Tame Impala: The 13th Floor Interview, Pt 1

The headliner at this year’s Laneway Festival is Tame Impala. There has been much speculation swirling around that these shows will be the last for Kevin Parker and company…or at least the last for a long while, with a hiatus planned for the forseeable future.

The 13th Floor’s Marty Duda sat down with Kevin Parker just before the Laneway show in Auckland for an in-depth (and exclusive) interview in which Mr. Parker addresses the future of Tame Impala and his collaborative work with Mark Ronson and Lady Gaga.

Because the interview is rather lengthy, we’ll bring you part one today, in which Kevin discusses the future and Gaga…tomorrow he gets more personal.

Click here to listen to the interview with Kevin Parker of Tame Impala:

Or, read a transcription of the interview here:

MD – I think I read somewhere where there was a quote from you about the Laneway Festival that you felt that, ‘Emotions are going to be running high’ for this festival and for this run of shows. How, are you feeling?

KP – Good. I mean, by the time you are on stage, a show is a show and it’s a completely different set of emotions to thinking about the starts and ends of album cycles and stuff like that. When you’re on the show and there’s loud noise and confetti blasting everywhere, you just get wrapped up in the moment anyway. Also, it’s the first half of the tour. So I think the last half, especially when we play Freemantle, which is the last show, it’s just down the road from my house, which is uncanny…uncanny. Just cause it will be the last show of the album cycle, it’ll be magical moment!

MD – Will there be lots of family and old friends coming out do you think?

KP – Yeah, I think so. Probably more than ever before.

MD: Does that weigh on you when you’re on stage?

Tame Impala isn’t the kind of thing that can break up.
It’s like asking a tennis player if he’s going to break up.

KP: It’s something I’ll think about before I go on, especially if I see my friends before, I’ll be like, ‘Oh shit, I’ve got to put on a better show for them, I’ve got to show them why I travel the world’ (laughs). But I think once we hit the stage it will all fall into place.

MD – Well, you’ve been doing it a while now… I guess the thing that’s going around now, there seems to be some mixed messages about where you are now and what your future plans are for Tame Impala. Perhaps you can clarify…

KP – Yeah. Well, I think the biggest problem is all the click-bait going around. You know, like, a lot of people are circulating break up rumours and hiatus rumours, that word being my most-hated word. I hate the word “hiatus”, it just sounds so stupid, whether or not it has a meaning.

MD: Is it because its non-committal?

KP: Yeah! Its just something about the word. Especially with a thing like Tame Impala the word “break-up”, the word “hiatus”, they don’t mean anything because Tame Impala isn’t the kind of thing that can break up. It’s like asking a tennis player if he’s going to break up. And that may sound really egotistic and really self-centred  but the thing is the Tame Impala albums basically are kind of just me in my home studio layering sounds. And when we tour the albums and play the songs live I kind of get my friends along to do it with me.

I think as Tame Impala has gone on,
my two personalities have split further apart.

MD – I love the fact that you refer to the live band as a Tame Impala covers band.

KP – I think a lot of people took it the wrong way too. We joke about that amongst us on the tour bus, ‘hey, we’re like a cover band’. We’re perfectly able to joke about that kind of thing because we’re quite like…we know how to laugh at ourselves basically. So when I say that kind of thing I mean it in the most endearing possible way…you know like, we’re just a bunch of guys having fun. That’s kind of  why we work so well as a band, as a group of people. We never have arguments, there’s never a power struggle like there is in other bands. There’s never this conflict of interest, It’s kind of like we’re just doing this thing, we’re just serving the music. And that’s the best way we can do it, is like, get a bunch of us and have all the instruments on stage and play. I like to look at it in an abstract way from what is traditional. Like we could have 20 people on stage – but it would probably be a bit crowded and it would start not to work as well.

MD – It could get messy. But for you personally, you must be in a different head space on stage with the band, leading the Tame Impala live band than when you’re making this music originally. Are you a different type of artist doing these two different things?

KP – I’m in different universes, you know like, different worlds is an understatement. Playing live is a bit of adrenalin. I’m still emotional – I still look at people in the audience having a moment with their favourite song and it’s an extremely powerful moment, but it’s less dredging up dark emotions. Like when I am making music on my own it’s a very introspective…there’s probably a better word.  Neither one is more powerful than the other. I think as Tame Impala has gone on, my two personalities have split further apart. I think when we first started touring, I was still this same kind of guy on stage, head down, hiding my face in my hair and I wasn’t able to interact with anyone around me. Now I’m kind of this…extrovert.

MD – Are you surprised you had that in you?

KP – Yeah. Absolutely. Very. It’s like a… I was about to say, “alter ego”, but I’d be quoting my own song.


But it honestly feels like that. I think at one point I just realized that I had to close my eyes and just go with it and just force myself to be that character. In the end I have more fun doing it that way and the people watching have more fun. It’s like better for everyone. It makes a better experience and that’s what I’ve come to respect about the Tame Impala live experience. You’ve just gotta do whatever you can to make it the best experience.

I’ve always thought that the
most potent kind of art is when
you don’t really know what’s good about it.

MD – And does that evolution of who you become as a live performer fold back on when you come back into the studio and start making music again?

KP – I try not to let it, because if I started to think about the best moments of the set or what would be the ‘festival moment,’ then I think the music would probably suffer. I would start having these big, oversized drops, anthemic things, I don’t think that’s what Tame Impala is. One thing about Tame Imapala, it’s so sacred to me I never want to forsake its quality in order to get a bigger rise out of people live. Live will always adapt to what I make in the studio.

MD – Do you have a set idea about what Tame Impala music is like? Could you see yourself doing other music that isn’t Tame Impala music?

KP – Of course, yeah! I don’t have a set idea of what Tame Impala is. That’s the first step to becoming linear and just not going anywhere – if you have a firm idea of what you do. I’ve always thought that the most potent kind of art is when you don’t really know what’s good about it. As soon as you know why people like what you do, it becomes a little bit calculated. You know – in the first six months after Tame Impala album comes out I’m baffled that people like it. It’s only now, I listened to Currents in the car the other day – I did have to pull the windows up, stopped at the traffic light…

MD: There he is, listening to his own album!

That Lady Gaga song is…
a large part of the guts of that
music was my song, and you know what,
it could have easily… I’m gonna get
quoted from this, this is going to be a headline
on some stupid website tomorrow…
but, it could have been a Tame Impala song.

KP: I’m pretty sure that’s probably happened at least once! But only now I’m like, ‘you know what, I get it’. I read some of the reviews when it came out I was like, ‘Whoa, really? You like it that much?’ And now I’m like, ‘You know what, it was worth that fuckin’ 9.3! (laughs) But as soon as I get why people like it I feel like I’m not really able to do the same thing again because…there’s just something magical about music sounding like its just beyond the capabilities of the person making it. All the best music in history is like that – this band they’re trying something, they can’t tell what they’re doing, and what they’re aiming for is kind of like beyond what they’re physically capable of doing, but that’s what makes it so exciting. They’re like, ‘What the fuck’s going on’, you know? So, I like to keep it that way.

MD – Just pushing yourself beyond your limit and finding out that your limit isn’t there.

KP –Exactly. It has that dynamic in music and on the opposite side – listening to an artist or a band that know what they are doing, they’re really good at it, they’re executing it perfectly – it’s kind of boring. It’s like, ‘Okay, we get it, you know what you’re doing…straight for the jugular, this is who we’re trying to please, this is the radio station we’re trying to get on’, it’s calculated. That’s why I couldn’t do the same album again. That’s why I couldn’t make another Lonerism because I would know what radio stations would play it. I would know what’s going to happen. I would know who’s going to like it and who is not going to like it because your brain automatically calculates that kind of thing. So, the only way to keep it exciting for me is to keep it unknown.

MD – Now the other thing that you’ve been up to lately is doing some collaborative work, which is totally different to the thing you do with Tame Impala, which is basically you and your electronic gear. So, the thing with Lady Gaga and Mark Ronson, which on paper seems totally off the wall somewhere…

KP – Right

If anyone’s been listening to my interviews
for the past, going back, five or six years,
they would have heard me say, ‘I love pop music.
I want to make pop music’.

MD – When you listen to it, it’s definitely not Tame Impala music, it’s something else, so…

KP – That’s the thing I find intriguing about making different types of music  is that something can sound completely different and still really be from the same place. Like that Lady Gaga song is…a large part of the guts of that music was my song, and you know what, it could have easily…I’m gonna get quoted from this, this is going to be a headline on some stupid website tomorrow…but, it could have been a Tame Impala song. I could had have got the seed of that song, chords and some of the mel…yeah…

MD – There’s nothing wrong with that, its just a matter of a few production flourishes…

KP –  Exactly! I think a lot of people don’t properly acknowledge that. Not that they should.

MD – So I’m curious, from your point of view, when you were confronted with the possibility of doing this, what went through your head? Because you usually work alone  and you’re working outside a musical style you’re usually associated with. Did you have any second thoughts about it?

KP – I had zero second thoughts. I was immediately excited. I was immediate…this was what I want to do. If anyone’s been listening to my interviews for the past, going back, five or six years, they would have heard me say, ‘I love pop music. I want to make pop music’. I would love to be a ghost writer, a pop producer. For me it’s no surprise because I’ve always loved that idea of being the puppeteer behind the curtains, that kind of thing because that allows you to do anything you want and not have to worry about the image of it at all.

MD – Was there a feeling of safety doing this? You weren’t the main guy. This wasn’t coming out under your name.

KP – Yeah. There is a freedom to that, definitely. But by the time you’re finished with it, you’re so invested in it that it’s still part of you, still got your name on it. It something you’re proud of. It was equally as special to me as any Tame Impala song. We all worked on it. It was a really personal and collaborative experience. I think I had that preconception that writing pop songs would be just like, ‘Oh, I’ll just write this little song and throw it away.’ But it isn’t like that at all. If it is like that it probably would probably be shit. You’d throw it away. At the end of the day it’s still music and it’s got to be something you care about.

MD – So, the nuts and bolts of how it worked must have been very different than what you’re used to like so, did you take something from that and do you see flexing that muscle again?

KP – Yeah, definitely. It was a first experience. I’ve kind of written songs with some of my friends before and people in other bands, but not on this level. This was the first time I’ve written lyrics with another person, with Gaga. I couldn’t believe how fast and efficient it was. When the three of us were in the room – for me it can take years to finish a song because I don’t like to proceed unless I’m 100% inspired and 100% thinking that this is the right thing for the song. If there’s a fraction of doubt that it’s the wrong thing, I’ll walk away. So a song can take a year. But with that we had a job to do, we had this purpose and so it was, ‘Alright, let’s do it, let’s talk about it and get it to this point’. So that’s already a different way.

MD – Was there a deadline?

KP – I don’t know. You’d have to ask her or the record label. I mean obviously they had…that’s what happens when people work together on an album, it’s like, ‘We can’t work on this forever’. But I was amazed how when you put your mind to it you can write lyrics for a whole song in a day. It’s amazing what a team that are all on the same wavelength can achieve.

MD – And what are you going to do with that? Are you going to look for more people to work with? Or are you going to go – hey I can write lyrics in a day now if I want to?

KP – All of the above.  And I think that there are some other things coming up as well. I think it just opened a bunch of doors.

MD – I’m sure not a lot of people thought it could work, but now they’re thinking – hey – why not?

KP – Exactly!

Check in to The 13th Floor tomorrow for Part 2 of our interview with Kevin Parker.