WALKING into the backstage room at KL Live, we find Tame Impala frontman Kevin Parker slouched on a couch, looking a bit worse for wear.
The band had just finished soundcheck, and there wasn’t much time left until their show later that night. Immediately after they finish playing, they would have to board a plane to Japan for their next gig.
It’s a schedule that reflects the Australian psychedelic rock band’s growing popularity. They’ve already performed at some of the world’s most popular music festivals, from Coachella to Glastonbury.
But they’re not just popular with festival-goers; they’ve also received critical acclaim.
They’ve bagged two Grammy nominations so far, and their last album, Currents, received glowing reviews. Parker played all the instruments on Currents, and he writes and produces most of Tame’s music.
Lucky for us, we were able to score a one-on-one with Parker ahead of the band’s hotly-anticipated gig in Kuala Lumpur as part of the Urbanscapes arts festival. Here’s how it went down.
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How would you introduce Tame Impala to Malaysian audiences who might not know you guys?
Well, we’re Tame Impala – there’s not much to say there. “What kind of music do you play?” is always the hardest question to answer. Like, honestly, I have no idea what it is. I kinda just wait for other people to tell me what we sound like, you know what I mean?
The words people have used are “dream pop”, “psychedelic rock” – although I wouldn’t call us rock – or “neo-psychedelic dream soul”. Those are some of the words I’ve been complimented by.
A lot of people describe Tame Impala’s sound as unique. What inspired that?
I guess everything I’ve ever listened to, which is a lot (laughs)! Because for me, what kind of music I’m drawn to make is a subconscious thing, so it could come from anywhere, really.
You must have very unique taste…
Not at all! I have pretty common taste. But things just find their way into the music in weird ways. Like, I’m equally as influenced by something I love and listen to every day as I am something I just heard in the supermarket. Things just come in unexpectedly.
I like to think they come from the heart but I guess you want a better answer than that.
What’s your process like when you’re composing a song?
I have a vague idea, starting out, because melodies come from emotions, like wanting to express something that can’t be put in words. So I like to think that every emotion has millions of possible melodies. Every feeling you have from a particular situation has a melody to it. Every mood has a song you can play to.
The kind of mood differs from album to album. With the last album I was feeling kinda strange but optimistic. When I’m feeling a particular way or something has happened to me, if I write something true to it, then people can identify with it.
It can’t be easy trying to come up with something new and unique all the time. How do you do it?
It would be hard if you were trying to sound unique. If the only purpose of coming up with a new song is for it to sound like nothing you’ve ever heard before, it would be impossible. It’s not the kind of thing you can force. I hope what I do is unique, but as long as whatever you do is true to you, it’s going to be unique.
When I was much younger, I didn’t know as much about music. I was 16 and I loved The Strokes and all I wanted to sound like was The Strokes. So back then, everything I played had to sound like them. If it didn’t, it would feel like a sacrifice.
This is your first tour of South-East Asia. How has it been?
Amazing! Going to new places is always exciting. I feel like I’m seeing a part of the world I’ve never been to before.
I’ve only been in Malaysia for 12 hours so I haven’t seen much, but we went and had a drink last night and had some dinner and stuff. It was pretty fun. The sky’s a crazy colour, I don’t know if that’s smog or dust or what.
If I were here for a couple of days I’d probably be able to tell you a little bit more. That’s the problem with these kinds of tours. They just go by so quickly.
What was your first tour outside of Australia like?
It was four to five years ago. We played in London. I’ve been playing music all my life and I only left the country when we got our first record deal, and that was after we released our first few albums. Tame Impala had been around two to three years before that.
It was one of the strangest feelings I had ever felt. There was a line out the door and people had already heard about us, which was so unexpected. This famous English comedian that our band had always loved, Noel Fielding, came to our first show in London. We thought we were dreaming.
So what’s coming up for Tame Impala?
The album cycle is rolling on. There’s a bunch of countries we are going to after this. As for me, I make music all the time. When the time comes to make new music, I’ll do it.