By Cam Lindsay"Regardless of what score they give the album, the only thing I care about is that they understand what I'm doing. If critics say that it's more than just making trippy psych rock then I guess it's a compliment."
Kevin Parker probably appreciates that his new album, Lonerism, received nine out of ten reviews by Pitchfork and NME. He may have even cracked a smile when he learned The Guardian gave it a perfect five stars. But you'd likely make his Christmas card list by just trying to describe Tame Impala's music without using the word "psychedelia" or referencing the '60s.
There are traces of the music he grew up with: The Magical Mystery Tour, the Beach Boys circa 1966 to 1971, Supertramp, the Shadows, and his most recent obsession, Todd Rundgren's A Wizard, A True Star. But what you think you hear is not what Parker hears.
"On this particular album I didn't really think it had any of the '60s in it, any sounds I think of from that era, like drums," Parker says via Skype, on the eve of a lengthy intercontinental tour. "But it has '70s-type textures that are treated in a way that people do it today. I feel like what I make is electronic music because of the computer programs I use to make it."
On the surface, Tame Impala's breakout debut album, 2010's Innerspeaker, felt like a straight-up throwback to LSD-fuelled psych rock and the free-form noodling of prog. Dig deeper, and you start to hear the heaping layers of synthesizers at play on tracks like "Make Up Your Mind" and "Runway Houses City Clouds" that reveal the modernity of the music.
Parker's girlfriend Melody Prochet, who just released her debut under the name Melody's Echo Chamber (which he produced), feels Tame Impala's craft is misconstrued as revivalism, despite the innovative techniques being applied.
"We're both fans of drum sounds from older bands like Can, Silver Apples, Led Zeppelin and Neu!," she says. "We probably try to make it sound this way 'cause we love it. I understand why he doesn't hear it; the way he's recording is so modern. He's not a revivalist trying to do everything as they used to. We've plugged our guitars directly in the desk and used Ableton, some midi keyboards and samplers, so it's definitely not intentional."
"With Innerspeaker I was trying to do these hypnotic '60s grooves," Parker says, "but it was so hypnotic and repetitive that they sounded like they were sampled. It was making electronic sampled music but using real instruments to do it. The whole point of a synthesizer is having a blank canvas so that you can completely fuck with everything. You can go to really cosmic places quite easily. So with this one, it was more about making more progressive songs and not caring about what type of genre it was."
While it's still undeniably rooted in rock'n'roll, Lonerism is, for the lack of a better term, some next-level shit. Have a listen to their debut EP from 2008 and by comparison, Lonerism is the equivalent of upgrading from VHS to Blu-Ray, or 2D to 3D.
Tame Impala keyboardist Jay Watson, who splits his time playing in the equally psychedelic Pond, feels Parker became fearless making the new album.
"It's not afraid to be bold or experimental, pop or epic," he says. "It's less subtle, which is good for me. I hate when bands make beige, middle of the road music. I guess you can say Lonerism is the war on beige music."
Based out of Perth, Australia, Tame Impala began in 2007 when Parker decided to change the name of his band the Dee Dee Dums ("a Kyuss-like, really riff-heavy, stoner rock" says Watson, one of their biggest fans) after the departure of a couple members. He turned it into a solo studio project with live support coming from bassist and long-time best friend Dominic Simper, then drummer Jay Watson and eventually guitarist/keyboardist Nick Allbrook. (Julien Barbagallo has since been added on drums.)
Perth's tight-knit musical community gave its musicians the freedom to moonlight creatively. Though Parker is the brainchild behind Tame Impala, he has also been a occasional member of Pond (with Watson and Allbrook) and Mink Mussel Creek (with Allbrook), while collaborating with Modular label-mates Canyons.
"We're a gang," explains Watson. "We've been making music together as ten bands since 2005. We've known each other for long enough. When people get into music and start a new band, they find new people to work with. But we just changed our bands so they weren't shitty anymore. In ten years time, we'll still be in bands together, but it will sound completely different. Tame Impala will likely be a dance thing and Pond will likely be a Black Flag, punk rock band. I'm kidding, but that's probably what will happen [laughs]."
After creating some national buzz, Tame Impala signed to Modular Recordings, the Australian label that launched the careers of the Avalanches, Wolfmother and Cut Copy. Parker, who was working odd jobs and in school at the time, says he was on his way to write an astronomy exam when he got the offer from the label. He skipped the exam and went home to bask in the glory of being a signed band.