Aussie band Tame Impala just going with the flow
An awkward moment at a pal's wedding helped inspire a change in tack for Tame Impala. Kevin Parker tells Andy Welch why he hopes the band's third album will get people dancing
TAME Impala's Kevin Parker was at a friend's wedding a few years ago, when one of the other guests thought it would be funny to play one of the band's songs.
"The dance floor emptied," recalls Parker, laughing. "I mean just completely shut down. It was funny, but it was also an awakening for me. It made me realise there was a hole in the music that needed filling."
What started as a solo home recording project back in 2007, three years and a couple of EPs and singles on, Tame Impala released their debut album Innerspeaker. It featured in virtually every 'album of the year' poll going, with critics falling over themselves to praise the band's innovative take on psychedelic rock.
Parker and the band he recruited to tour became global sensations, winning even more accolades with the release of their follow-up, 2012's Lonerism. One song in particular, Elephant, gave them the radio hit they'd been seeking too, taking their sometimes heavy, swirling jams to a mainstream, worldwide audience.
Where Innerspeaker and Lonerism were in thrall to psychedelic rock, shoegaze and in parts even The Beatles' later work, new album Currents, however, heads in a different, more upbeat, disco-tinged direction. Parker explains he was listening to The Bee Gees a lot while writing and recording it, although he can't recall there being a dramatic shift in his approach.
"I'm always working on something, so pretty much as I was wrapping up Lonerism, I went into Currents. That's what I do, I occupy my brain by just writing stuff. There was no stop and start."
One thing he does admit to making a choice over is the album's more minimal nature, which gives many of the songs a newfound clarity. Where once Parker would bury his voice underneath reverb, effects and distorted guitars, it now sits on top of the tracks for all to hear.
"I wanted to do that, but I knew I was going to have to really force myself. For me, there's always a tendency to cover my voice," says the 29-year-old Aussie. "When the singer is the one mixing the music, that's always going to happen. It all depends on how confident or conscious of it you are, I suppose."
Confidence isn't something he's ever struggled with, although his, he says, is more the inward, rather than the braggadocio, kind.
"By the time a project is finished, I'm aware of limitations, but I am confident in my abilities. Not having that confidence, which leads to hesitation, leads to the end result not being as bold as it should be, and it lacks conviction. I can't let my confidence rule the roost though, that would be no good either," he adds.
"With regards to my voice, I really wanted people to hear what I was saying this time, because I felt that was a really important part of the record."
As for the newfound spring in his music's step, it was, to an extent, a case of ramping up what was already there; listen to Elephant and you'll notice an undeniable groove.
"I've always wanted to do more of that sort of thing," says Parker. "More than anything, it was waiting to find the right medium for that. Disco beats and really prominent basslines didn't really have a place in my music before, but now they do. And I guess there are fans who will follow the direction I go in, but that's not something I can really think about. Trying to second guess what fans would want is the road to madness."
Whether people will be dancing to Tame Impala's new album remains to be seen (although it's safe to say they will be). "We've played the new songs live a bit and there's not much dancing as yet – people are listening really intently when we play new songs, so we'll have to wait, but hopefully..."
One person not short on ways of making people dance is his good friend Mark Ronson. Parker appeared on Daffodils, a track on Ronson's recent album Uptown Special. The result was pretty special, showing off a different side of their creativity.
Despite the success of the collaboration, Parker doesn't think it's something that's likely to happen again, with Ronson or anyone else.
"I could do it on other tracks, but not with Tame Impala," he asserts. "I don't think it would be Tame Impala if it were produced by someone else but me. The way I produce the music is part of the way create it, it's one in the same thing for me.
"That said, Mark and I are really good friends, so that helped with Daffodils. I would really have to know the person to work with them. Mark's great at working with people like me, and an amazing producer. In all honesty, I really need a kick up the bum to get around to collaborating with anyone."
For now, however, he can't see further ahead than the two years of touring currently mapped out in front of him.
"I have just handed myself over now, given myself over to the machine. It's going to be touring, touring, touring," Parker adds. "My thinking is over, the machine is doing its work, and I just go wherever I'm needed."
:: Tame Impala play the Electric Picnic in Stradbally, Co Laois, Friday September 4 until Sunday September 6 (ticketmaster.ie). Currents is released today.