Their Laneway gig will be one of Tame Impala’s last for a while and frontman Kevin Parker relishes his unplanned future.
The Australia/New Zealand festival series will be the last hurrah for the Perth-based indie superstars as they wrap up touring for their 2015 album Currents. The man behind the moniker, Kevin Parker, admits it could feel a little strange.
“I really don’t know how that’s going to feel because in the past, the album cycles haven’t really ended with a bang, or even ended decidedly. They just sort of peter out. But this time it really is a bookend,” he says.
“I’m glad it’s happening at Laneway. There will be tears and cheers, and emotions will be running high. I think it’ll be quite weird, but not without a sense of accomplishment.”
There’s a lot to feel proud of: not only finishing a monster world tour that’s taken up most of the last 12 months, but also making an accolade-grabbing album which turned Tame Impala into a global phenomenon.
Currents appeared near the top of many 2015 “best of the year” lists, won multiple ARIA Music Awards, a BRIT Award, a Grammy nomination, and to date has sold approximately 470,500 copies worldwide – which is a startling achievement for a psychedelic, alt-rock band.
Parker may still find himself stopped by security as he wanders around backstage at his own shows (as happened in London earlier this year), such is his unassuming nature, but there’s no doubt Currents made Tame Impala one of the hottest bands in the world.
Yet Parker is only just beginning to feel as though he can appreciate the songs that have been so successful.
“When you first finish an album, they [the songs] sound like anything but a song really – they sound like a combination of melodies and words and ideas and structures and chords. It’s hard to appreciate a song for what it is when you’re working on it. So a year later, it’s great to be able to come back to it and almost hear it like it’s someone else’s song, and I really enjoy that. I enjoy hearing them in a new context I hadn’t really considered at the time… like looking at old photos of yourself. It’s very enlightening.”
But just as he’s rediscovered an affection for his songs, and found some new perspective on them, Parker has decided to give Tame Impala a break. The decision might seem odd at first, but given the other opportunities that have come Parker’s way of late, it makes a lot of sense.
“This album was a real door-opener for me. It’s funny, but I kind of knew it would be, just because of the way I was making songs, the way I was producing it. I sort of sensed that it wouldn’t just be an album that came and went. I had a feeling that it would take me other places.”
Those other places have included the world of pop, as he delves into new producing and co-writing gigs. Rihanna covered the band’s track ‘New Person, Same Old Mistakes’ on her album Anti; Parker has been working with Lady Gaga on her just-released album Joanne; and his burgeoning friendship and collaborative relationship with British superstar producer Mark Ronson has been a key development too.
Parker and Ronson have been friends for a number of years, after discovering a mutual appreciation for each other’s music.
“Mark has definitely been a key dude in this whole new path for me. The first time I ever heard a song of his, I fell in love with it. That was ‘Bang Bang Bang’, and I had no idea who he was or anything – I was drunk, at someone’s house, and they were playing the song, and I immediately demanded that the song be played on repeat for the next three hours or something horrific. I was just like, ‘No, we’re not listening to anything else!’ I think I actually went and apologised the next day,” he laughs.
“But then we happened to be playing at the same festival, which I was excited about. We met backstage and he told me he was a fan of our last album, which was amazing. And the rest is history.”
Parker ended up working with Ronson on his 2015 album UpTown Special (which included the Bruno Mars collaboration ‘Uptown Funk’), adding a certain psychedelic flavour to tracks such as ‘Daffodils’. And it was Ronson who called Parker up to see if he’d be interested in working with Lady Gaga – it immediately piqued Parker’s curiosity because it was such unfamiliar territory.
“I had no idea, really, what she was like or what working with her would be like. It was a world of my imagination and wonder, and so when Mark asked, I just had about a million possibilities jump into my head,” he says.
“I think one of the first things he told me was that she was doing something really different to her earlier stuff, and she was keen to change things up. But I wasn’t sure if that was his way of trying to convince me or steer my mind away from the world of crazy electro-pop – I was totally cool with that anyway, I would’ve been up for that.”
Gaga’s first, head-turning single, ‘Perfect Illusion’, was the result of her collaboration with Parker, and revealed their mutual appreciation for Fleetwood Mac.
“She’d started to cultivate a few ideas about this character she was writing about, if you know what I mean, the essence of what she wanted to say. And I think the way Mark initially described it to me was, ‘Like Stevie Nicks but more S&M.’ So that made me even more intrigued,” Parker laughs.
“But I guess that turned me onto writing some quite Fleetwood Mac-style melodies – I’m not sure if you can immediately pick that in the song, but if you imagine Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks singing ‘Perfect Illusion’ at the same time, I think you can kind of imagine it as a Fleetwood Mac song – with a Gaga stamp, of course.”
It’s clear the experience has given Parker a hunger to do further producing and co-writing work. “In my head, I almost always hear other people singing my songs when I write them, anyway,” he explains.
Equally, it’s obvious that after six years of intensive Tame Impala touring and back-to-back albums, Parker simply wants a chance to take a breath, reflect, and see what crops up.
Which is what he’s been doing over the past month, back home in Perth. Cue getting his old band Mink Mussel Creek back together for a one-off festival appearance.
“That band was a big part of my musical growth, and we all have very fond memories of it. So when our friends who run this cool festival in the bush down south asked if we’d like to play, it just seemed like a fun idea to reunite – in a classic, clichéd ‘getting the band back together’ way,” he says.“It was only a one-off but it was great to revisit it, and it gave me really good perspective on where I’m at now. Not to get too deep on it, but I think subconsciously it made me realise, not exactly how far I’d come, that sounds weird, but I guess how much things have evolved.”
That walk down memory lane didn’t make Parker’s plans for 2017 any clearer, but no matter. He’s thrilled that his career has evolved to the point where having a particular plan isn’t strictly necessary.
“What comes next is still very much a blank canvas. But a blank canvas in a good way – I’ve got all the paint!
This article was first published in Paperboy, a free weekly magazine available from cafes and transport points across Auckland.