Laneway Festival: Tame Impala

Sitting in the Modular offices in Sydney’s Surry Hills (or The House Of M as I like to call it), you really get the sense that these guys play the game a little different to most other independent labels. Instead of having an office that serves a purpose, they almost have a purpose that serves to have an office.

The desks are all white with a matte finish and everybody inside looks like they have a personal stylist hidden under their desk. I’ve been impressed by offices before, but The House Of M looks like the kind of place Patrick Bateman would cream his bloodstained pants over, before killing you because yours is nicer than his.

I’m here to interview guitarist/vocalist Kevin Parker and bassist Dominic Simper from Tame Impala. “I didn’t really know that much about him before the thing,” Kevin tells me as we discuss the boy’s experience touring with Tim Rogers and You Am I. “But he’s really like fatherly – you know, he puts your arm around you and tells you you’ve done a good job.”

The boys don’t look a day over 17 [they are though], but talking to them I get the feeling they’re relatively rapid rise over the past year has taught them a few tough lessons and left them (understandably considering the state of the Australian music scene) a little jaded. There was none of the enthusiasm of a young band on the rise. Instead it felt like I was just another hurdle for them to jump at the behest of the label.

In an attempt to lighten the mood, I ask if by Tame Impala, they mean some sort of domesticated Antelope. “Not so much domesticated – more like, less afraid of things; not running away all the time. There’s a car as well, The Impala. When I found out I wanted to change the name, I was really happy with it. I called up the label and they were like ‘Oh, like the car.’”

Having just released an EP I was eager to ask the boys about the recording process. “You better ask Kevin about that,” Dom tells me with a slight grin.

“It’s mainly a home recording thing of mine,” Kevin replies. “The other two don’t really play on it much if at all, just because Tame Impala has been a home recording thing of mine for like years, I’ve just been under different names. I just recorded a lot of songs at home on my own, so the EP is like a best of Tame Impala from 2005-08.”

“The live thing is just like converting it,” he continues, “like not trying to hold up any particular value, so it can be completely different. A lot of our songs are in a different key or a different timing or double the length or half the length, it more a matter of performing for the sake of performing.”

“There’s a lot of improvisation, it’s kind of what it’s meant to be based around. Some of the songs we just play because there is no real drive to improvise, while some of them are completely based in improvisation. That’s what it’s sort of meant to be about, an exposition of connectivity through different bands members and musicians.”

Seeing as though he had just said that the music is based in bedroom sessions he’s done himself, I was eager to know exactly how the band connected in terms of songwriting.

“I go to them for advice on how to structure songs, as well as to get their impressions on what’s intended and how they interpret it. Songwriting is so ambiguous. The way one person interprets a song, or a certain part of a song, can be so different from what any of the other guys are thinking, so it’s good to get that kind of assurance, or if they can help and tell me what something is doing.”

What it is that their sound is doing, however, is a question not so easily answered. “At the moment we don’t have our own sound guy, so we’re not able to be picky about our sound. We kind of just like to have our own way of micing up the drum kit, because the way they do it naturally is very kind of stadium rock. Considering the way we play our music,” he says with a chuckle, “it would sound crap if you make it like that.

“It’s meant to be a kind of groove orientated thing, not a rock thing. I can appreciate it but it’s not what we do. For us it’s like trying to do something different – having something to dance to as opposed to rock out to. And not in that sort of modern, dance-rock sense where it’s quite jolting. Our thing is a bit more fluid.”

A heavily coiffed man in non-prescription reading glasses gives me the sign to wrap it up, so I thank the boys for their time and leave. As they wave goodbye, I notice another scraggly looking journo shuffling into the room and I can see in their eyes the same look of calm frustration and boredom that they greeted me with.

While I would easily trade places with them in a second and put aside journalism to live out my misguided aspirations to musicianship, I don’t think I can say I’d be any more enthusiastic when faced with a faceless sea of media. I mean, to be honest, I’d probably be more of a shit.

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