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Tame Impala

Tame Impala

Interviewed by
Martyn Pepperell
Monday 10th December, 2012 8:46AM

Since their first EP releases in 2008, Perth, Australia based psychedelic rock quartet Tame Impala have been a favourite for both home music listeners and live gig goers across the planet. Taking cues from the surreal celestial folk and rock sounds of the sixties and early seventies, they filter the motifs associated with that era through a modern lens born in the quiet isolation of Western Australia. Over a series of well received singles, EPs and what now counts at two full length albums for Modular Records, they're shifted from a flavour of the season act to something which now feels like it's destined to be substantially longer lasting and deeper in duration and impact. I caught up with the band's guitarist/synthesiser payer Dominic Simper off of the back of their sophomore release, Lonerism, to talk about the background, current environment, influences, processes and realities of being a member of Tame Impala.

What sort of influence do you think growing up in Western Australia had on you guys and your music?

We used to very much think that it didn't matter at all. We liked the idea that making music was about you not the environment you are in, and that what is going on outside of your head doesn't really matter. But the more we have travelled to places that supposedly have really good music scenes, like New York and London, or even Sydney and Melbourne, the more we appreciate how the music scene operates in Perth. How conducive it is to being creative is really something quite special. I think it is a really fertile part of the world musically.

What do you think are the factors that make it like that?

The music scene is very small here. Everyone is really musically promiscuous as well. We all play in multiple, multiple bands. There is no real sense of ego out there either. Every gig is just a bunch of people making a whole lot of noise. Perth is a pretty sleepy town. There is nothing to really do during the week. Everything is kind of shut by six or seven o'clock at night. Especially in our circle of friends going up, making music and playing music was kind of all we did.

I'm going to make a quite terrible and somewhat dated analogy here. It sounds like you had a similar set of factors going to what was happening in Dunedin during the early years of the Flying Nun sound.

It is funny you say that man, because the last interviewer said the exact same thing.

Those bands, they were all interpreted as making gestures or references towards music of the sixties, which was twenty years before their time. You guys are also seen as making those sort of gestures, but now it is more like forty years removed.

It is funny, because especially with this new album, we didn't really expect the sixties thing to stick around. I think a lot of it might have to do with the visual aesthetics of four guys in a band with long hair making psychedelic music. It is a pretty quick link to draw, saying that it sounds like 'Tomorrow Never Knows' by The Beatles or whatever.

Personally if I was going to join those dots, I'd probably tie you more towards bands like Love.

For sure, and being bands we have listened to in the past, they have impacted on how we write music. But, and I dunno man, I don't really know what to say about the sixties thing. For me Tame Impala is a 2012 band. The album came out today and I think it should be judged [alongside the music of today], well not judged, but, I don't see the need to reference it back to the sixties.

Dam Funk from Los Angeles has been doing something similar with his modern funk music for a long time. While his point of entry is the boogie funk and p-funk of the late seventies and early eighties, he sees the music he writes now as a logical continuation of that continuum. He sees himself as having built on and developed that sound into a future form as opposed to making something throwback.

For sure. That following of the path. I get that entirely.

Now, this is funny, I remember when Innerspeaker came out. The language people were using to illustrate their takes on that album was amazing. I remember reading one review where it was described as being able to trigger, "...more flashbacks than a whole season of Lost." How do you feel about the sort of language people use to talk about Tame Impala's music?

When you are talking about psychedelic music, it can tend to bring up all these negative connotations. You know, the whole being a hippie, doing LSD and smoking weed thing, stuff like that. I think it is such an easy connection to make and is quite lazy. It kind of takes away from the music itself. We've had so much stuff that is just really lame said about us. It's like, whoa man, Tame Impala, grab your flares and head to the beach!

So what was the headspace of everyone like while your new album Lonerism was coming together? Was it all still just Kevin's work? Or did the rest of you have more involvement?

The album itself was very much Kevin Parker's baby. He pretty much recorded it all himself. Us other guys, we all came together when it came time to play that shit live.

I guess it is safe to say just coming in and playing the music live works for you guys, and you're happy to let him do his thing. But could you give us a window into what that is like for you?

It seems to be a whole lot weirder for everyone else than it is for the four of us. Tame Impala has always just been Kevin's recordings. It has never strayed from that. It has never been the typical band situation where you have the guitar player, drummer, singer, whatnot. We don't have any issue with it because we are all free to pursue our own creative projects, or bands, or whatever. Kevin is our best friend and has been our best friend ever since we were in Perth. So it is just kind of like we get to tour the world and play music with our best friend.

You and Kevin have known each other since early high school right?

Yeah. That is correct.

Is having that length of time together as friends a big part of what makes it work?

For sure. It's never strayed. It's never been anything different. We've always been very comfortable with it.

Did you do much road testing of the new material on Lonerism before Kevin properly recorded it?

Not at all. We're all pretty certain that recordings are the best way for people to first experience new material properly. That is the best representation of Kevin's music. You don't want the first thing someone hears to be a bad live recording that someone took with their phone and uploaded to YouTube.

I saw a lot of that happen when The Weeknd started doing shows. It was crazy seeing people make decisions on if he was good live or not off bad distorted cell phone captures.

Yeah. There are a lot of factors. Sometimes the sound guy might not be doing that good a job that night. It just seems kind of unfair. In this day and age every single show is put up on YouTube and judged. I get that this is how the world operates now, but it is a bit frustrating.

This is interesting, because part of the whole throwback 60s identity people threw on you guys from day one, there was also this idea that Tame Impala were a band who as individuals were a bit disconnected from internet culture.

For sure. We're just not the sort of people who are into that kind of thing. Jay doesn't even have a phone. Kevin doesn't have a phone for more than a week at a time. We don't really have Facebook's or whatnot. It is something that we don't really do, and not as a statement, it's just not the sort of people that we are.

Now I know that indie success isn't anywhere nearly as big as it seems on the internet. However, do you feel like there are things you guys used to do on a personal level or a creative level that you can't do anymore?

Going back to Perth is great. No one really cares who we are in Perth. We're still just Dom and Kevin. Within our group of friends at least, we can still go to gigs, play in other bands, drive our car and buy a six pack and the boys don't treat us differently. We love being able to do that because it helps you actually stay in touch with what it is really like to be a musician. When you're doing big shows and getting driven around it is quite easy to lose a sense of relativity. So it is nice to be able to go back, be old Dom and Kevin and play with regular bands or whatever. There is nothing glamorous going on for us there. You don't get that weird energy you get in New York or Sydney or whatever.


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