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Tame Impala

The Psychedelic World Of Kevin Parker By Tom Doyle

Tame Impala

No two Tame Impala albums sound the same — but they've all been driven by the same experimental ethos.

Over the course of nine years and four albums, Kevin Parker, trading as Tame Impala, has made huge sonic leaps from his 2010 debut Innerspeaker's modern reimagining of '60s guitar-based psychedelia to the electronically coloured, kaleidoscopic pop of The Slow Rush in 2019. Growing from a bedroom project to one now operating out of Parker's elaborate beach-facing studio in Freemantle, just outside of Perth, Australia, Tame Impala remains a solo recording project, but expands live to a five-piece band.

Parker has chalked up two Top 10 albums in the UK and the US with The Slow Rush and its 2015 predecessor Currents, which successfully located the unexplored middle ground between Pink Floyd and Michael Jackson. At the same time, the 34-year-old has earned a well-deserved reputation as someone deeply involved in audio experimentation, through what he's previously described as the "juxtaposition of sound quality", mixing high-end sonics with lo-fi.

When SOS connect with Parker in Freemantle via Skype, with Western Australia in lockdown and all of his touring postponed, he is back to doing what he loves the most, namely spending all of his days and nights recording. "I feel as if I've been tooting my horn about loving working in isolation my whole career," he grins. "Now that this whole thing's happening, I have to go and put my money where my mouth is."

As Tame Impala's success has vastly increased, so has Parker's collection of gear, with his studio now equipped with an array of vintage preamps and compressors and a Studer 963 mixer. While having an inherently rebellious attitude towards accepted engineering techniques, he admits he's now doing things more by the book, as well as continuing to bend and break the rules.

"I rejected those kind of accepted techniques, but I've been interested in them recently," he says. "Just because it's something new. I was afraid of learning new things, from a narrow-minded perspective. Or just because I didn't want it to sound like how everyone else's albums sound."

Kevin Parker at his studio near Perth, Australia.Kevin Parker at his studio near Perth, Australia.

Epiphany

Kevin Parker's fascination with recording was sparked by his discovery, at home at the age of 11, that he could record himself playing drums on to a cassette using the family hi-fi system. Then, in a crude form of overdubbing, he'd tinker around on a Casio keyboard as the drum tape played in the room, recording the combined results onto a second cassette deck.

"I didn't even know how to play keyboards," he stresses. "I was playing with, like, one finger. But I had this kind of epiphany, listening back to myself playing keyboard over the top of drums. I just thought it was so magical. Also, because, in my 11-year-old naivety, I thought I was the first person to ever have done that (laughs)." At 16, he was given the gift of a Boss BR-864 8-track digital recorder by his parents. "I was cleaning some stuff out in the shed the other day and I came across it," he says. "It's the first time I've held it in my hands in years. It was almost kind of emotional, 'cause it's got bit of gaffer tape on it, and the dirt around the record button.

"There's no other piece of equipment I have that I've used as much as that thing. Like, just every day, every night, with a pair of headphones. I was using the EQ and compressor without even knowing what those two things were. Just spinning the dial."

Two years later, at 18, as the guitarist in a band who came second in a competition, winning a day at a top Perth studio, Parker became instantly disillusioned by the experience of working in a professional recording facility.

"We were making kind of like '60s music," he explains. "And it sounded like absolute crap. I guess from then on, I always had the na?ve opinion that if you did it like everyone else did it, it'd end up sounding like that. So, I kind of shut that whole world out and just did it myself."

As Tame Impala, Parker first began uploading home recordings to MySpace in 2007, signing to Sydney-based indie label Modular Recordings the following year. Given the budget for the debut Tame Impala album, Parker began buying up bits of equipment, upgrading to the Boss BR?1600 digital 16-track and recording the live-band-sounding album alone — aside from drummer Jay Watson on two tracks and bassist Dom Simper on one — in a secluded beach shack.

"It was kind of scary," he admits. "I was like, 'Uh oh, I've got to make something commercially viable on what is essentially a...

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Published July 2020