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Tame Impala: “Without Error It Would Just Be Too Perfect And Clean”

A chat with Kevin Parker, leader of the Australian band, about synthesizers, Led Zeppelin, working alone, and vintage cameras

We spoke to the leader of the group after the release of the highly acclaimed “Lonerism”, about the gestation of the album, the importance of synthesizers on it, the creation of its cover art, why he prefers to work alone and what it is that he finds so fascinating about Led Zeppelin.

Tame Impala’s life has changed a great deal in only two years. Now, after the release of their second album, “Lonerism”, they have become one of the most highly respected bands on the indie scene overnight, on their own merits (even though their debut was heavily applauded by a much smaller public). Some of the advantages that they have found are having the possibility of recording the album in different studios all over the world, having Dave Fridmann (The Flaming Lips, Mercury Rev, etc.) in the mix, and even getting a legend of experimental rock like Todd Rundgren to remix one of their songs, “Elephant”— how that happened is something that even they themselves don’t know (“You’ll have to ask the label”, says their leader, Kevin Parker, about this unusual collaboration).

After trying to contact him twice for an interview (the first attempt failed because he got carsick and the second time he was still asleep), we spoke with one of the masterminds of new psychedelic rock shortly after he woke up. Besides chatting about the gestation of “Lonerism”, the importance of synthesizers on that album, and the creation of its cover art, the influence that Supertramp had on him came up, as well as why he prefers to work alone, what fascinates him about Led Zeppelin, and a possible Kylie Minogue LP produced by him.

This quite a varied album, with lots of sounds, lots of layers and surprises— would you say recording it in several cities had something to do with this?

Maybe, I guess so. But I mean, the reason it’s so layered and there are so many things in it is because I like to make that kind of music. I like to think that the environment doesn’t have that much to do with the results of the music. I think the fact that it was recorded in different studios made it sound more diverse, with different ways of recording, which make different sounds. But the reason it’s so layered is simply because I love to do music that way.

There are a lot of electronic sounds in this album that sound very organic. Is your studio filled with synthesizers?

Yeah, I’ve got a few synthesizers. I’ve got new ones, old ones, but must of them are from the 80s.

How are you going to transfer all these electronic sounds to the live set?

Ummm… we have a few keyboards on stage. We sampled the synthesizers; we can play them on the keyboard and have the same sound. It’s very exciting to have new ways to play live. It sounds very different from the past. It sounds really good, I think!

"When you listen to a Dictaphone recording you feel like you are a fly on the wall listening to life go by"

Although this record has a lot of electronic sound, it relies a lot on guitars, an instrument that is somehow reviled nowadays. But your music makes us believe once again in guitars.

Guitars have a different sound than synthesizers, a different kind of feeling. Synthesizers are like laser beams and guitars have so much more passion, you can hear someone strumming a guitar, it’s so much more rhythmic and expressive. They are both two good things that work very well together. Yeah, I’ll never give up on guitars because they have this kind of feeling in them.

There’s a strong use of the Dictaphone here. What do you find so attractive about its functions?

I just like to record sounds of people doing things and life. It just has this kind of candid feeling. When you listen to a Dictaphone recording you feel like you are a fly on the wall listening to life go by. It just makes the music so much more atmospheric.

You write and record most of Tame Impala’s music, but with Pond you are in the studio again. Why do you prefer to work mostly alone on this project?

Well, just because I think I’m the most creative and expressive when I’m alone. When I’m recording music with other people it’s all about collaborating, having friends and doing music together. But for me, to be truly, truly expressive, I kind of have to be alone.

Many people will say that your obvious influences are The Beatles or Pink Floyd. Are there any bands that influenced the sound of “Lonerism” that we couldn’t have expected?

Mmmhh… I’m really not that influenced by The Beatles. I mean, I think it sort of comes out accidentally. I’m more influenced by The Flaming Lips, it’s a really big influence of mine. An unexpected one would be Supertramp; I really love “Breakfast In America”, their big one.

There is some Flaming Lips sound here, but mixed with sweet melodies. Did Dave Fridmann have something to do with that, or are these some sounds you’ve always had in your head?

Ohhh… It’s a little bit of both, I think. I usually come to Dave and ask him to do these particular things. I have this sort of idea for a sound. It’s influenced by the music that he’s worked on, it’s influenced by him. I’m trying to get sounds that he gets on his own, I sort of try and get them on my own and make them sound a little bit different. And then we get him and we let him mix that sound. I guess it kind of just works like that. Obviously he had a lot to do with it.

“Elephant” is one of my favourite songs here, but it also seems misplaced, as if it isn’t much in tune with the sound of the rest of the album. Why did you decide to include it?

Well, because it’s different from the rest of the album. It changes… it sort of divides all the kind of washed-out dream-pop. It’s good to do in an album a song that is different from the rest. Definitely.

"The imperfections are such a big part in art and music and love and everything"

Would you say isolation is the basic idea of the album?

The feeling of isolation, not necessarily isolation itself. Because most of the songs are about people. It’s about feeling alone, not being alone.

The iTunes Bonus Track is called “Led Zeppelin”. You really sound there like Robert Plant and there’s a “Trampled Under Foot” vibe there. What was your aim with this song?

Just to make a really fun song. It has a really cool groove and I love the guitar, it has something that really makes me think about Led Zeppelin, so that’s why I decided to call it like that. I get a kick out of making songs that have kind of the same things as Led Zeppelin. Each part of Led Zeppelin’s songs is really amazing: the guitars, the drums and the bass… So I decided it would be fun to make a song that would be like a homage to Led Zeppelin. Robert Plant is probably not the best thing about Led Zeppelin, as singing it’s not that inspiring. I really like the drum sounds, John Bonham playing, and the bass.

The album cover features a photo you took in Paris. Would you say photography is one of your big hobbies?

In the time I took that picture I was obsessed for a few months about taking photos with this new camera I bought. I stopped recently because I have to get some more film. I really like to take photos.

Do you have lots of vintage cameras?

No, just one. A Diana F.

I find the error on the upper right corner of the album cover like a nice addition to the photo. How much error can we find in your music?

I think it’s an important part. It makes things human. The imperfections are such a big part in art and music and love and everything. Without error it would just be too perfect, it would be too clean. You have to show marks of imperfection to make it more human.

You produced a record by your girlfriend, Melody’s Echo Chamber. Is collaborating something you will continue to do in the future?

Yeah, maybe, if the opportunity comes up. I’d love to do it again. I just want to make good music. I don’t really have a goal or an objective. Just doing things you love.

We can definitely see your hand in Melody’s Echo Chamber’s music, but has Melody somehow influenced this record?

Mmmmhhh…. Yeah, I guess so. But it is really difficult to say. It’s hard to pinpoint. But definitely she has influenced me. She plays me new music and tells me about Serge Gainsbourg, things like that.

How did you get a legend like Todd Rundgren to remix “Elephant”?

I don’t know, you’ll have to ask the record label. We wouldn’t know where to start in getting Todd Rundgren. It is amazing that happened, but it wasn’t because of us. It was crazy when we knew about it, we couldn’t believe it.

Many of the Australian bands come from the Melbourne scene. How would you describe Perth in a musical sense?

You just have to imagine a lot of people making music together. People working together and making music together. It’s just one big blob of people making noise. Bands can exist for one day or one week or one year. The name of the band is almost somehow irrelevant. It’s more about having fun.

Any particular band we should hear?

The Silents are really great and have been around for a while. Also Frozen Ocean. Those ones are my favourite.

You said earlier this year that you had seven songs written for a Kylie Minogue album. How’s that going?

Well, I just write them when I feel like it. Sometimes I love them; sometimes I think they are terrible. I just do them when I have time. There are songs that are totally sugar-pop. Groovy commercial pop. A little bit too pop for Tame Impala, so I keep them for different projects. Maybe you’ll listen to them one day, maybe not.

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