Kevin Parker, the solitary writing and recording force behind Australian psychedelic rock band Tame Impala, has always been a bit of a loner. But for a dude whose first two albums – most of which he recorded himself – are called Innerspeaker and Lonerism, he’s got a next-level ability to amplify his mind-expanding melodies to the masses.
We’re sitting on the roof of the Zero Hotel with Kevin’s touring bandmates – Jay Watson, Dominic Simper, Cam Avery and Julien Barbagallo – at the edge of the Primavera festival site in Parc Del Forum, Barcelona, Spain, and the band are popping some beers in the Mediterranean sun. It’s the Friday night of Primavera – one of the most revered events in Europe’s vibrant festival scene – and Tame Impala are about to headline the main stage alongside international indie-rock titans Phoenix, The Postal Service and Animal Collective.
If 2010’s Innerspeaker drove a tie-dyed pitchfork into the saturated pop landscape and rallied a diverse fanbase that ranged from Odd Future’s Tyler The Creator to The Kills’ Allison Mosshart and every psych superfan in between, 2012’s Lonerism changed the whole tectonic game. Voted ‘album of the year’ by influential music mags Rolling Stone and NME, Lonerism sent shivers through all kinds of listeners from the first cosmic chants on ‘Be Above It’ to the last trippy keys on ‘Sun’s Coming Up’.
Kevin may shy away from the limelight but later when Tame Impala push their wall of sound out to thousands of thirsty people in front of the swirling Primavera ferris wheel, it’s hard to imagine that every giant song finds life inside one normal-sized head. So what makes Tame Impala resonate with so many people? We had a chilled chat up in the clouds as the crowds descended on Parc Del Forum for another euphoric night on the concrete.
Are you excited to play Primavera?
Kevin: Very. I’m actually really looking forward to it. I don’t think we’ve every played facing the water before. Festivals are a totally different vibe from playing gigs. Just more free and easy. There’s a totally different expectation. Festivals aren’t about just you, they’re about everyone. You’re just one little piece of the puzzle. It’s more of a variety show.
Your music is so personal though. Do you find it weird sharing it with so many people in that way?
By the time you get up on stage the whole thing about music being quite personal evaporates completely. When you’re writing it in the studio or something it’s very personal but by the time you’re on stage with all the people in front of you it just feels like the music belongs to… it feels like it’s part of something bigger than just you.
Who are you looking forward to seeing at Primavera?
Jay: I want to see Fuck Buttons and Death Grips, they’re playing back to back. Death Grips are apparently pretty outrageous. It’s like really awesome, agro punk hip hop.
What would make the show good tonight?
Jay: Not fucking up! It’s Cam’s first show. I just keep telling him that most people don’t even know the difference between a bass guitar and a lead guitar or that bass guitars even exist so I keep telling him that no one’s gonna care if he stuffs up anywhere. Also I love stuff-ups because no bands stuff up because they practise so much and tour so much. You want it to sound really good, and the songs really good and a few stuff-ups. Instead of like crappy sound, crappy songs and no stuff-ups.
Are you writing new stuff at the moment?
Kevin: Sort of. Not super consciously. I haven’t really given much thought to that but I’m going to.
Are you still splitting your time between Paris and Perth? What affect, if any, does Perth have on your music?
Kevin: I’m not living Paris anymore. I only lived there for a year. Perth is amazing. I love Perth. We all love Perth. It has a really amazing scene.
Has it changed since you guys blew up?
Kevin: Not really. There’s a couple more bands with long hair but that’s about it. It goes on the way it all has.
Is everyone pushing everyone else creatively?
Kevin: I wouldn’t say anyone’s pushing anyone.
Jay: More like ripping off [laughs]. I’m the most prolific ripper offerer.
K: Nobody in Perth cares. No one in Perth is gonna ‘make it’ like in Melbourne or London so they don’t care. People there have a pretty well-tuned bullshit detector so if any band gets up and starts playing and it’s obvious they’re trying to ‘make it’, everyone’s like, ‘Ah this stinks.’
Jay: I reckon there are a lot of bands in Perth that would be the hippest, greatest, best band ever if they lived in London or New York and they would be hyped up and everyone would know about them and they would be reviewed but no one cares what jacket you’re wearing in Perth and that’s the way it’s always been. We got super lucky. There’s only a couple of bands that have made it out of Perth to tour and stuff.
Why do you think it’s got that hype-proof vibe?
Jay: It’s funny I think it’s just hard to be a poseur at some small bar in the suburbs, it feels weird. But I guess it kind of works if you’re playing a cool venue in a big city. You just have to go home and let your friends tease you about being a rock star. When you see people acting like that it makes you realise that you don’t wanna be like that. Like when you watch bands and they do things you don’t identify with. You learn what you don’t like.
What bands do you like at the moment?
Dominic: I really like that Solange album, Beyonce’s sister. That’s amazing. She’s amazing.
Jay: That’s probably the best thing I’ve heard in ages.
Kevin: I really like that Father John Misty record, by John Tillman. He’s incredible. He played one of the best shows I’ve ever seen in my life. I saw him play in Perth.
Jay: I always look forward to the Unknown Mortal Orchestra albums and the Ariel Pink albums.
What are Tame Impala fans are like? Seems like you have a diverse following?
Kevin: Absolutely. There’s no typical fan.
Jay: “There are the old people who think we’re bringing back the ‘70s. [Laughs] And the little babies with the cute ‘rock’ earmuffs you know? Babies and granddads.
Do you think there’s something universal in your music that makes you appeal to so many different types of people?
Kevin: No, not necessarily. I like to think that Tame Impala’s music has different layers. Which means that you can take it at a surface level, and it’s a pop song like Britney Spears or something, which is awesome, or you can dig much deeper and there’s a lot more to find out.