Fri 21st May, 2010 in Features
The fairy-tale rise to fame of Tame Impala shares an intrinsic link to their potentially frivolous name. Impala’s are a notoriously flighty beast that roam the African savannah, thoughts of an Impala being tamed are intriguing.
Kevin Parker and Jay Watson explained that this is the vision they saw for the band, a moment of exuberance frozen and harnessed. “Imagine a wizard with robes and a staff, like, eye to eye with an Impala and it was frozen, tamed just for one moment, and then it was off again, wild and free,” explained Watson, his fixed stare and vehement hand gestures explaining so much more than words could.
Such is the nature of this band that even calling them a band, in the traditional sense, is far too simple a tag. It became abundantly clear that this is Parker’s recording project and for the most part it is a solo project. While his mates Watson and Dominic Simper have come along for the ride, offering their vocals and instrumental talents, it is his brainchild. “Yeah Tame Impala is my baby, but we all have our babies. The other guys all have their bands, and Tame Impala was never anything more special, it’s just the one that got a record deal,” says Parker.
Based in the less-than-urban surrounds of Fremantle the group have lived, worked and recorded together for years. “We were living together but the way we work isn’t how you’d imagine, it’s like i’ll be working on a section, Jay will be reading a book and Dom will be in the corner listening to his headphones. We do it compulsively at home, we just record all day, that’s one of our greatest strengths I think, creative recording processes,” says Parker. He hurriedly qualifies that the house isn’t some sort of blissful oasis of purity and light. “The house is more a crack-den, it’s pretty sketchy.”
Flashing forward to the end of 2009 and the groups surroundings are drastically different. A deal with Modular records has seen them get massive exposure and in a rare display of creative freedom, Parker was given the resources to move his studio into a weatherboard mansion in south WA’s Margaret River. “The house was like 20 minutes away from the nearest town, it was basically me and a couple of producers. The feeling of the surroundings and that house are definitely part of the album,” says Parker.
InnerSpeaker is the long-awaited full length. While the irrepressible riff of Half Full Glass of Wine got all of our attentions on the band’s debut EP, the album as a whole is a far more subtle production. It’s moments of brilliance come in intricate chord progressions and discordant guitars that don’t sound like guitars at all. “Yeah that’s how it was designed, it wasn’t meant to like smash you in the head when you listen to it. It’s far more blissed-out and flowy, even when it is heavy it’s still really mellow,” says Watson.
The album is an offering to be savoured and considered in varying moods and in different lights. “There are chord progressions and beats on it that are quite unique, they’re not just standard rock riffs, people are going to hear stuff that they’re not used to. It’s much more complex and subtle,” says Parker.
The album will be ravenously devoured and undoubtedly torn to shreds by a salivating fan base, but I was keen to hear if Parker felt he had faithfully reproduced the vision that he had had for the album. “There was lots of preliminary ideas and yes, vision, and we didn’t deviate very far from that. We had a lot of demo’s, some from five years ago and others only days old. We had a solid idea of what the songs were going to sound like.”
“I’m often quite apprehensive to start before I’m sure of how it’s going to be, and pan out, it makes me apprehensive to experiment with the construction. I was definitely really possessive of it being the first album, I was so focussed on it matching what was in my head, I didn’t want to experiment too much away from that vision,” says Parker.
“He didn’t experiment with what was in his head, but compared to pop music it’s way experimental, there’s lots of weird sounds and synthy guitars, which is quite experimental for guitar bands,” explains Watson.
Allusions to psychedelic bands of the 60s are a lazy way to describe the groups sound, but it can’t be avoided. While Parker and Watson agree that they enjoy listening to music from that era, it is a much broader swathe of sounds from which they take inspiration, “We’re not too concerned with looking like we’re from the 60s, we take things from those sounds that other bands haven’t really done, different sounds.”
“The thing we like about the 60s is the feel of the song and untapped emotional melodies. We’ve more been influenced by electronic music and hip hop and German Kraut rock. I challenge people to find bands that have the same chord changes and melodies that we have, I’d love to hear them, there aren’t really any specific bands that you can say we sound like, which is what a lot of people try and do. You listen to the bands you like listening to,” says Watson.
So will the Tame Impala experiment keep going? “From the start I felt this was going to be the last Tame Impala album, yeah the first and the last, because my methods of working on this album couldn’t keep going, they felt quite self-destructive, because there was a little bit of tension with roles in the band. There was lots of talk about recording an album with a bunch of guys that were all meant to be in the band, but there weren’t roles for everybody. I’ve moved on from that, it doesn’t matter because we’ve all got our own side projects, and I realise that now,” explains Parker.
“A lot of people feel that their band is the be all and end all, but this band is just a recording project. It’s not such a big deal.”
Tame Impala’s InnerSpeaker is out now through Modular