The frontman of psychedelic rock quintet Tame Impala, as many have suggested, sounds like John Lennon. The vocal resemblance is uncanny, though heavily debated – today’s young ‘uns like to jump to the defence of legacy-fulfilling bands, it gives them some meaning to life. But if you get Perth-native Kevin Parker to sing The Beatles’ ‘Sgt Pepper Lonely Hearts Club Band’, Paul McCartney probably wouldn’t be able to tell the difference.
Parker doesn’t only sing, he’s a one-man team backed by a technically gifted band. He wrote and produced the last two (“acclaimed” is too weak a word) albums. Their debut, ‘Innerspeaker’ and sophomore album, ‘Lonerism’ were exalted as the best albums of 2010 and 2012 on J Awards, NME and Rolling Stones.
Not bad for a band that gave solitude its phaser effect-heavy soundtrack. While he was taking a break in Perth, Parker spoke to us on the phone. We asked what the band was up to ahead of their long leg of tours, the meaning of loneliness and their “fuller” sound.
What was 2012 like for the band?
It was really cool and a little crazy. We toured UK and US, and almost forgot that we had a home.
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Are you guys home now?
Yes, we are. We’ve been in Perth for a couple of months taking real time off. It feels good, especially since we are doing as little as possible. But we’ve been practicing, making music here and there. We can’t get away from it. (Laughs)
Tame Impala ‘Solitude is Bliss’
That’s how you guys generally make music, right? Organically and rather compulsively; like how ‘Innerspeaker’ and your most recent album, ‘Lonerism’ came about.
I guess you can put it that way. Jay [Watson] and I were already working on ‘Lonerism’ a few months after ‘Innerspeaker’ was released. We just went with it. For ‘Innerspeaker’, we rented a house a few hours’ drive away from Perth. We had a defined idea of how the songs were going to turn out, so it was a process of patiently putting the layers together while trying not to be distracted by the scenery.
Prior to putting ‘Lonerism’ through the paces with your band, you were already working on it in France for almost a year whilst visiting your Parisian girlfriend. Was that where the crux of the album came about?
Sort of. I was there for 10 months and alone on a whole new level. There were a few times I would go get some food and speak a little French, and hope they wouldn’t ask me anything that I wasn’t used to. It was great. I was aware that I love to be alone a long time ago.
You find comfort in solitude, don’t you?
Comparing to all the loners on earth, I don’t really know where I stand. I gravitate towards that seclusion and, yeah, feel at ease in it. It was something I wanted to talk about in the album because the subject itself is shut off from everyday conversation, or no one really wants to talk about it.
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The album title says it all, but do you think the main theme of isolation was more about embracing or escaping from it?
There are two different ways to look at the album: as a means of escaping or trying to be part of the world. Some of the songs are about embracing loneliness while being as much with the world as you can; while the rest is about the struggle, being human, finding out your place in life; yeah, things like that.
Tame Impala ‘Lonerism’ (Album stream)
“Mature” isn’t the right word to use, but ‘Lonerism’ definitely sounds fuller than your previous albums.
Yes, totally. For me, the sound was indeed fuller because we went crazy on the instruments in the process [of making ‘Lonerism’.] We messed around with the synth a lot to create a more electronic sound. There was definitely flow with how we tweaked from one element to the other on a track. The album was allowed to grow, to breathe. It was organic like that.
A couple of my friends who have caught you guys live noticed that “fuller” sound. Does it have anything to do with how your line-up was switched around?
Yes, it has definitely made us a better live band. We got a fifth member [Julien Barbagallo] on the drums, and Jay moved on to keyboards because he preferred it that way. We suddenly became amazing. It was the biggest thing to happen last year.
Tame Impala will be the second last act to perform (from 11pm) at Laneway Singapore 2013. The festival happens on 26 Jan at The Meadow, Gardens By The Bay. Tickets are priced at $145-493 (4-ticket bundle).