Tame Impala’s ascent to global stardom has come with a price – but Kevin Parker’s relentless creativity has found a path towards inner serenity.
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Kevin Parker is staring out of the window when Clash enters the room. In London for only a few days, he’s marvelling at the view, pointing out a busker with a huge crowd of eager onlookers around him.
“It’s just one guy,” he points out. “Must be some guy!”
It’s typical of the Tame Impala lynchpin that he never truly loses sight of the music around him. In conversation he’s refreshingly unpretentious and continually self-deprecating, forever making jokes at his own expense. Yet he’s also immeasurably focused - scratch the surface and one of music’s most probing minds is waiting to be discovered, with a track record that speaks for itself.
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We last caught Tame Impala live earlier this year, playing a mind-blowing set at a capacity-level O2 Arena in London. The blend of astonishing lights, a feverish crowd, and a muscular performance underlined the status the band now enjoy - once a bunch of psychedelic renegades from Western Australia, they’re now legitimate headline material.
“Yeah, that was fun!” he smiles, scratching his head at the memory of it all. “Shows like that are always highly anticipated for us, so it’s kind of just like… here we go! Flying by the seat of our pants.”
If the show was ragged around the edges it certainly didn’t show. There was just one thing missing, however: Tame Impala’s new album. Much delayed, ‘The Slow Rush’ will eventually appear next Valentine’s Day, almost a full 12 months after the London date. “Well...” he says amid pursed lips and a sudden intake of breath. He thinks for a moment, then shrugs: “We expected to have a new album by then. I wanted to. But it didn’t end up happening.”
It’s this divide between relentless creation and near casual exhortation that marks our conversation. Kevin Parker has pushed Tame Impala to astonishing heights, but it’s almost as if he doesn’t want anyone to know the effort it takes, the toll it exerts.
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Let’s start where they left off: 2015’s ‘Currents’ took Tame Impala to a daring new level, allowing the band - which started as a series of self-recorded demos Kevin Parker placed on MySpace - to ascend to international recognition. Calls from Lady Gaga and Rihanna followed, and the Australian musician found himself being crowned star prince of the new psychedelia.
“It’s actually more and more obvious how much music is a really good way of not ever having to grow up and become responsible,” he says. “It’s almost encouraged of you to not become grown up and responsible. It’s this Peter Pan thing. Being a musician, being a recording artist, it’s advantageous for everyone around you that you stay a space cadet. You don’t wise up and realise what’s going on.”
During his answer Kevin almost calls himself a ‘rock ‘n’ roll star’ before stopping, chuckling to himself, and giving Clash a cheeky side-eye stare. So, does he view himself as a rock ‘n’ roller?
“Well, we jokingly call ourselves ‘rock stars’ all the time, just because of the world that we are increasingly in,” he adds with a nod. “We joke about it constantly. It’s a constant source of humour. Take rocking up to a festival: we’re the only ones that get a shuttle around the place; everyone else has to walk. Like we’re higher up or something. But then we get into the festival, and we won’t be allowed the Wi-Fi password. It’s like: how big does your band have to be to be able to get the Wi-Fi password around here?”
Initially, Tame Impala were the outsiders, a crew of Aussie drongos who walked wide-eyed into this fanciful music world. “We’ll always feel like we don’t really belong to any particular scene,” he states. “I never really felt like that. Musically, and geographically, I guess. But… who cares?”
“Again,” he adds, “in a way, that’s kind of a blessing, because I don’t feel responsibility to be a part of any scene, or uphold any values of any kind of scene. Which I would imagine could be one of the most stifling things creatively; this idea that you have to please a certain demographic or a certain group of people. I could imagine being bogged down by that.”
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Refusing to be pinned down is one of the key elements that drives ‘The Slow Rush’. It could well be Tame Impala’s most diverse album yet, moving from the deeply physical drum attack of ‘It Might Be Time’ to some rather more considered, almost prog leaning elements. It’s a heady trip, one that shouldn’t work… except - somehow - it does.
“I would never have thought that this group of songs would ever fit together,” he says. “I’ve forced myself to try and not think about that. In my brain I like things to be consistent, and cleanly fitting together on an album, but I know I have to challenge myself because if I give in to what I think is clean and tidy then it’s going to be boring. And especially these days, I feel like now more than ever, an album by one artist could have 20 different genres on it.”
‘The Slow Rush’ owes a debt to the relentless touring that followed the success of ‘Currents’, but it also nods to the relentless creativity of the band’s studio whirlwind. Kevin Parker works constantly, using the spaces in his schedule - loading in, waiting in hotels, travelling on the tour bus - as opportunities to work more, to push himself harder.
“Touring is about 90% waiting,” he states. “There’s plenty of time to do it. Especially with technology. I bring my laptop everywhere.”
“I don’t subscribe to the idea that touring zaps your creativity,” he continues. “If you want to be creative, you can. Some of the times I’ve been the most creative is on tour. Because you’re stressed and out of your comfort zone. That’s when the best music comes to you.”
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There’s a real tension between anxiety and bliss on ‘The Slow Rush’, between the prolonged build-up and the explosive release. “I guess I’m somewhat of an anxious person,” he admits. “Since I was a kid, or since music was on my radar, I’ve used thinking of songs as a way of coping with a particular moment. Whether it’s being anxious or just in a bad spot.”
That isn’t to suggest that ‘The Slow Rush’ is an openly emotional feast, however. Leonard Cohen this isn’t - Kevin Parker knows when to count his blessings, and he’s certainly found a rare degree of balance in his life. A psychedelic satellite, his orbit continually takes him back to Perth, Western Australia, to the friends and landscapes he knows best. Indeed, he got married there back in February, and returns throughout the year.
“We’ve been close for a long time,” he says of his wife, “and we’re still really close. Going back to Perth is like re-centring. But it can also be difficult. It’s kind of weird going out to our favourite music venue for the first time, seeing all our friends, because everyone’s lives have moved on a little bit. You go back, you find out who’s got married, who’s moved on. Sometimes it can feel like we’re the ones being left behind.”
Left in stasis through the heightened experiences of touring, Tame Impala escape for these off-site forays, or to construct new material. Collecting the sketches he’d obtained on the road, Kevin Parker booked out some sites in Malibu and Perth, working entirely alone as a means of allowing these ideas to coalesce.
“The whole point is that I’m alone,” he says. “It’s such a magical time for me. There’s nothing around, there’s no one, and I can really just spread my mind. Have a party by myself, basically. In almost every sense of the word.”
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Pursing solitary paths, he simply loads up his car with as much equipment - and a little food, as well - as it can muster, and heads off into the desert. Of course, it’s never quite as simple as his glib yet gentle humour suggests.
“I have this thing - and I don’t know whether it’s a sign of being a perfectionist… I don’t think it is! But until I’m happy with something, it’s just a piece of shit. I can write lyrics and think they’re awful until suddenly they’re the best lyrics I’ve ever written. Not only the best lyrics I’ve ever written, but the best lyrics anyone
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Words: Robin Murray
Photography: Buad Postma
Fashion: Harry Clements
Creative Direction: Rob Meyers
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