After years of the Australian music scene being represented in America by only Jet and Wolfmother, a fresh crop of promising bands has arrived: Angus & Julia Stone, The Middle East, Crayon Fields, Twerps, Oh Mercy, and Tame Impala.
What began as a bedroom project for Kevin Parker, lead singer and guitarist of Tame Impala, has become an international success, including opening slots for The Black Keys, Yeasayer, and current tourmates MGMT. What’s even more impressive is that Parker wrote, recorded, and played every note on Impala’s spectacular debut album, InnerSpeaker, which is currently one of Rollo & Grady’s favorite albums of the year.
Tame Impala’s brand of music can be best described as psychedelic-rock, heavily influenced by Cream, The Beatles, Pink Floyd, The Shadows, and The Flaming Lips. Though the band’s influences are obvious, its music is surprisingly fresh and not just a carbon copy of the aforementioned bands.
I recently caught up with Kevin by phone, as the band prepared for its gig at the legendary Red Rocks Amphitheatre in Morrison, Colorado.
R&G: How was the road trip from Texas to Colorado?
Kevin: Bearable. We’ve all gotten into the swing of road trips and have our own ways of killing time. I set up a battery-powered recording studio in our tour van, which is a whole lot less comprehensive than it sounds: just my 8-track and a whole bunch of headphones and stuff going into it.
R&G: Are you recording new material?
Kevin: No, we’re just sort of hitting record and then just recording endless minimal Kraftwerk jams.
R&G: You guys are really fortunate to be playing Red Rocks on your first US tour.
Kevin: Yeah, I’ve seen pictures and stuff. In fact, I was on the plane coming over to LA and I wanted to check out the venue, so I watched Rob Thomas live at Red Rocks.
R&G: Is he the guy from Matchbox 20?
Kevin: Yeah. I had to put it on mute, but I checked out the venue.
R&G: [Laughs] I was about to say… To each his own. From what I’ve read and heard, I don’t see him being an influence.
Kevin: Not a conscious one, anyway [Laughs].
R&G: I’ve read several publications that refer to Tame Impala as a group; is that entirely correct?
Kevin: It can be difficult to distinguish its status as a solo project and as a band. I’ve always recorded music. When I was 12, I used to set up two tape machines and multi-track myself. First, I’d record a beat on the drums, then, I’d play that tape into another tape recorder while playing keyboard; then I’d take that tape and play bass guitar along with the drums and keyboard. I’d keep adding instruments. I did that for a long time until my dad bought me an 8-track, and then I continued recording music by myself, even if I was in other bands at the same time. Now my experience recording solo and my experience in bands have kind of united: I record music, and sometimes the other guys play on the recording a bit. This will change. The next album is going to be much more of a collaborative thing. Jay [Watson, Drummer ] and I are already writing a lot of songs together. In the end, then, Tame Impala gets marketed as a band, but it’s a little more complex than that.
R&G: Did you feel that the material you were recording at home was going to reach a larger audience?
Kevin: No, I didn’t know at the time. The only time I really knew that people were actually going to listen to the recordings was when we were making the album and after we got the record deal. We had an EP out, which a few people liked and it sold quite well, but that literally was just home recordings I’d done over the years; I’d had absolutely no intentions of anyone else hearing them. It was kind of weird to get feedback on the music, given that I’d never meant the songs to be heard by the outside world. All I’d really aimed for was to make music that I enjoyed and that my friends hopefully enjoyed as well.
R&G: You mentioned that your dad bought you an 8-track when you were younger. Was he a musician?
Kevin: He was – not by trade, but he played a lot of music as a hobby. He was a big influence on me.
R&G: What type of music did he listen to or turn you on to?
Kevin: His musical taste kind of penetrated me again a lot later on in life, when I’d gotten over the whole rebellious angst teenage thing, and when I actually wanted to start making melodic music.
R&G: Did he like Cream or the Beatles?
Kevin: He knew of Cream but he wasn’t really into them. He loved the Beatles and the Beach Boys, but the Shadows are a big one, because the kind of melodies in the Shadows are the ones that carried through into my music.
R&G: On the recent album, InnerSpeaker, you wrote and recorded and produced the entire album. Is it fair to assume that you’re a perfectionist?
Kevin: A little bit, but it was more just the fact that I didn’t actually know what the album was. I knew that there was some kind of magic to the recordings, and I didn’t know what it was about them that was holding the magic, so I was kind of afraid to deviate from that method on the album. I wanted to do it the way I’d always done it and get that out of the way so we could make albums how we wanted from then on. It was more kind of a fear of changing the method or having someone else come into the project in some way and then ruin it because he or she might give it his or her own flavor. In the end, I wouldn’t say that I’m a perfectionist, because there are mistakes all over the album.
R&G: What’s the meaning behind the album title, InnerSpeaker?
Kevin: It’s meant to suggest that the songs come from somewhere internal, rather than slowly taking shape with a bunch of guys jamming in a room. One way of writing a song is that you’ve got an idea in your head and build a song around that. Another is more of a collaborative thing: It starts out as nothing and gets put together with whatever happens. This album was very much a case of the former; it’s meant to give off the idea that the songs would be preserved.
R&G: Is it kind of like the “Solitude Is Bliss” lyric: “There’s a party in my head and no one’s invited”?
Kevin: That goes really well with the album. It wasn’t meant to have a theme, but the word “InnerSpeaker” seemed to fit the way I’d been doing the songs, because it had been mostly me and because I was kind of apprehensive to take other things into account when making a song. If I was going to do a melody in making a song, it had to be the first melody I thought of. It wasn’t allowed to be experimented on for a long time. Whatever was in the song had to be something that I’d originally conceived rather than something that developed along the lines of “see what goes”. That gives the album its character, but at the same time it gives it its limitations, because, for example, I’m not very good at thinking of vocal harmonies, so there aren’t many vocal harmonies on the album.
R&G: The label (Modular), I’ve read, gave you a decent budget to record the album and I understand you went on an eBay spending spree. What kind of equipment did you buy?
Kevin: I just bought whatever looked cool. I wasn’t given the technical low-down on what was to be spent on the album and what wasn’t, so I assumed it was just a bottomless pit of money that I could use, so I literally just bought anything I saw that looked cool.
R&G: You also recorded the album in a mansion? Is that correct?
Kevin: Yeah, it was this gigantic wooden house about four hours south of where we live [Perth]. It was on the coast in the middle of nowhere. Really nice house.
R&G: Did you guys do a lot of partying?
Kevin: Not really. I was quite focused most of the time. Most of the time it was just Dom [Simper, Bassist] and I. There wasn’t that much debauchery at all. We were pretty focused actually. It was only when the rest of the band came down and when friends came to visit that we actually partied on.
R&G: You’ve performed in Santa Cruz, Washington State, and Portland. How does the weed in the U.S. compare to Australian weed?
Kevin: I think it’s stronger, although, that said, we’ve been smoking larger doses here in the States. It’s hard to tell, given jet lag. But I would say American weed is great.
R&G: Santa Cruz is a whole different place in itself.
Kevin: I was told that, but I’m not sure where our weed originates. It’s hard to tell which weed came from Santa Cruz and which weed came from wherever.
R&G: It’s legal though, here, in California, and actually I think it’s legal in Colorado.
Kevin: We smoked outside our hotel room last night and I couldn’t tell if we were about to get handcuffed or if no one would care.
R&G: You’ll get handcuffed. You need a medical marijuana card. You have to be careful. You definitely don’t want to go to jail on your first US tour.