On tour in the US with Kevin Parker and his band

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Yesterday under a hard blue sky, and the sun a blowtorch in it, Tame Impala had arrived on site at the Coachella Festival. They’d played here the previous weekend, too, in the whipping air of an unscheduled sandstorm, which brought with it a certain amount of breezy mayhem. Yesterday, they went on just as the sun was beginning its slow descent, the light softening, the earlier sharp outlines of things becoming blurred, as if most of what you looked at was a form of hallucination, a melting of shapes into a burnished atmosphere.

It seems like a timeless moment and as such is a perfect setting for music that itself exists outside of time, that roams with chronological abandon, boldly adventurous, across five decades of far out sounds, hot-wired to the restless experimentation of vintage psych, without sounding like the same psychedelic toolbox is being plundered from which sonic pioneers going back to 1966 have been picking spanners to throw in the musical works. Tame Impala at Coachella as much as they are on record are a musical craft made up of perhaps familiar elements that in its final shape is like nothing you have quite known before. There are echoes of the past and anticipations of a time to come. Can you be reminded of the future? In Tame Impala’s musical universe, it would seem so.

This is the touring version of Tame Impala, of course, in which Parker is joined by longtime friends Jay Watson and Dominic Simper on guitars, synthesisers and keyboards, Nick Allbrook on bass and drummer Julien Barbagallo, who used to play with Tahiti 80. In the studio and on record, however, Tame Impala is just Parker, the sole author, therefore, of Tame Impala’s panoramic soundscapes and symphonic distortions. On Tame Impala’s two albums to date – 2010’s Innerspeaker and last year’s all-conquering Lonerism – Parker writes, sings, plays, arranges and produces just about everything. Is he some kind of megalomaniac?

“Not at all,” he protests in a gentle drawl. “It’s just the way I prefer to work. I don’t think you can reach the same highs working in a band as you can on your own. Nothing matches the sheer euphoria of discovering a new melody or a new batch of chords that just come out of nowhere. You have no idea where this music came from, but here you are listening to something you’ve just created and it’s affecting you emotionally, it’s groovy, it’s everything you wanted it to be. Those are the moments in my life when I’m most happy.

“It’s not like I’m brooding or miserable or withdrawn. I’m just happier on my own. For me, it’s always been draining to be around people for too long because I’m naturally a pretty expressionless person. From an early age, I found being alone incredibly liberating. As a teenager, I was always trying to do things that would make me look cooler than I was and I’d get very frustrated because I was never comfortable in social situations. Once I finished school, I was like, ‘Well, fuck it. I’m done with people. I’ll just hang out by myself forever.’”

What were you like as a teenager?

“Confused,” he says. “I was also a pretty wild and rebellious kid. I was permanently searching for some kind of identity. In high school, I was an absolute derelict. I just never came home, shoplifted, smoked weed. I was totally into the thrill of breaking the law. The adrenalin of shoplifting was unbelievable. I was like, ‘Fuck! This is amazing!’ We’d go into hardware stores and steal the biggest thing we could. My heart would be racing. One day I got caught shoplifting wallets from a surf store and I went home in a police car. My dad was out front watering the garden when the police car rocked up with me in the back. That was a bad day. And then I got caught smoking weed, which was even worse. They found a bong in my bedroom. That was terrible.

“I was about 14 and my dad banned me from seeing any of my friends. He rang up all their parents and told them their kids had been giving me weed. All my friends immediately got busted for smoking weed, even the ones who weren’t smoking. So they all hated me. I found myself without any friends. Through the rest of school and university, I didn’t have a gang that I hung with. I was just wandering around, confused and lost, usually trying to get some girl to like me.”

Did music eventually provide you with the personality you’d been looking for?

“It saved me. It gradually took over my brain. Music became a bigger and bigger thing in my life, the only thing I thought about, the only thing I wanted to do. I gave up on any other kind of life. I quit university and worked a couple of nights at the bottle shop. Otherwise I was just bumming around the house with these guys who I was now living with.”

  1. 1. Introduction
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