INTERVIEW

Kevin Parker remains still in the eye of his own incredible psych pop storm.

Tameimpala

The two times I speak with Kevin Parker when interviewing him for this piece, he is on the verge of achieving British musical milestones, although he seems almost completely oblivious to either of them. On the first occasion I arrive at 5.30pm at the Leadmill in Sheffield to find two young girls camped out outside, sat scooped under an umbrella on the freezing concrete and under an unrelenting stream of rain. They giggle under the canopy, sipping booze they have syphoned into a plastic water bottle; they talk about Tame Impala lyrics, discuss how excited they are about the gig and listen to songs from ‘Lonerism’ on their phones. They are the embodiment of teenage fandom, and frankly the last thing I expected to see at a Tame Impala show – it’s an early indicator to me of just how big this band has mushroomed.

“They’ve been here since 8am,” Parker tells me. “I brought them out that umbrella as I didn’t want them to get wet.”

As we sit backstage in the venue he and his band have sold out, I tell Kevin it’s been sometime since I’ve seen a band as relatively new as his sell this place out. He initially smacks of indifference, but I soon realized that the relaxed nonchalance he oozes is just his way – he seems very rarely aware of anything that is going on directly outside of his musical and creative realm. The two night prior Tame Impala fill Manchester Ritz and Brixton Academy, too, a feat that many young British bands will never achieve, let alone a relatively freaked-out psychedelic pop outfit from Perth, Australia.

The crowds are getting bigger and one would think the weight of expectation that comes with it would grow too, but again it’s something Parker shrugs off. “It’s more inspiring to be yourself,” he says. “It’s more of a challenge to be yourself on stage. It’s easy to be a rock star on stage in front of five thousand people, it’s easy to play up to that. But to actually play on stage as though you’re playing with your friends in a garage, to have that feeling when you’re playing, that is what I want.”

For any casual or avid radio consumer, it has been difficult to avoid Tame Impala this year, their glam-stomping, prog-pop hit ‘Elephant’ has proven a gateway for many into the band. “I had no idea it was getting radio play,” says Parker offers, “but I have trouble imaging that ‘Elephant’ would be a radio hit.”

With the success of the song and the sudden selling out of large venues in mind, I ask if Tame Impala run the risk of being one of those bands filled with loquacious idiots, just there to here the ‘hit’ single? “That’s a pretty scary thought,” says Parker. He pauses for a moment as though it’s the first time he’s had to possibly view his artistic output being consumed in such terms. “I mean, you hear of bands having a really big hit song and the crowd not knowing any of their other songs and then leaving after the hit and that is a nightmare, an absolute nightmare. I would hate for that to happen.” When the band hit the stage later that evening, nothing could be further form the truth, as the swelling and bursting crowd lap up the entire set in rabid frenzy.

For most, Tame Impala’s 2012 would have been something of a head-spin, not for the project’s founder and creative polymath. Kevin Parker’s feet have remained firmly on the ground, even if he is currently homeless due to his hectic schedule. “Yeah, I don’t even have the time to find a house at the moment,” he says. “I’m just floating around on the tour bus with my bag. Hopefully when I have some time off in December I’ll find a room where I can put all my stuff, instead of it just being in boxes at my manager’s house. Then, after that, I can get started again.”

He means making new music, of course.

“Although I have to stop myself from advancing too quickly,” he adds. “If I get too into it, too quickly, I’ll have to wait like three years to put it out. Which is a painful thing – it’s excruciating to finish a song and know that it’s going to be two years before the record label even want to release it.” Parker is never as animated, geared-up and garrulous as when he’s talking about the creative process. Everything else almost seems somewhat extraneous to him.

In terms of the band’s sudden surge of popularity (2010 debut ‘Innerspeaker’ was certainly acclaimed but not enough to prevent many from presuming that this year’s ‘Lonerism’ was the group’s first LP), Parker seems not so much mystified as plain disinterested. “I have no idea how to gauge popularity,” he tells me, although he does attempt to offer why ‘Lonerism’ may have hit a nerve with so many listeners this year.

“For me it’s a pretty emotional album,” he says. “It’s personal and exposing. I made a concerned effort to not hold back on saying something I felt like saying, if it was too fragile or something. I focused on not having cool lyrics, talking about doubting yourself and things like that. So maybe it’s a lot more fulfilling and meaningful than the usual kind of meaningless pysch lyrics, which I get nothing from. Exposing myself is a lot more gratifying.”

The second time we talk, Parker is sat in his hotel room after sound checking for that evening’s indie dream booking, Later… With Jools Holland. In two hours he’ll return to the studio to perform live in front of millions of people. Is he excited? Once again he seems almost blasé and almost a little unaware of what’s going on. “Erm, I’m not really anything at the moment,” he says. “I don’t really tend to think about things like that until after we’ve done it.

“I’m pretty jet lagged,” he says, noting that the band have just touched down from a U.S. tour that led on from their slew of European shows that included that visit to the Leadmill. I ask if 2012, a year of touring and no doubt millions of interviews, has finally taken its toll? “Errrrrmmmm,” comes an elongated Aussie drawl. “It comes in waves – you recharge yourself after a while. Once you submit to feeling shitty and hungover a lot of the time and powering through it, you tend to be in a better state to deal with it. It just becomes a part of you,” he laughs.

Parker is clearly someone who relishes in his own company (one must remember Tame Impala is a solo project until it hits the road), although constant touring hasn’t sent him west. “I mean, I’m with my best friends,” he says. “I don’t really have many friends outside of the band and I tend to live in a Tame Impala bubble for most of the part. But as for being on your own, you just adapt, you take what little alone time you get can, in the shower, sitting on the toilet,” he chuckles.

We hang up phones and Parker heads back to the BBC to kick some baggy life back into Jools Holland. As if to perfectly cement his intention of playing with friends in a garage, he doesn’t even bother to wear footwear. Playing barefoot on national TV, in an fashion that perfectly mirrors his personality, what may appear lackadaisical and ambivalent is, in truth, anything but. Tame Impala may not realise they’ve had an extraordinary 2012, but I think it’s fair to say everyone else does.

Originally published in Loud And Quiet 44. Read the issue in full here.

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