Led by sonic genius Kevin Parker, TAME IMPALA emerged from stoned squalor in the suburbs of Perth to pioneer a new form of questing psychedelia. We catch up with Parker over cocktails in the California desert to hear how music saved him: “I was totally into the thrill of breaking the law.” Originally published in Uncut’s July 2013 issue (Take 194). Story: Allan Jones
There’s a dog barking somewhere, mariachi static coming from a radio stuck between stations, gentle splashing from a swimming pool. It’s an otherwise perfectly still, bright Monday in Palm Springs, the swish desert resort in the Coachella Valley some 100 miles east of Los Angeles that has been home over the years to Hollywood stars, former American presidents, gangsters and rich retirees with not much more to look forward to than gangrene and golf.
Tame Impala’s Kevin Parker, up early to meet Uncut, takes a seat at a shaded table on the patio of the Ace Hotel & Swim Club’s Amigo Room bar, orders a cocktail from a passing waitress, something called a New Zealand Donkey, and looks out towards the San Jacinto Mountains looming craggily in the distance. It’s just after midday, the temperature in the high 90s and rising. It will soon top 100 degrees, when everything we’re looking at will turn to glare and dazzle. It feels a little like paradise. Is this the kind of rock star lifestyle Parker imagined for himself when he was scuffing about the pubs in far-off Perth not so many years ago in one of his early bands? The question makes him laugh. Then he gives it some thought.
“When I was 14 or 15, I was dead set on becoming a rock star,” he says, “the same as anybody who picks up a guitar at that age. I never thought it would happen because I’d try my fucking hardest to write songs and I always thought, ‘What’s the fucking point?’ They just didn’t seem any good. But I kept at it because I loved making music so much that being successful became less important than just doing it. By the time I was about 18, I’d accepted my fate would be to be in another Perth band that was going to eventually disintegrate and be forgotten. Weirdly, I was at peace with that. Gradually the love of doing it had taken over the ambition. The ambition dwindled away because I was around so many people who were making music just for the love of doing it.
“We’d get wasted and play gigs, have a lot fun. But the idea of doing it to become successful became a joke. We’d play with bands that were obviously doing it to be famous. They’d have all this super-expensive gear and their lead singer would have his own special fucking hairdo and they’d have all the fucking bells and whistles you could imagine and we’d be there fucking stoned, asking if we could borrow their drumkit. We’d be watching these bands and going, ‘Are they kidding?’ What are they trying to pull? They looked like fucking turkeys. That scene was so ugly we abandoned all that kind of rock star ambition. I was happy just plodding along like that, at peace with the fact we were never going to get anywhere. I couldn’t even be bothered releasing the songs I was doing because the people I wanted to hear them could already hear them, and they were the people who were in the band and the people who came to see us. My friends and the scene around me became more important than worldwide success or whatever.”
The waitress brings him his drink, dropping off a round also at the poolside table where the rest of Tame Impala are whiling away the hours before they fly back tonight to Australia for a short tour before more sold-out American shows at the end of May, followed by European festival dates this summer and a headlining show in London at the Hammersmith Apollo.
“Now fucking look at us,” he laughs.