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You’d think being the singer and songwriter for one of Australia’s most talked about rock outfits would be pressure enough, let alone shouldering the responsibility of following up a critically acclaimed, award-winning debut. Yet a carefree voice crackles down the phone line as Kevin Parker discusses Tame Impala’s soon-to-be released sophomore album Lonerism.
It was 2010 when Tame Impala tuned a national audience into their distinctive groove with InnerSpeaker, a record that set the band apart from their compatriot counterparts and launched the Western Australian quintet onto global conquest. Now, only two years later, Lonerism is one of the most eagerly awaited releases of 2012, and as such, is set to be one of the most scrutinised.
Still, Parker’s manner came across as unfazed by any real or imagined external expectation. As the unburdened singer explains, his enthusiasm for writing music helped avoid any possible public dictation as to what the follow-up to InnerSpeaker should sound like and enabled the young musician to tinker away free from outside tampering.
“I started working on it (Lonerism) before Innerspeaker was even released, really. I was kind of just excited to get on to the next (album) to start working on new things before there was really a chance of feeling expectations or pressure or whatever from the outside world,” Parker reveals.
“Even after Innerspeaker was released, it was a long time before people started noticing or anything, so it was pretty easy. I was kind of just so into the recording and the new instruments and the new approach, so it was all kind of organic.”
When musicians speak of incorporating new instruments into a band’s established sound, the result is all too often an incidental additive as opposed to a striking agent of change. However, for Parker the chance to utilise previously neglected tools of the trade became not only a driving force behind Lonerism, but also a gateway to improving the cooperative relationship between instruments.
“(I used) lots of synthesisers and things that were lying around, basically that I didn’t really care to use last time because on the last album I was more focused on it being a guitar album…kind of a standard rock band setup,” Parker points out.
“This time I kind of was just using them all as bits of an orchestra, basically…using instruments as little bits you can add to a song rather then use them running for the whole song.”
Lonerism may have been pieced together from different parts, but when those components are placed in the hands of a certain composer, does the whole resemble something more familiar than the sum of its foreign parts? In other words, does the increased use of synthesisers on Lonerism equate to a distinction or an extension from InnerSpeaker?
For Parker, expanding on instrumentation wasn’t just a chance to travel across the same terrain with a new set of wheels, but rather it was the opportunity to explore new frontiers and integrate some of the culture found in faraway musical landscapes.
“The kind of melodies and chords on this album are a lot more pop. I think there’s just so much more pop influence on this one,” Parker elaborates, “On the last one…they were all really kind of psychedelic rock melodies; with this one it was like the melodies and the actual melodic part of most of the songs is really kind of like R&B; an R&B pop melody over some really kind of like crazy psychedelic production.”
“It’s kind of a combination of a lot of different genres on this one, and for me the biggest thing is the pop influence. I just became really in love with kind of sugary pop melodies.”
“For me the albums sound completely different, but I guess artists always say that about their two albums. So I mean, it’s really up to whoever’s listening to it to decide.”
InnerSpeaker quickly saw Tame Impala tagged with the psychedelic label, and despite any overt differences or subtle nuances that separate Lonerism from its predecessor, the band’s second album is still adrift in a blissfully dizzying fuzzed-out cosmos. With such an emphasis placed on the band’s more intangible qualities, the question as to whether Parker feels frustration over aspects of Tame Impala’s music is often overlooked.
“The idea of getting angry at someone for not hearing some part of music is a waste of time, basically. If people enjoy it then they enjoy it; if they only hear one genre in the music then that’s their prerogative,” Parker discerns.
“What I’m getting at is, it’s kind of a waste of energy to get angry at people’s closed mindedness or people’s reaction or people’s interpretation of music. You may as well let people hear what they hear, and if they dig it, then they dig it”
One of the most endearing facets of Tame Impala’s sound is the fluidity of the Perth five-piece’s music. Even after songs such as Desire Be, Desire Go or recent single Elephant have finished, they leave traces of a dazed afterglow that resonate within the listener.
It’s a tripped-out quality that Parker describes as an amplification of self or, more specifically, the embellishment of certain aspects of personality he would otherwise be unable to express if not for the outlet of music.
“I think it’s an extension of my general attitude, but usually the music I make sort of randomly squirts out of a particular part of my personality. If there’s sort of an attitude or a mood that hits me, then the music will just sort of fill out from there,” Parker affirms.
“I’m thinking about music all the time, it kind of just randomly enters my head, and I guess Tame Impala is just sort of a capturing of that when I can, or when I think it’s good enough.”
“The mindset is always there; it’s just kind of a matter of knowing when it’s ripe for the picking.”
“I think it amplifies the part of me that doesn’t come out any other way. You know in the way that music is like an outlet for things you don’t usually express any other way. Like if you don’t talk about it or you don’t show it in one way, it’s got to come out some other way.”
“So I guess for me music is that outlet. So it’s every part of me that I don’t talk about or don’t show to anyone.”
It’s that type of internal isolation that the title Lonerism touches on, and yet at the same time the heading also creates a sense of belonging. The paradoxal nature of Lonerism is that music can essentially be a private experience, one we cherish and keep to ourselves. On the other hand, it can also be a socially binding moment that helps people relate to one another.
For Parker, it’s the polysemous nature of music and the ability to simultaneously create a sense of separation and community that draws him into a life of artistic pursuit.
“I do love the idea that music can be both: a completely closed-off solitary experience, but at the same a totally communal one.”
“I love the ambiguity, where, depending on how you interpret it, a song can be something really helpless and miserable sounding or it can be really uplifting, depending on how you listen to it.”
“So if you’re listening to the music on your headphones and listening to lyrics and stuff, it can have one aspect, but if you’ve got it cranked at a party or something and no-one listens to the lyrics, it can kind of sound like a party song.”
“There’s two kinds of aspects to it that intertwine around eachother, but they still kind of fit in a way.”
Lonerism by Tame Impala will be out Friday, October 5.
Watch: Tame Impala – Elephant