Between making his initial forays into songwriting at the tender age of 12 and the arrival of his first eight-track when he was just 16, Parker would make music by recording himself over and over again, scientifically working out how melody functioned by layering himself over and over. By working solo, he was able to construct a world that was all his own, giving birth to the inward-looking fixation suggested by titles like ‘Innerspeaker,’ ‘Solitude Is Bliss’ and ‘Lonerism’.
From an early age, he found that engaging with the world at large didn’t seem to be as fruitful for him as it was for others and he valued his own company and that of close friends high and above a room full of other humans. Since starting to tour the world, though, he’s had to develop a more pragmatic approach. “It definitely beckons the closed off part of me out of myself, if that makes sense. It makes it harder to be that closed off person, especially as it’s been so long that I’ve been doing this. Your brain kind of works out how to deal with it,” he explains. “The first few years I was doing it, it was so confusing for me. Even the outside world – and other people – talking to people all the time, it was too much for me. That was kind of how [album number two] ‘Lonerism’ happened; it was just me kind of expressing the frustration of being in this world with lots of people and I just can’t cope with it. That’s what the album is about. It’s not about being physically alone,” he says, keen to avoid misunderstanding. “It’s about being alone in a room full of people.” It has, thankfully, become gradually easier to deal with the realities of his current life. “I started to realise that staying that closed off, and walking around with my fingers in my ears and my hands over my eyes…” he says, trailing off. “It became more energy consuming to block out the world rather than to allow it to come into me and to allow myself to be a part of it. To remain detached was more draining.”
That tunnel vision meant that early attempts to translate his recordings to a live setting proved challenging. For all intents and purposes this is Parker’s solo project, despite the fact that he repeatedly refers to Tame Impala as ‘we’. Although bassist and long-time collaborator Dom Simper contributed to ‘Innerspeaker’ and Jay Watson played drums on that album and keyboards on a smattering of ‘Lonerism’’s tracks, Parker has written virtually every note, played around 99% of them and produced everything. He says: “We’ve got the conversion path down now but in the beginning it was confusing. I was confused about what the live show was meant to be.” There was a central contradiction, he admits, in what he was trying to do. “I wanted it to be a band. I’ve always loved the idea of being in a band. But at the same time I wanted the songs to have the same vibe, the same feeling as the recordings, which to me, I thought meant that all the players would just mimic my style. I told Jay to just play drums like me, you know?” Parker is able to see the funny side now, and relations have improved, but it didn’t always look like it would turn out that way. “That caused a lot of tension,” he says. “He’d do a drum fill and I’d be like, ‘Maybe just do the drum fills on the album.’ So we had a lot of arguments in the early days because we were just confused about what it was meant to be. But now I kind of know. Now I realise that it’s a completely different thing to the album. It’s so much more to focus the energy on setting up the song so that it doesn’t really matter how you play it, it’ll still sound cool.” As he reflects on a thankfully more sanguine working relationship it’s clear that he’s spent a lot of painful hours into getting his head around the concept. “Me on the album is just me multi-tracked a hundred times but playing live is just five guys playing all at once, that’s all we’ve got. So knowing that I’m a lot more at peace with it. I’ve embraced it.”
It’s exactly that self-reflexive bent and the underlying tension between the private animal and its social counterpart that has given Tame Impala’s work its uniquely ultra-personal, self-contained feel. Whether writing love letters to the space within his own mind (‘Solitude Is Bliss’), wrestling with the chore of existing in a world full of people (‘Why Won’t They Talk To Me?’, ‘Let It Happen’), or zooming in on the glorious details of the world’s tiniest objects with imagistic focus (‘Half Full Glass of Wine’, ‘41 Mosquitoes Flying in Formation’), the themes that Parker draws on and the almost claustrophobic perspective from which he writes evokes the Romantic poetry of Wordsworth and the transcendentalism of Whitman for its obsession with the self versus the outside world. “It’s something that my music has always pointed towards. The music and the lyrics I write are always self-explorative – if that’s a word,” he says, hesitating. “I’m not even sure why. Maybe it’s because the music that comes out of me seems to beckon that kind of message. But at the same time music, for me, has always been a very important part of self-questioning and working out who you are. For me making music is kind of a therapy. It’s the equivalent of lying down on a sofa and talking to a psychologist.” It’s nice, I suggest, that we as listeners get to reap the benefits of his self-administered psychiatry. “When I put it like that it sounds quite selfish,” he smiles. “Just publishing the results of my therapy.”