Tame Impala on "Brain-Squelching" Music, S.F. Psych, and Trying to Make Guitars Not Sound Like Guitars
Though it hasn't quite reached the level of recognition achieved by histrionic Aussie blooze-rawkers Wolfmother, Perth's Tame Impala seems poised to deliver its lush, tuneful brand of psychedelia to a global audience. Led by guitarist, singer, and songwriter Kevin Parker, the band shared some common ground with Wolfmother's epic riff stomp on its debut 2008 EP, occasionally hinting at what Cream might have sounded if George Harrison ditched The Beatles to join Clapton and company.
Tame Impala performs at Outside Lands this weekend.
By the time Parker put the finishing touches Tame Impala's first full-length album Innerspeaker two years later, the band's sound had evolved into a far subtler creature. With elements of shimmering dream-pop and hypnotic drone helping put a modern twist to Parker's mind-expanding vision, Innerspeaker earned its place on plenty of year-end Best Of lists. The band's meticulously layered sound also made Tame Impala a live favorite with a string of sold-out headlining shows and a celebrated appearance at Coachella last year.
Parker and the newly expanded five-piece line-up of Tame Impala return to the Bay Area this weekend, playing Outside Lands at 1:50 p.m. Saturday afternoon on the festival's main Lands End stage. All Shook Down caught up the guitarist last week shortly after he arrived in the U.S. for several North American dates, including an appearance at Lollapalooza in Chicago, to discuss Tame Impala's forthcoming new album, Lonerism, (out October 9 on Modular Records), playing festivals, and San Francisco's psychedelic heritage.
It seems kind of unusual that the first thing you're doing when you come to the States for these festival shows is a one-off with The Black Keys in Iowa of all places. How did that come together?
Well, they asked us actually. We'd played with them before once or twice. They played in Perth once and we supported them. And we played Coachella with them. So we've met them a few times. They liked the band and asked us if we wanted to do it, and we were coming anyway for these festivals. And we always love being a support act, because it gives us a chance to relax and not be the main focus; to just kind of get up there and have fun and experiment and not feel the pressure of everything going on around you.
You've added a touring member to the live band. Was the show at Splendour in the Grass last weekend the first public performance with this line-up?
That's right. We came out guns blazing [laughs]...
I found a recording posted on the Tame Impala fan Tumblr and it sounds great. The additional keys give you an even fuller sound that's getting into Flaming Lips territory. The cover of "International Feel" by Todd Rundgren provided a real "holy shit!" moment for me. I was listening and thinking it was familiar, then it hit me exactly what it was. Your version was dead on.
It took us a long time to nail that one in practice. It's actually a really complicated song musically. We've always completely frothed over that song.
That whole album is just bananas.
Yeah, for sure. And we could never understand why no one has heard of it, so this is us trying to expose the greatness of A Wizard/ A True Star to everyone.
Will you be including any other surprises like that on this tour?
That one of the only extracurricular songs we do in the set, just because it flows nicely from the song before it, which is "Lucidity." It's kind of just a fun thing to stick on the end and finish the song with a blow out, you know what I mean? To finish the song epically [laughs].
How do Australian festivals like Splendour in the Grass and Big Day Out compare to the American counterparts like Coachella that you've played?
The audiences in Australia know our songs a bit better, because we've been playing around there for longer. The only real difference is people kind of collapse a bit more there [laughs]. I mean, American audiences still get into it, but for some reason, the Aussie audiences have more of a kinship with us; like we belong to them a little bit more. There's that home blood relationship. Maybe that's just how I feel.
To get into your new material, of the two songs I've heard, "Elephant" seems closer to earlier, riff-centered songs from your EP and demos. "Apocalypse Dreams" leans more towards the dreaminess of Innerspeaker. Would you say the balance of Lonerism lies somewhere between those two sounds, or does the album go somewhere else altogether?
I think "Elephant" is probably an anomaly on that album. There are no other songs that have that bluesy riffing. That's kind of why we put out "Apocalypse Dreams" before "Elephant," because we didn't really want the first thing to come out to be too misleading. The rest of the album is pretty psychedelic, with melancholy melodies and sounds. I guess it's a lot more like "Apocalypse Dreams." But at the same time, "Apocalypse Dreams" is pretty different as well.
One thing the two songs have in common is more prominent use of keyboards. Does that run through the whole album?
Yeah. The album is pretty sparse on the guitars. I mean, there are guitars on almost every song, though some songs have no guitars at all. I think on this album, we used the guitars more as this thing that suddenly comes in. It's like, "Oh shit! There's a guitar now!" On "Apocalypse Dreams," I think the first guitar comes in at the third minute or something. There's no guitar until then, which was definitely an experiment with this album. To try to make pretty rich psychedelic music without relying on guitars, you know what I mean?