Laneway 2013: Tame Impala top of the world

By Lydia Jenkin

The brains behind Aussie indie act Tame Impala talk to Lydia Jenkin about surviving all that glowing praise for their psychedelic sound.

Tame Impala's Kevin Parker: 'I just find the biggest room in the house and turn it into a studio and literally just lock myself away in there for however long it takes - two years I guess.' Photo / Supplied
Tame Impala's Kevin Parker: 'I just find the biggest room in the house and turn it into a studio and literally just lock myself away in there for however long it takes - two years I guess.' Photo / Supplied

They may be from Perth, far away from Australia's usual rock breeding grounds, but since releasing their debut album Innerspeaker in 2010 and Lonerism last year, Tame Impala have become one of the most acclaimed indie acts in the world.

The five-piece, spearheaded by songwriter Kevin Parker, graced many a best-of-the-year list in 2012, lauded for their strong experimental spirit and soaring 60s-inspired melodies, fuzzied and coloured by interesting lyrical ideas or crunchy motifs.

Chatting down the line from the West Australia capital, where they're having a short break from touring, Parker laughs when reflecting on how it feels to have two albums so well-received.

"I guess it means the first one wasn't a fluke! It's all positive spin-off isn't it? You try not to think about how people might judge an album, or what score it will be given, while you're making it but I guess now it's very flattering. It's not why we do it, though," he says.

Indeed, it seems Parker makes music because that's the only thing he's ever wanted to do, and the only thing he's done.

"I guess my family was pretty musical. My dad was a closet die-hard musician, he played in a band and always had musical instruments around. It was a big part of his life and I guess that's how I came into it, and then I just went off on my own terms and got obsessed with it to the point that it angered him because I wasn't doing any school work."

But though it's taken them some time to find international fame (the band have all known each other for at least six years), all that obsession has clearly paid off.

They've got a worldwide signing to Modular Recordings, have won Triple J and Rolling Stone awards, and they're able to tour full-time and play sold-out shows.

Parker still writes and records all the music in a bedroom studio, though.

"I just find the biggest room in the house and turn it into a studio and literally just lock myself away in there for however long it takes - two years I guess.

"Well, actually [with Lonerism] it was more like one year in my house in Perth, and then I was in Paris for a while so my apartment there became a studio."

One of the key sonic inspirations for Lonerism was Parker's foray into synthesizers.

"I just became obsessed with a new way of making sound, a new origin of sound.

"With a guitar it's always coming from a string, no matter how many effects pedals you put through it, but with synths the sound can come from anywhere, almost. And the way they're built, they come from a million different sounds so you can just spend hours trying to find the one that makes you feel the most like you're spinning around in orbit," he says.

"A lot of the time you are just experimenting, which can be dangerous because you can end up with 20 different noises that are all squelchy, warbly, weird noises, and you want to put them all into the song, and you do end up putting them all into that song but it makes the song sound like a big swamp of synth. So you do have to have some restraint, which is hard when you're all alone in the studio."

The unlimited time and sound restraints can be a blessing - and a curse, evidently.

"You can just get swept away with really minor things, and then you realise you've spent a whole day adjusting the amount of reverb on one drum. There's no one to tell you to get back on track."

But though he occasionally wishes to have a studio buddy to bounce ideas off, ultimately Parker knows he can't really work any other way. As you might guess from the album titles and lyrical content of the songs, Parker is a man who likes isolation - though it's not a conscious decision to make music about it.

"I don't really have any control over the type of music that is coming out but when I listen to it, it does feel like it's from the perspective of someone looking inward, all the self-questioning and the self-doubt. But I guess it all sort of happens accidentally."

That's not to say there's any self-doubt when it comes to transforming the songs into a live setting with his bandmates - over the past few years they've honed their approach, refined the songs and Parker has come to enjoy performing as much as he enjoys the studio work.

"It used to be such an unknown thing for me, the studio was kind of my zone, whereas being on stage would feel a bit like, 'Ah, what the f*** is going on?' But now that we've got a grasp of how to make the songs sound like they do in the studio, we're getting comfortable and embracing the spontaneity of what can happen on stage.

"The good thing about already having the songs recorded is we've already satisfied that urge so now we can do whatever we need to make the song sound cool live. If it sounds good the way it is, that's cool, but if it sounds better faster, slower, shorter or completely rearranged, then that's cool, too."

Who: Tame Impala
When and where: 9.30pm, Mysterex Stage
Listen to: Lonerism (2012)

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