The Weekly interview: Tame Impala leader Kevin Parker

Tame Impala plays Brooklyn Bowl Thursday night.
Matt Sav

Your tour kicks off in a couple days in New York, so you’re going from LA, where you are now, to New York, then back to LA, Vegas and then Oakland. That’s a crazy tour schedule.

Trust me, coming from Perth [Australia] every time we tour, it’s nothing. The flight from Perth to LA was like 26 hours in total, so we’re kinda used to the whole flying bit. Nipping from LA to New York is really just a walk down the street. We’re doing pre-production in LA for a few days. I’ve got this new light show that I made. I just wanna test it out.

What does the light show entail? I don’t know how to describe it. It’s more interactive. The lights are locked to the sound. The lights flash and dip and pulsate to the music, you know? I just love it when vision syncs up with audio, mixing the senses kind of thing. I just do whatever I can to get that.

Did you design the show yourself? Yeah, I kinda just had to take a crash course and learn along the way. I’ve been doing it kind of blind. I just cleared out one of the rooms in my house and just did it in that. I had to order all the lights from Sweden ’cause they’re secondhand. It’s just been this giant, blind sort of crash-course science experiment. So we’re testing that today.

A lot of people skip over Vegas, and you only have a couple West Coast dates before you head to South America. How did Vegas land on your tour schedule? I think it just sort of happened. That seems to be the way it goes for a lot of our tours and gigs.

Is this the first time you’ve played here? Yeah. We went there between Coachella shows, but we never played there. I didn’t even know that small bands played in Las Vegas. I just thought it was, like, Celine Dion and stuff. It was pretty crazy.

I don’t know if it was tongue-in-cheek, but I read that you kind of have a desire to sound like Britney Spears, who, by the way, has a residency here. Today is actually Britney Day. Wow. Well she deserves it, I guess. She’s worked hard.

Yeah. So what’s that quote about? Do you actually want to sound like her? When I try and extract what it is about my music that I do or love or try to create, I’m never aware of it at the time, I just make something. Tame Impala is kind of psych-pop. It’s a bit f*cked up, it’s a bit crunchy and it’s a bit dreamy and wavy or whatever, but it’s got this sickly sweet pop aspect to it. It’s not that it comes out sounding like Britney Spears, but if you got a big bucket of crunchy psych-rock and then got an eye dropper of pure sickly sweet candy and dropped it in, you know, just put a few drops in, then that’s what you get. There’s other ingredients, like pure, undiluted Britney Spears kind of pop put in with the rest of it.

I read that this was supposed to be a rest year for you guys, but instead you’re out touring. What happened? It’s kind of just what we end up having to do, because we don’t know how to do anything else. Even though it’s only me that records music in Tame Impala, everyone else is always doing things in other bands. Half the guys in Tame Impala just finished their last tour and are starting their Tame Impala one today. That’s why we’re doing pre-production in LA. Half the guys finished their Pond tour in LA. So we’re literally just starting from where they left off.

What’s the scene like in Perth? It’s active. We just spend a lot of our day dreaming up new things to do. Not even dreaming up new things to do not because we want to have 11 bands, but we don’t really know how to think about anything else. I think as we’re growing up we’re getting better at focusing, but it’s still just in our blood to have several musical [projects].

[2012 album] Lonerism has had a bit more commercial success than previous albums. What’s that been like? It’s hard to say. I’m the worst judge of that because I don’t really know how much commercial success [we’ve had], especially in the states. Our manager said “Elephant” is still getting played a lot on radios around America, which is good to see. I guess there are other songs that I wish would be getting [played] on radio, but I’m grateful. I didn’t even know it was still getting played on radio. I’ve just been in Perth. A lot of the stuff just goes over my head.

Back home, are you known as the town’s rock star or do you still fly under the radar? Two years ago we were totally under the radar. Now, just in the area that I live, or even generally in Perth, I think I’m kind of just a bit of a local hero. If there was some guy that, like, rescued some guy from a shark attack, from then on everyone would know him as the shark hero—that’s his thing, you know? Like, Oh, give that guy his coffee for half price because he’s the guy who saved the guy from the shark attack.. That’s kind of how I feel about music. I’m like the musical shark attack guy.

You make all the music yourself first in the studio, then you work with your bandmates to fine-tune it for tour. How does the live show differ from the recordings? Do you use backing tracks? Are certain instruments left out? I think you’ve just gotta approach each thing individually. We’ve never used backing tracks—I still make a stand against … well, not a stand, I don’t really care if bands use backing tracks, whatever. For me, I’m just too bad at remembering the details of lengths of parts of songs, so if we had backing tracks it would be a recipe for disaster.

So are there more improvisational moments where the music just kind of takes you, or is it more true to the recordings? I think we try to keep as much of the [recordings] as we can. The sad truth about that is, if you play every day for a year, it’s almost impossible to do something different every time or allow the music to take you to do something unique for that day. After a while, the human brain takes security, it’s comforting to know what you’re going to do. That said, it is a lot more of an organic experience than the album, because the album was made by me, just in the studio, multi-tracked then layered together. If we play that as a live act it’s going to sound more like a band covering those songs. Maybe that’s the best way to look at it. It’s like I’m in a band covering Tame Impala, and coincidentally I’m the guy who made the albums as well. (laughs)

I read that recording and creating Lonerism took two years and pretty much drove you insane. Are you going through a similar process now that you’re working on a follow-up? Definitely. As the albums go on, I’m learning to accept that’s just how it has to be. (laughs)

It has to drive you crazy? It does. Especially for me, because I’m so insular with how I do it. I don’t open up to a lot of people while I’m doing it. If I do, I start listening to what people say about it or I start hoping they’re going to compliment me about a new song or I start ultra-sensitively tuning in to how people react. Maybe I’ll be super-happy that they said it was great, for like 24 hours. I feel like a crack-whore for compliments sometimes, you know? I’m just like “Ah, come on! Give me some compliments!” (laughs)

Ironically, it’s what you search for, it’s what you kind of want when you play people your music—you want some outside perspective, some stability. But it’s kind of the opposite. So in the end, you just have to do it and accept that you’re not going to sleep. (laughs) You may just lay awake all night wondering what the melody for the next section should be or whatever. I guess that’s just part of making art, allowing the insanity to completely overtake your brain. You just have to let it overtake you.

After the West Coast tour you’re going to South America. Is there a time frame for when this album might come out? Or are you still in the writing stage? Well, for me the writing and the producing and the recording and the mixing is all one big process, it’s all one big creative blob for me. So with that in mind it’s kind of hard to be able to say when it’s going to be finished. I could imagine that it’s going to be finished in a couple of months, [but] I don’t know. I want to have it done by the end of January, but that’s just on my side. I have no idea how long it will take after that to get released, because there’s all that record-label stuff.

You guys were accused of plagiarizing Pablo Ruiz, which turned out to be a joke, but it went viral. What was your reaction? I thought it was funny until it went on for longer than, like, a day. Then I was just kind of like, “Really?” It was just one of those things that hung around. It was, like, you know when someone tells a funny story and then keeps telling it and you kind of get sick of having to hear it? Or sick of it being something that is in the consciousness of people? I still don’t know if the guy was serious or not. It was all translated from Spanish, you know? I figure maybe he was joking and the translation made it serious, or he was serious and the translation made it joking.

Tame Impala with Delicate Steve. November 13, 8 p.m., $33. Brooklyn Bowl, 702-862-2695.

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Leslie Ventura is a staff writer at Las Vegas Weekly and Industry Weekly. She’s picked the brains of rock stars ...

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