Photo by Matt Sav
Tame Impala Checks In From Hibernation
Kevin Parker is calling from under the covers. Given 2020's stay-home ethos, bed seem like a logical place to conduct business, even though the Tame Impala frontman swears it's only because it’s morning in his time zone, and he hasn’t quite summoned up the energy to start his day.
His comfort with isolation makes sense—he is, after all the guy who named his sophomore album Lonerism. As the uncertain year stretches on, Parker says he’s enjoyed the extra time at home and in the studio, where he writes and records each part of a song from the ground up, a talent he recently demonstrated on "The Late Show With Stephen Colbert." And while Tame Impala’s back catalogue is laced with arena-worthy rock, it’s not a stretch to call this year’s The Slow Rush a more introspective release. Fitting, given that after his tour was cut short in early March, fans were relegated to dancing along in quarantine. ("People have been telling me that's weird how the lyrics of this album ended up being kind of relevant to now," says Parker. "Which obviously, I didn't anticipate.")
Calling from his home in Perth, Australia, Parker spoke to GRAMMY.com about how he’s surviving without touring, finding comfort in disappointing those looking for Psychedelic Jesus and the unsinkable Kanye West.
What's been your favorite souvenir during all your travels?
Sukajan Man in Harajuku, in Tokyo. I've been in that place a couple of times. And each time we've been back they've recognized us and we just kind of had a chat. I think I bought a jacket off him 10 years ago. Sometimes fans give us presents, just stuff they've made. I've got a box of stuff from over the years. It's full of weird bracelets and letters. Other than that, I try to pack light, so I'm not much of a collector.
I love that you save the greatest hits of fan gifts.
That's what it really is! Everything ends up in my suitcase, that's not drugs. Sometimes it's like a little gift box and then on the way to the airport you lift the lid and there's like 50 bags of weed. It’s like, oh, shit!
How did you make peace with not touring behind what's obviously a very summery album?
I haven't yet! I believe we'll be able to at some point. If it was just me, missing out on touring and I knew the rest of the world was doing it, and going to festivals and stuff, then I think it would be more difficult to deal with. But the fact that everyone's in the same boat, it kind of just makes me think we'll get that chance. I was touring Currents for five years. The fans are obviously waiting for new music, but it just makes me think if we get out in a year or two, then it's like it'll still be fresh, and it'll still be good. People have been telling me that's weird how the lyrics of this album ended up being kind of relevant to now, which obviously I didn't anticipate. Obviously, I can't see the future. So, it's kind of it's a wild coincidence.
Did you have sort of any indications going into that last show that things were going to be shut down?
Yeah, it was kind of building up in intensity. The day after the second L.A. show was when it really became obvious that we shouldn't play another show. The last one was like, in hindsight, oh, maybe we shouldn't. But everyone was so naive then. I like to believe that no one that was there was spreading it at that point it.
You hit upon a really great point that none of us are dealing with FOMO right now. But on a personal level, have you felt pressure to make this year meaningful or productive when you know you can't do a large portion of your job?
There's always things to do. In fact, I've been kind of the busiest that I have been in a long time. In the last few months, doing non-music stuff. The internet exists, and I've got a studio. I'm shooting videos and doing live streams, like what I did for "Stephen Colbert." And you know, and people still listen to music. So, for that reason I'm extremely blessed I'm extremely privileged that my craft. While touring is a big part of it it's not the only part of it.
It also seems like your process is so insular compared to a lot of other artists that it's not a logical leap for you.
And for that reason, I kind of lucked out there. I kind of feel like my process was built for this time. It almost feels like I've spent the last 10 years doing something that was made for global pandemics.
How does the guy that makes escapist music find his own form of escapism?
By making it. That's kind of always what I've loved so much about making music since I was really young. As soon as I was making music, nothing else mattered. It was a weird kind of combination of escaping it and facing it at the same time. You know, like singing about something that was negative was simultaneously a way of escaping it and dealing with it.
Are you able to step back and distance yourself when you hear your music in the wild?
I'm getting better at that. I think in the last few years I've just been able to shake that kind of cringe that I feel when I hear my song in public. I'll be at a bar or something with friends, or like going to a restaurant, and I'm with people and a Tame Impala song comes on, a few years ago, I would have huddled into a ball and laid under the table. While everyone's looking at me laughing. Now I'm kind of more in the opposite. I'll try and alert everyone.
Any particularly memorable moments?
I was at a wedding many years ago, and someone put Tame Impala on just kind of as a prank. And I cleaned the floor out, which was pretty funny.
When you aren't clearing out dancefloors with your music, what kind of dancer are you?
Well I need to be drunk for starters. I'm not busting moves; I'm definitely just grooving. The only way I can actually dance is if I'm one hundred percent feeling the music and not actually thinking about what I'm doing. Again, I'm getting better at not being cringy on all fronts.
Tame Impala performing at Flow Festival 2019 in Helsinki
Photo credit: Laura Studarus
You're currently working a lot on your own, but it seems like there was a period of time there when you were the featured artist. And after so many collaborations, do you still have the ability to get professionally star struck when someone reaches out to you?
I'm a sucker for getting star struck, I don't know what it is. It takes a lot of mental coaching to remember be myself, which I'm eventually able to do. But whenever I met anyone I like, I just forget. I forget the golden rule that no one's larger than life, everyone is just human, which is something that I am instantly reminded of every time I meet someone famous, like two minutes into meeting them. I'm resigned to the fact that they'll be disappointed that I'm not Psychedelic Jesus.
Who would you love to meet and/or collaborate with?
If I answer that, I might jinx it. If anyone ever saw that I'd completely geeked out, then they might be hesitant to actually ask because they'll just think I'm gonna be a fanboy. We'll put it this way—a lot of those names have started to get crossed off. Kanye West was top of my list, easily. I mean, we didn't fully get to do something properly. But I'd love to do something to Daft Punk, that'd be really cool. They're one of those ones where it's like, I don't want to mention it too much.
So, what's your stance on blowing out birthday candles? Do you keep your wishes a secret as well?
Yeah, no way, that makes it not come true. That's if you believe in wishes.
I don't know, what's the deal with wishes? Is there a wish God that's receiving all these, then sort of administers them? Who are you talking to when you're wishing?
I feel like a wish is more something you tell yourself and then [get] yourself in the headspace to take care of whatever it is. Where a prayer is something you're addressing to a higher power.
Well in that case, tell everyone, because then it puts the most pressure on you actually do it.
I was gonna follow it up and ask you how you felt about fate, but I'm worried we might be getting into Psychedelic Jesus territory.
I don't believe in fate as much as I realize that we are all atoms bumping into each other. We're all just lots of little balls, floating around in space, bumping into each other. And so, in a way, we have no control over what we do because our actions are just defined by chemicals.
How do you feel about Kanye West's supposed to run for president?
There might be some mental health issues. And then with that in mind, like, you can't really make assumptions on anything. Kanye, he's built his life, and career on being extremely ambitious. He's ambitious to a fault, probably, but that's always been the power of Kanye West—he's not been afraid to fail. I think like he has less fear of failure than most people. Which is one of the secrets to his success. When he tries to be president, and fails, he'll start a shoe company and make a zillion dollars. It's like you win some, you lose some. And I think on Kanye it's just a brand, it's on the grand scale. And same with being a being a legendary hip-hop artist.
I love the way you frame that because finding our way out of fear of failure is something a lot of us have to do.
I think everyone can take a slice of that. Because yes, I'm afraid of it. The fear of failure, probably like everyone else, is the thing that's held me back the most. Basically, my New Year's resolution every year is to not be afraid of failure. Being fearless with following my passion—music—got me where I am today. Every time I've thrown caution to the wind and done something [that] feels [good], it's paid off... and where I haven't done something because I've been afraid of failing, I've regretted it.
What's making you the happiest right now?
Maybe that I don't hate that the whole album cycle has ground to a halt, because I don't want this album [The Slow Rush] to be the album that reminds everyone of this time. I'm kind of happy for the album to be in hibernation. If we start touring again after coronavirus, whenever that is, we'll play shows around then. For the rest of people's lives. It's the music that reminds them of the time when coronavirus ended, then that's all I can hope for. That's all I want. And so for that reason I'm kind of okay for it to be in hibernation. [Laughs.] My record label would be screaming if they heard me saying that right now.