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.
Portraits by Philip Cosores. Live photography by Robert Altman. Artwork by Steven Fiche.