Tame Impala’s Down-Under Psych-Out



A psych-rock explosion hit our nation’s capital this Tuesday in the form of Aussie band Tame Impala, who kicked off their four-week U.S. tour at the Black Cat. “We’re playing with Stardeath and White Dwarfs,” said Kevin Parker during a pre-soundcheck phone call, adding to the irony. (From the D.C. Arts blog TBD: “Number of extended psych-outs in Tame Impala’s set: too many to count.”) The 24-year-old kazoo-tooting frontman and his bandmates (Dominic Simper, Jay Watson, and Nick Allbrook) have been riding a wave of excitement since dropping its debut album, Innerspeaker, this summer. To wit: they opened for MGMT on its recent American tour, French producer Pilooski crafted a trippy remix of their single “Lucidity,” and they’ve been a recurring entry on The Hype Machine’s top ten list of most-blogged-about artists. Here, the Perth-born Parker holds forth on touring, recording their sophomore album on the road, and what to expect from the new stage show. Think: Big. Green. Blobs.

SLENSKE: Last time you were in the States, you opened for MGMT. I read you all had some kind of mind-meld in Australia before deciding to tour.

PARKER: [LAUGHS] Yeah, I don’t know what we’d call it, but we definitely bonded in some way. Whenever you tour with a band who has similar outlooks on life to you, you’re always going to connect, because you see each other every day for however many weeks.

SLENSKE: I can imagine that was a wild tour.

PARKER: Yeah, it was pretty mellow. Oh, I don’t know. We listen to music on their tour bus, and travel with them at some stages. It was general good times. There wasn’t that much fucking crazy shenanigans. It was crazy for us because it was our first time in America, cruising around doing American things.

SLENSKE: Like what?

PARKER: On the last night—I don’t know the name of the city but it was the last night—I’d bought some fireworks somewhere, and we were going home the next day, so I thought we might as well let them off. We went out on the roof of the venue and let them off. We didn’t actually know what each of them was going to do, so we all covered our eyes and some of us ran back to the window and hid. Luckily, no one was killed.

SLENSKE: So, what was the process for working on Innerspeaker?

PARKER: Well, we hired a house that was a few hours south of Perth in the middle of nowhere on the coast. It was just two of us slowly putting the album together over six or seven weeks and we just had this really nice old wooden house by the beach. I’m not even sure it has a name. You probably wouldn’t even be able to find it on a map. We literally would do stuff the first couple hours of the day, and the rest of the day we’d just sit around listening to what we’d done. So it took a long time to put together, because we were quite lazy.

SLENSKE: I’ve heard you describe the sound in different ways—dream pop, etc. What exactly were you going for on this record?

PARKER: We kind of just wanted to make it dreamy enough so you’re in the dream-pop realm, but still kind of a little bit gritty and rhythmic. Groovy and pulsing, but at the same time kind of lo-fi and rough. But I wanted to make it pretty-sounding.

SLENSKE: Sort of Beatles 2010.

PARKER: Yeah, people told me that when I finished it. I wasn’t really thinking about that at the time, but now I listen back I can see what people meant by it—futuristic Beatles or whatever. It wasn’t a conscious intention. For about a year, I didn’t listen to any music apart from what my friends put on. I think while I was down there I had the King Crimson album and a Pop Levi album. That was about it.

SLENSKE: And I heard you’ve almost finished a second album.

PARKER: I wouldn’t say almost finished. But it’s coming along. I’m really excited about it, and it’s being worked on all the time, but with an album like that it’s impossible to tell how far along you are. You can’t put a percentage bar on it. We’ll just keep doing it until we’re satisfied, I guess.

SLENSKE: But you’re not holing up for this one either.

PARKER: No. The crazy thing is that because I’ve got a recording thing with me at the moment, I can do vocal takes and guitar takes wherever I am, so it’s getting recorded all over the world. There’s a guitar take in Vienna, or a vocal take in the aeroplane from Singapore to London. I’ve got my studio at home so a lot is being done in Perth. We’ve got a tour bus here, so I’ll probably set up a little recording booth.

SLENSKE: More dream pop stuff?

PARKER: Uh, it’s quite different, it’s a bit more decadent. It’s a bit more sonically decadent. I have not held back. There’s less holding-back of temptations of various kinds. I love fucked-up sounds, and I love pop melodies, and it’s kind of a combination of the two.

SLENSKE: Are you using new instruments beyond the kazoo?

PARKER: Yeah, we’re using a bunch of different things. I’ve got a lot of new toys. I don’t want to give too much away, because it will give people the wrong ideas. I’ve got this Sequential Circuits Pro One synth that I bought a while ago on eBay and it’s a lot of fun. You can whip up a cosmic storm in seconds. So that’s being used a lot, and a few weird boxes I’ve got on the Internet, like phasers and compressors that sound really explosive and weird.

SLENSKE: Are you still painting? That painting on the EP got a lot of attention.

PARKER: I just painted the image for the EP. For the new album, another guy helped me do it—I gave him the idea, and he just did it on his computer or whatever… It’s quite an important thing for us to have a big say in the album cover. But I don’t frequently paint, I only do it when it’s needed for things, because music is the only creative outlet I need.

SLENSKE: It seems like there’s a lot of psych-rockers coming out of Australia right now. Is there something in the water, or good acid going around? What’s happening down there?

PARKER: Um, I don’t know, I’m not really clue-y about the rest of the scene in Australia. Perth has a big experimental thing, but it’s not really underground, it’s just people’s backyards. And you know, I cannot comment on the quality of drugs compared to the rest of the word. The drugs we have in Perth are exactly the same to the rest of the world. It doesn’t really depend on what city you come from. There are definitely a lot of cool things going on in Perth. Sometimes we have these homemade festivals or whatever. But it’s the only scene I really know about, so I can’t really say if it’s psychedelic or un-psychedelic.

SLENSKE: Fair enough. I know you guys like to do covers. Anything new for this tour?

PARKER: We pick a new cover each night when we get bored with our set list. We usually do “Remember Me” [by Blueboy] but we also do random covers now and then. Right now we’re doing “The One” by The Flaming Lips and “Revolution” by Spectrum.

SLENSKE: What about the stage show—is that going to change this go-around?

PARKER: Yeah, well, if the venue has a data projector, I’m going to use my oscilloscope, which is this box that’s meant to be used for fixing TVs and it has a little screen and when you put input into it it draws a little diagram of the input that’s going in. So we plug the various instruments from the band into the oscilloscope and we film the screen and project it behind us, so it draws a green shape of the sounds that are going into it. So my guitar and the drums and stuff are presented graphically in a big green blob.