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FILTER 49: Getting To Know: Tame Impala

By Laura Studarus on November 21, 2012


FILTER  49: Getting To Know: Tame Impala

Tame Impala’s frontman Kevin Parker isn’t a mad scientist—he just plays one while at home in Perth between tours. “I’m inventing a surround-sound omni-guitar,” the Australian says of his off-duty activities, before catching himself and declining to say more. “It’s going to be awesome, trust me.”

Ostensibly a solo artist (onstage he is joined by Dominic Simper, Jay Watson, Nick Allbrook and Julien Barbagallo), Parker is adept at channeling the creative burst that comes from isolation—be it making music or instruments. Recently, the musician completed Lonerism, his second album under the Tame Impala moniker. Despite the neologic title, Parker assures that his intent was to create more than a mere exercise in introversion, even if he’s been known to hide away in a self-described “lair” while writing.

“It’s about the contrast between yourself and other people,” he offers up on the album’s central theme. “In that way, it really is about the outside world and the ways of interpreting it, which is described as ‘lonerism’—what that’s like, and what the outside world is like when you have that particular property in your blood.”

Photo by Maciek Pozoga

More adventurous than Tame Impala’s debut Innerspeaker, Lonerism’s vibrant tone was influenced by a stint Parker spent producing now-girlfriend Melody Prochet’s solo project, Melody’s Echo Chamber. “She was the one who encouraged me to try really fucked-up stuff that I wouldn’t normally try, like putting weird digital distortion on the drums,” he recalls. “I’m shy; I want to stay in the realm of vintage production. But she was really looking boldly to try really random things.”

The shift in approach resulted in a vibrant, lava-lamp-like explosion of sound, as Parker’s propensity for retro-futuristic harmonies joined forces with a host of unexpected sonic choices. Through and through an upbeat, psych-pop affair, the album contains songs like the Technicolor-jam “Elephant” and its syncopated stomp, as though attempting to approximate the titular pachyderm; likewise, “Be Above It” captures the intensity of the quintet’s live performances—a chanted chorus driving its Beatles-through-the-looking-glass ambience.

Sandwiched between the billowy layers of sound are mysterious bits of spoken word—souvenirs from Parker’s nearly two years of touring behind his band’s debut. “It’s like taking a picture,” he says of his habit of collecting sound clips. “For me, sound is more potent than imagery. If I’m in a room somewhere—even if it’s dead silent, just the wind blowing—and I hit record, I play it back a month later and remember what it was… Maybe just because there’s so many photos in the world, they’ve lost their potency.”

In addition to sound clips, Lonerism is also infused with very of-the-moment reflections. Parker points to “Apocalypse Dreams,” where—despite his best intentions—the collective conscience’s fascination with 2012’s alleged fate got the better of him. “It kind of permeated my dreams,” he recounts. “I kept having these recurring dreams about the world ending. They had such a unique emotion to them. The song isn’t actually about the apocalypse, but it’s about feeling like you’re on the verge of this big change… It’s this feeling that everything is shifting and then realizing you’re back at square one.”

He laughs at his overly analytical description, noting that he’s not about to restrict a listener’s takeaway, nor is the project a result of some sonic therapy session (even though, he assures, he’s holding up his end of the conversation while lying in bed in Perth—the next best thing to a psychiatrist’s couch).

“This album has a child-like emotion to it,” the 26-year-old clarifies. “It’s quite simplistic, really. The emotions and the feelings have that kind of youthful thing to them. The wonderment of being young, as opposed to being overly intellectual and adult.”

While still counting himself among his best company, Parker is incredibly cognizant that his work has found a place in its own corner of the cultural landscape. “Making the album from start to finish, it ends up being something you pour your heart into completely,” he says. “I know there must be some people [for whom] Tame Impala is an important thing. I don’t want to let them down. They value Tame Impala in the way that I value it. It’s good music that’s meaningful to them. If I let them down, I let myself down.” F