. “I mean, we know a lot of stoners in Perth. In Melbourne they take their music seriously; in our town half the guys are in it for a joke. Are we always at the beach? Well, when we’re not touring our lives are much the same as six years ago, which does mean a bit of hanging out, because our beaches are amazing. But I don’t surf. I make music that surfers dig but, like Brian Wilson in the Beach Boys, I’m the dude who never gets on the board.”
The Impala sound gets called “druggy”; Parker wonders why. “The new album is supposed to be ‘trippin’ on LSD’ music or whatever. When I hear it back I’m not thinking, ‘Hey, that reminds me of when I took acid,’ and I’m not encouraging people to do drugs.” So is he saying no artificial stimulants went into the making of Lonerism? “You know, we all take weed sometimes but I relate it to the high-jump at an athletics carnival. Drugs can enhance creativity but also stunt it. If you need them just to get to the jump-bar, that’s not good.”
Parker’s singing voice is frequently compared to John Lennon and this confuses him too. “Except,” he says, “when I hear the music back. At the moment I’m singing I don’t think I sound like him. But on record, yeah, I get it.” Although hugely flattered by the rave reviews, he admits he doesn’t really “get” music criticism. “Reviewers intellectualise music too much and are a bit obsessed with scores and ratings. To me, they’re missing the point of music.” Which is? “To fall in love with it, have a great experience through it, let it reach your soul rather than your calculated mind.”
The first music to reach Parker’s soul back in the Perth of his youth was probably the Beatles and Stones covers played by his accountant-father Jeremy with his weddings band. He became obsessed with the idea of becoming a drummer. “I thought it’d give me the identity I lacked.” The album is called Lonerism – and not Stonerism – for a reason. “I’m a pretty closed-off guy, deadpan, and would need just the one hand to count up the dudes I’d call friends.” I tell him I’m suspicious of people who say they need two hands and he laughs. “So music is the outlet for my fragilities. Half the songs on the album are about me wishing I was this different, gregarious other guy and how, when you try to change, the whole universe pushes you the other way. But the other half are about being okay with lonerism. I’m more accepting of it now.”
On the final song, Sun’s Coming Up, someone is dying of cancer. “That’s my dad. He passed a couple of years back but I’ve never been able to write about it until now. He got skin cancer – stayed too long in the sun.” Would his father have wanted the fulfilment of a musical dream that Parker is now enjoying? “I don’t know. He was a practical man – that’s why he became an accountant. He was worried for me that making a job of music would kill the magic, but I’m glad to say he lived long enough to see me start my career.”
And what did he think of Tame Impala? “Too much distortion!” Well, that’s what psychedelic bands do...
Tame Impala play Glasgow’s ABC on Saturday. Lonerism is out now on Modular.
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