Interview: Tame Impala's Kevin Parker on his personal, danceable new album Currents

Interviews, Sasquatch
Jacob Webb
photo by Matthew B. Thompson

There's always drama with Tame Impala, according to frontman and band mastermind Kevin Parker, but this time, it's only relative to the backstage amenities: the refrigerator holding their beer is leaking. But considering that Parker and his bandmates have their light show and all of their gear – which hasn't always been the case at Sasquatch –  the Perth-based musician will accept the fridge as the day's hurdle. Sipping one of the still-cold beers with his bandmates a few hours before the band's set at the 2015 Sasquatch Music Festival, Parker sat down with KEXP to discuss the recording and release of Tame Impala's new album, Currents, his growth as a singer, and his 2013 (sorta) collaboration with Kendrick Lamar.KEXP: Did you hear that Jamie xx put “Let It Happen” in one of his mixes?

Kevin Parker: Yeah! My girlfriend couldn’t wait to tell me.

Hearing that happened kinda reinforced my first thoughts about the tracks that we’ve heard from Currents up to this point – "Let It Happen", "Cause I'm A Man", "Eventually", and "Disciples" – which is that they’ve been kinda dancey, you know? “Let it Happen” has that four-on-the-floor beat, and “Cause I’m A Man” is kind of a slow jam.

KP: I wouldn’t have called that one as dancey.

[Interjects drummer Julian Barbogallo]: Although people have been dancing to that one a lot at gigs. For real.

KP: That’s true! They’ve been kinda (*wiggles shoulders*) putting their shoulders into it.

Do you think that these tracks are representative of the rhythm of the album?

Sure! Although, I think one of the big goals for this album was to make sure no two tracks were alike, so it didn’t really matter which songs were going to come out in any other. Either one was going to be as accurate or as misleading as a representation of the album. At the same time, you’ve got to keep them guessing. [laughs]

Until a month-and-a-half, two months from now, at least.

Yeah. An excruciating two months.

I’m curious: why the gap in between all of these tour dates and the release of the album? The record didn’t even have a release date until after you guys had been on the road for a little bit.

These tours started getting booked in anticipation of me finishing the album, but before I was actually finished with it. And it came down to the wire and I said, “I’m just not done here.” So we have all these festivals and shows that we wanted to do, but either way, the album was going to be out in time. We basically just said “fuck it”, put out the songs that we wanted to play for this particular run. It was either that or play the same songs we’ve been playing for the last two years, which didn’t seem like the most exciting idea.

You recorded the songs on Currents primarily by yourself, just like the previous albums. But considering how much touring you did behind [the band's second album, 2012's] Lonerism, was there more recording on the road or did you just wait until you got back home to Australia?

Yeah, mostly. Whenever I’d think of songs, I’d whip up a demo wherever I can on whatever I can, so in that way, I guess it was similar to the last album. Sometimes those songs were when I was at home and sometimes it was at the beach. The songs never really reflect where I was at the time. The main difference is that I bought a house and set up my own studio in that served as a central place to work on the music 24/7.

Considering that you did a fair amount of work on the album alone in your home, and looking at track titles like “Same Person, Old Mistakes” or “Yes, I’m Changing”, it makes me wonder if the album is focused thematically on personal growth or personal experience.

Yeah! I mean, they’re all really personal albums. I don’t think that I’d be able to do an album, especially a Tame Impala album, that wasn’t close to my soul. But yeah, that’s the idea of the album: Moving on. I feel like the last two albums were quite closed in, quite static. Even the names – Innerspeaker, Lonerism – were sort of [pauses] stationary, you know? So this one I wanted to be flipped the other way.

Another thing that I think really stands out on these new tracks is the vocals. They seem to be, at least in my opinion, hitting a little more directly, a little less buried. Like the moment on “Let It Happen” where you sing “tell my mother I’m sorry” right before the breakdown or all of “Cause I’m A Man”. Were the vocals approached in a different way on this record?

I just finally forced myself to put them in the mix and make them the center of the songs as boldly as I’ve always wanted, but never had the courage to. I’ve always been very shy with my own vocals, and on the last albums, they were all reverbed and delayed. It wasn’t so much a creative choice so much as it was me finally having the confidence in what I was singing about and the melodies that I’d chosen. I basically made myself put the vocals as loud as they would be on any other song that I’d listen to where I’d want to hear what the song has to say.

Do you feel more confident as a singer overall now?


And is that the result of spending the last few years singing songs to all of these people?

Definitely. It’s taken a good, uh, (laughs), 15 years or so.

I was reading your Reddit AMA and you mentioned confidence there as well, and how that relates to becoming a bigger band. Something else that was brought up in your AMA was that you used to draw quite a bit.

Oh yeah. Definitely.

Obviously you’ve had a big hand in all of your artwork to date, but seeing as how you’ve grown more confident in your singing across the last few years, would you ever be interested in drawing your own album artwork?

Well, I’m not a great graphic designer, but I always like to be behind the artwork, you know? I mean, the second album cover was just a picture I took. But yeah, I like having a graphic designer take care of that.

You guys have some history with Sasquatch. You were here in 2010 as a last-minute addition and 2013, which was the show where your gear got delayed in Spain.

We were just talking about that today! We totally forgot about that whole whirlwind of drama, but it had an amazing outcome. We got our gear back and got to play. It was really fun.

You guys went on pretty late at night. And on one of the smallest stages too.

Oh yeah! I can’t even remember what time it was. I remember that we got the word that we definitely weren’t playing, so we just started drinking as we would after a show. (the entire band laughs) And then eventually someone came up to us and said, “you’re on in half an hour.” (laughs) But it ended up being one of the most fun shows we’d done for a while.

But today’s show doesn’t have as much drama. All of your gear is here, right?

Yeah! (laughs) But there’s always drama. That’s just part of what we do.

Do you have your lights today?

We do. That was actually the drama yesterday. We thought we weren’t going to have a video screen, which is becoming more and more important in the show. And then we got the word that Kendrick [that night’s headlining act] was using his 40’ x 10’ LED screen which didn’t fit our dimensions. But we ended up just appropriating our visuals for his screen, so it worked out.

It’s interesting that you’re borrowing his screen because, not too long ago, you two did that track together.

Oh yeah! (pauses) That was a weird thing, to be honest. I think it was kinda a put-together thing for a movie. I didn’t have much of a part in it.

Listening to the track, which is mostly him rapping over your instrumentals, my understanding was that it wasn’t the result of you two in a room together.

No. Far from it.

Were you happy with the outcome?

Yeah, it was cool. I really respect Kendrick as an artist, so it was really a buzz to hear his voice on top of my song.

[At this point, the door to the trailer opens and a repairman says that he’s here to fix the band’s mini-fridge]

[into the recorder] We’re experiencing some technical difficulties. [vocalizes muzak-style melody]

So that today’s drama?

[grins] Yeah, you know. It’s always something. Fridges leaking… It’s crazy backstage with Tame Impala.

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