Ask Kevin Parker what happened between Innerspeaker and the success of sophomore album Lonerism, and he’ll just shrug and mumble something about a lot of concerts. “It’s all pretty hazy around there, to be honest,” Parker admits. “My memory’s not good at the best of times.”
When Tame Impala played Coachella in 2013, there was a sense that the band was coming into its own. It was booked at an outside, near sunset slot, but Parker claims he was pretty removed from any sense of impending success.
“I’ve always been kind of blind to that because I never know how to compare the level of Tame Impala to anyone else,” Parker says. “And I always assume that we are smaller than people are trying to convince me we are. I’m always the one that just thinks that we’re still a small-time band. In my head, we still are, and we’ve got this small, really dedicated fan base; that’s it. It doesn’t make sense in my brain for us to be something talked about.”
Still, he can’t deny that licensing his song for a Blackberry commercial and beginning to play radio-sponsored gigs and festivals did indicate the band was reaching a broader audience. Parker, though, remains unaffected by most of it.
“I find it interesting, that world of, like, ‘corporate music,’” Parker says, “where the value of a song is more than just the song. It’s how good the band is at schmoozing bigwigs from this publication or how good your manager is at talking. It kind of gives me a weird taste in my mouth, so that’s why I try to stay out of that.”
Equally confusing is Parker trying to put his finger on exactly when the process of Currents began. “There’s never really a start and never really an end either,” Parker says. “It ends when I run out of time, basically. Or someone just pulls the plug. I asked someone to pull the plug; I was about to absolutely fall off the edge. I’m recording all the time, especially when I’m at home.”
But with Currents, the idea of Tame Impala being a band seems to have finally been cast aside. Though Currents is recorded using the same methods as his previous work, for once it doesn’t have to sound like a band. In a sense, the feeling of being an imposter is going away, with Parker joking that he realized reviewers weren’t actually paid off to give his music favorable reviews.
“I think it’s just been a gradual acceptance kind of thing,” Parker says. “It has to do with self-confidence, building up enough confidence to actually be able to stand by what you do. This is my baby. It was always such a security to hide behind five dudes and say, ‘We all did this. If it sucks, it’s not just my fault.’ It’s kind of a security blanket.
“Don’t get me wrong; I love bands,” he adds. “I love the idea of people getting together and combining their ideas to make something. But they’re kind of bound by the laws of being in a group where each person has their role. You got the drummer, you got the bassist, the singer, and there’s always going to be these boundaries where one single person isn’t going to be able to have their total view. It’s always going to be combinations; there’s always going to be compromise. And if you’ve got all these polar views of people coming together, it’s going to meet somewhere in the middle. And the idea of meeting in the middle, to me, just seems kind of beige.
“You’ve got different colors and when you mix all the colors together, you get beige,” Parker says. It isn’t hard to see the colors of his outfit, the paisley-patterned drapery that hangs behind him in our Coachella interview trailer, or the colorful stage show that Tame Impala uses on a nightly basis. Beige is the last thing Parker wants to be.
“So for me, I find it more exciting when you just make a song. I’m going to make this fucking song pink or turquoise,” he says. “I just find it more exciting that you can go just any one direction and totally hone in on that.”
It isn’t until months later that Parker surfaces on the phone again. Despite the time that passed since our initial interviews, he remains remarkably constant in his personality: easy to talk to, himself. Any fear of getting discovered for a fraud, even if he is just joking, is balanced by the fact that he seems unchangeable at his core.
Of course, Currents would seem to argue against that, as change is such a central theme, both in the sonic alterations and in the lyrics. On a song that is literally titled “Yes I’m Changing”, he sings the line: “They say people never change, but that’s bullshit, they do.” The song is ostensibly about relationships, but Parker notes a number of ways in which he’s been shaped by time and experience, including the embracing of more ways of making sounds and detaching from the stigmas of certain instruments. “I can just hear the sounds for what they are and what they mean to me,” he says.
There is also the decision to let the lyrics stand out like never before on a Tame Impala album, a conscious effort by Parker not to bury words in sound. “I could feel strongly about my lyrics, but I’ve never been an exhibitionist kind of person, so I’ve never been easily able to stand up and sing a song to people with lyrics I’ve written. I feel like I’m bearing too much; I feel too exposed. It’s that feeling of being exposed. I’ve hated feeling exposed in the past, so I’ll cover the lyrics in reverb — put this echo on everything else so you can just make out the bones of it.
“It’s that fear of being judged,” Parker says, “but I think with this album, I just had to force myself. I had to remind myself that I would regret not putting myself out there if I didn’t. On the last album, I was like, ‘Aw man, I wish I put the lyrics just a little bit louder, so you can hear them.’ Because I was proud, I’m always proud of my lyrics. So I just had to force myself, to remind myself if I buried them or if I didn’t say what I wanted to say boldly, that I’d regret it.”
Parker’s shifting attitude doesn’t only pertain to his views on how music should be made, but also to who is making music. He speaks of identifying less with indie rock types he previously thought were keeping it real and more with pop artists whom he has met and discovered a similar drive for creation. “It just makes you rearrange how you view music and the personalities that are associated with those types of music,” he says.
Maybe it is fitting that Parker doesn’t fit in with either camp these days, walking the line between the alternative and mainstream worlds. Regardless, he remains grounded about the realities of the music industry. Although there was talk of dropping Currents on the fly back in April, Parker never really believed that was a possibility. And while he admits that some of the coverage of Tame Impala has overblown the project’s shift in sound, he remains unsurprised by people’s tendency to grab the low-hanging fruit when talking about his music.
“That kind of thing would’ve surprised me five years ago,” Parker says, “but these days it doesn’t because people like to turn that kind of thing into a conversation. It’s something to behold, you know, when in actual fact it’s natural for people to want to try different things. It’s a total music, pop culture, historical construct that someone should have this one type of music they make forever. For me, it’s more natural for people to try something new rather than stick with one thing forever.
“There are two kinds of joy,” Parker says of making music, “but they’re completely unrelated. One of them you’re doing for yourself, and the other you’re doing for other people. When I’m recording a song, just freshly thought of the melody, and I’m recording this section of music that I’m really excited about — that part, I’m doing for me, 100 percent. And then everything that comes after that is for other people, for a fan or a listener. The releasing part of it is for other people. And if I ever witness someone that really gets into it, or it means something to them, or it enriches their life — to be pretentious — then that’s a completely different kind of joy that’s equally and potentially greater. It’s a greater fulfillment to know that it’s affected someone else in a positive way.”
Parker speaks on this subject with the confidence of someone who is more and more certain about his place in the music world, saying with authority that “melodies don’t necessarily belong to any genre. It’s just the production that guides it, that dictates everything.” Tame Impala’s music has thus far supported the fact that Parker should believe in himself, as his decisions have found approval among both fans and critics. Even if it might never be in Parker’s nature to look around and admit that he deserves this success, he doesn’t need to. We can do that for him.