EIGHTY-NINE: So you’re on the final leg of your tour and heading back to Australia?
KEVIN PARKER: Yeah, I’m going back in a couple days.
EIGHTY-NINE: How do you decompress after touring? What do you do for fun when you’re home?
KP: I like to go to the beach and just veg out, but I mean, even when I’m not doing music I’m thinking about it. Music has always been my escape, even though music is my profession now, and there are so many different worlds within the world of music. If writing songs and producing is sort of bugging me out, I can do simple things like rearrange my studio, think about new bits of equipment I can get—it’s therapy for the other types of music that can wear on me.
EIGHTY-NINE: Perth is somewhat of a smaller, isolated area on the west coast of Australia. Why do you still live there?
KP: The way I’ve always worked is just so insular, and I’ve always appreciated living in a place that’s separate to the rest of the world. We’ve been on tour so much the last few years that I get my fill of what’s going on. Perth, it’s where I grew up—when I’m at home it’s kind of like being on holiday.
EIGHTY-NINE: So if part of what you like about being home is that you’re away from everything, how has having so much success and having so many fans affected you?
KP: A lot, obviously. You can’t help but let it change you. Becoming a successful artist just drags me kicking and screaming out of the shadows that I dwelled in previously. I was a pretty closed-off kid—I’m not sure if I was born that way or if I just like didn’t grow out of teenage angst or whatever. I’ll always be me, but it just forces you to be a people person.
And musically, it’s made me more open-minded. I had like tunnel vision when I was younger, you know, like, “These are the things I love, that represent me; these are things I hate, that represent the people that I don’t associate with,” which is such an innocent way of thinking.
EIGHTY-NINE: And how do you keep yourself grounded?
KP: Well, it’s who you surround yourself with, but at the same time, I think there’s kind of a romance to not keeping yourself in check.
EIGHTY-NINE: Are you justifying being a diva? Are you a big diva?
KP: I am kind of justifying being a big diva! Not to say that I am—I’m obviously not, but I also think, from a producer point of view, the entertainment world needs big egos. I don’t think everyone should be down to earth, you know? I mean like Kanye West—Kanye wouldn’t be Kanye if he wasn’t saying outlandish shit all the time. I think if people want to be like that or need to be like that to produce the kind of art that they do, then they should go ahead. I mean obviously don’t be a dick, but it’s the entertainment business.
EIGHTY-NINE: Having a bunch of egos in a band, though—how do you do that?
KP: We do pretty well. I mean like we’ve never been a big ego band. Actually, we’ve never been a band per se.
EIGHTY-NINE: One of the most astonishing things about Tame Impala is that it’s a one-man show but then you have a live band. What’s the dynamic? How does Tame Impala work?
KP: Well, we’re all super best friends and that helps, because it takes all the talking out of it. I literally just give the guys the album. They all listen to it and then we all listen to it together. Then the guys all pick up what their role in the overall sound is. I don’t think we see it as like particular musical roles like lead guitarist or something. It’s like, “Who wants to play the drums? I’ll play the drums!”
EIGHTY-NINE: Are they all like you, where they all play a variety of instruments?
KP: Yeah. Most of us can do a bunch of stuff just because that’s how we grew up, making music.
EIGHTY-NINE: But you record everything yourself? And then you and the band practice together for the actual shows and that’s where they come in?
EIGHTY-NINE: That’s so unique. It’s only more recently that you’ve said Tame Impala isn’t really a band; it’s a solo project. Did you not want people to think it was just you when you first started out?
KP: I guess subconsciously when I started I didn’t think it would be interesting if it was just me, and I also didn’t think there was a platform for people making music on their own. There were electronic guys that made music on their own and then there was rock music, and that was a different thing, you know? I didn’t think anyone would take notice of me if I just said “Hey guys, I made this song.” I just assumed record labels wouldn’t care, people wouldn’t listen to it, and so I called it a band basically. Even the first names I came up were like “The Somethings.” We had the live band anyway, but the songs that I put on MySpace were literally just me recording myself in my room, and I would post a picture of all of us.
It took me a long time to drum up the courage to tell anyone that it was just me, and at that point it almost felt egotistical. I thought I was taking something away from the others, but in the end I just realized I was ignoring the unique thing that I have going on. I could dream up a song on my own.
EIGHTY-NINE: It’s pretty extraordinary that you were able to create in a vacuum. Look at all the great musicians throughout history—Mick Jagger had Keith Richards; you do it all by yourself. Romantically, it’s almost like you’re a painter.
KP: You know, that’s kind of how I justify why I do it like that. You wouldn’t want like Michelangelo and some other dude and some other dude using all their paintbrushes at once; you want someone creating a universe, you know. That’s the analogy.
EIGHTY-NINE: Do you have people you go to for perspective?
KP: Oh yeah, totally. After I’m about halfway through the album-making process I’m usually having a near mental breakdown. At that point I just give everything to Dom [Simper] to listen to. He’s the one in the band I’ve known the longest. We met when we were 12 or 13 because he was the other guy at school that played guitar. We instantly bonded as soon as I got over my jealousy of him being a better guitarist than me. We were really good friends and would play together throughout high school and I’d show him my songs and stuff. Dom’s cool. I can trust that he’ll give me a brutally honest opinion of what my music sounds like.
EIGHTY-NINE: How did you get started making music in the first place? What was your childhood like?
KP: I had a weird family; there was lots of breakups and divorces and remarriages and kids and kids from other marriages. The first 17 years of my life, my family life, were like a soap opera, and I just got closed off. You know what I mean? But yeah, my dad loved music; my mom loves music too. My dad was a musician—not by trade, but he played in a band, and he was always playing the guitar around the house, so I always looked up to that.
EIGHTY-NINE: Did you learn how to play the guitar from him?
KP: Yeah! I learned drums first, though. That was the first instrument I learned, when I was 11.
EIGHTY-NINE: Just taking classes?
KP: Yeah, I got lessons for a year and I had to stop because I moved, so my dad taught me guitar. He taught me a few chords; basically he wanted me to play along with him playing the Shadows, a surf-guitar band from the ’60s. That’s how I got my sense of rhythm, playing rhythm guitar while he played the lead. And then I pretty much just discovered guitar tabs on the internet—which is like a dumbed-down music notation. I learned all my favorite songs on guitar. I was just addicted, and that’s how I got started.
EIGHTY-NINE: And how about the piano?
KP: I had this little Casio keyboard. My dad just had a lot of musical instruments laying about the house.
EIGHTY-NINE: So you taught yourself?
KP: Yeah, I quickly got obsessed with the idea of recording myself playing. Like we had these standard hi-fi cassette decks, and I recorded myself playing drums one day, and then I played like the keyboard along to it—I literally could not even play with more than like two fingers—but I just thought it was crazy that I was jamming with myself! It blew my mind. So I hit record on another tape deck, and then I played that one in the background and started layering myself. It was barely even musical, but the idea that I was making these …“sounds” I guess is the most elegant way to put it, while sucking at every instrument. I just liked that I was making something.
EIGHTY-NINE: How old were you then?
EIGHTY-NINE: Did you share what you were making?
KP: We had a band at school. We would jam out, play covers at our yearly school festival, and I’d just spend all year dreaming of that day because that was the only platform I had to play music. We never recorded as a band; we didn’t know how to do it. I had my little tape decks, but that was more my private thing, you know? Which is kind of still the way I do it, except it’s not tape decks but essentially it’s the same thing. And then with the rock band, the band side, it’s still kind of the same thing as well.
At some point the worlds kind of intersected because I put my songs on MySpace—I even made CDs and sold them for $2—but we weren’t playing the music that I put online at the shows we were playing so we had to learn those songs. It was kind of the first time the two worlds interacted.
EIGHTY-NINE: That’s so cool. It’s crazy you’ve been doing the same thing you were doing when you were a kid, but just in a, you know—
KP: Totally, yeah, a slightly more evolved manner. It’s cool now that I say it out loud; I always thought it was quite boring.
EIGHTY-NINE: Who are your musical heroes?
KP: Growing up I literally listened to like bits of everything—Nirvana, Muse—my whole music world is kind of tossed up in the air now, but Serge Gainsbourg is a big inspiration for me. This guy Max Martin, I found out about him and realized how much of a titan of the music world he is, and that almost no one knows about him, except for people in the music industry. He’s like the Darth Vader of pop.
EIGHTY-NINE: It’s funny you mention him, because pop music is generally seen as not as “cool” as other genres, probably by virtue of it being for the masses. As your music becomes more mainstream and popular, how do you maintain your cool factor?
KP: I think as long as you’re honest. I guess people’s negative perceptions of pop culture are that it’s dishonest and that the alternative world is the real shit. Like they’re making music for music’s sake, and like pop culture is about glamour and success and fame. I started with that same opinion, but you only have to be backstage at a few festivals to realize it’s all bullshit. There are the most keeping-it-real dudes you can imagine that are absolute dicks, and there are the pop stars that are great people and genuinely more into music than maybe the indie people, you know what I mean? It’s kind of cheesy to say, but things aren’t always as they seem.
EIGHTY-NINE: And you recently collaborated with a huge pop star, Lady Gaga. How did that come about?
KP: I was asked if I wanted to work with her on the album, and I thought the idea was way out! I was told what the vibe was, sat with it for a couple days and then recorded a 30-second demo piece. Gaga really loved it so I went to L.A. to write the rest of the song with her, and it quickly became this close musical relationship. It made me realize that the pop world, if it’s done well, is no different to 15-year-old dudes jamming out in their garage.
It was the first time I’ve written lyrics with someone. It was weird because all those conversations me and Gaga were having were conversations I’ve always had in my head because I’ve never shared lyrics.
EIGHTY-NINE: Was that liberating for you to actually work with someone on the lyrical side of things?
KP: Extremely, and it’s immensely fulfilling as well to write for other artists. It’s like the creativity without the responsibility.
When I’m writing for Tame Impala, it’s like there’s a lot on my shoulders, especially these days. I know that a lot of people rely on Tame Impala as their favorite band.
EIGHTY-NINE: And what do you hope people take away from your music?
KP: I just think if it’s good enough to be the soundtrack of their day, to things they attach memories to—maybe a first breakup, or a seventh breakup—that’s the biggest privilege. To me that’s when music is the most powerful, when it’s attached to a memory.
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