KEVIN PARKER

THE TAME IM­PALA FRONT­MAN IS INDIE ROCK’S HARD­EST-WORK­ING LONER

Maxim - - CONTENTS - by JENNY ELISCU

ON A RE­CENT WEDNES­DAY A ROUND 5 A .M., as he sat alone in a New York record­ing stu­dio, putting the fin­ish­ing touches on the new Tame Im­pala al­bum, Kevin Parker had one of those mo­ments—the ones when he can’t help won­der­ing, Why do I put my­self through this?

Af­ter 36 hours in tran­sit from his home stu­dio in Perth, Aus­tralia, Parker had landed in New York and gone straight back to work. He’d been spend­ing ev­ery spare mo­ment for the past cou­ple of years record­ing Tame Im­pala’s third LP, and now he felt as if he might crum­ble just be­fore the fin­ish line. “I al­ways have these ex­treme thoughts at the end of an al­bum,” he tells me over mi­mosas in Los An­ge­les just two days later. “In those times, I’m like, I’m not do­ing this alone again.”

You could call Parker a con­trol freak, but the 29-year-old prefers the term con­trol en­thu­si­ast. For the new al­bum—due out this sum­mer— Parker not only wrote, per­formed, and pro­duced all the parts for all the songs en­tirely on his own but is also mix­ing it him­self. “I felt like, this way the al­bum is even more my heart and soul, my blood, sweat, and tears,” he ex­plains. “I don’t want to say it’s a con­trol thing, that I need to be con­trol­ling ev­ery frac­tion of the sound, but I sup­pose that’s a part of it, too. I guess it just comes from ob­ses­sion.”

It’s funny to think of the artist be­hind some of the most son­i­cally blissed-out psy­che­delic rock of the past decade sweat­ing the de­tails. But Parker is one of those awe­some musical mas­ter­minds with a highly pre­cise vi­sion, an over­flow­ing bounty of idio­syn­cratic ideas, and the tal­ents re­quired to ex­e­cute all of it, en­tirely on his own. (File un­der “Rock Poly­maths,” along with Jack White, My Bloody Valen­tine’s Kevin Shields, the Beach Boys’ Brian Wil­son, and Smash­ing Pump­kins’ Billy Cor­gan.) In con­cert, Tame Im­pala is a five-piece, but the records have al­ways been all Parker’s. And, though the Aus­tralian band has a well-de­served rep­u­ta­tion for de­liv­er­ing in­cred­i­ble live per­for­mances, the two gen­re­bust­ing al­bums they’ve re­leased so far—2010’s In­ner­s­peaker and 2012’s Loner­ism— are what have made Tame Im­pala one of the most crit­i­cally and com­mer­cially beloved indie rock acts of the cur­rent decade.

This next record, Cur­rents, which is the band’s ma­jor-la­bel de­but (for In­ter­scope Records), prom­ises to help Tame Im­pala gain a mas­sive new au­di­ence of fans. The songs that are al­ready fin­ished—like the re­cently pre­miered eight-minute space jam “Let It Hap­pen”—have an even more pal­pa­ble ’70s feel, with groovy, sin­u­ous bass lines that lend them a greater sonic heft. “I want this al­bum to be more hard-hit­ting,” Parker says. “I’ve never heard Tame Im­pala in places where there’s a dance floor. I wanted it to be some­thing you could turn up re­ally loud in your car and have it hit you in your chest.”

Parker started fig­ur­ing out ways to make his own kind of noise at a young age. Over drinks, he shows me a photo on his phone that his mom re­cently sent him: six-year-old Kevin, sit­ting in his back­yard with a row of dif­fer­ent-size glasses and mason jars he’d ar­ranged to make an im­pro­vised xy­lo­phone. At 11, he fell in love with drums and built his own kit. “The bucket from my toys was the kick drum, and the snare was a rub­ber drum pad my friend gave me,” he says. “Then I got one of Mum’s drink trays, put a hole in it, and turned it up­side down, and that was the cym­bal. I made a pedal for the kick drum out of the trailer from a toy truck, and the stop­per from my Rollerblade

AS TAME IM­PALA’S PSY­CHE­DELIC INDIE ROCK PRE­PARES FOR ITS MA­JOR-LA­BEL MO­MENT, MUSICAL MAS­TER­MIND KEVIN PARKER KEEPS A TIGHT GRIP ON THE REINS.

was the mal­let. I used it un­til my mum felt sorry for me and brought me a real kit. And then I prac­ticed all day, ev­ery day.” His par­ents had di­vorced when Parker was a tod­dler, and while he prac­ticed drums at his mom’s house, he learned to play gui­tar at his dad’s: “He showed me chords, and I’d play rhythm parts while he played lead.”

A cou­ple of years later, he started writ­ing his own songs. Parker is a soli­tary dude by na­ture (hence Loner­ism), and he says that in his early teens, song­writ­ing seemed to help him con­nect with other peo­ple in a way that felt more nat­u­ral. “I’ve never been a very so­cially en­gag­ing per­son,” he says, though one-on-one he’s quite re­lat­able. “When I was younger, I felt like I didn’t re­ally have much ef­fect on peo­ple. I wasn’t able to get kids to like me or get chicks to think I was in­ter­est­ing. So I guess I grew up with this de­sire to af­fect peo­ple. For me, that’s a big part of what song­writ­ing is: the abil­ity to get in­side some­one’s head and move them.”

But, as ded­i­cated as Parker was to writ­ing and per­form­ing mu­sic, he says that learn­ing to record is what truly ig­nited his ob­ses­sion. At around age 16, he got his hands on an old com­puter with a pro­gram that al­lowed him to make crude mul­ti­track record­ings. “I was ex­per­i­ment­ing with sounds in a way where I didn’t even know what I was do­ing,” he says. “I put my mi­cro­phone through a wah-wah pedal, like, What is that? That sounds crazy!”

Parker has a con­sid­er­ably bet­ter setup nowa­days. The home he owns in Perth in­cludes a two-room stu­dio where he recorded the new al­bum. There’s also a room he turned into a light­ing stu­dio, be­cause he has now taken on the re­spon­si­bil­ity of cre­at­ing Tame Im­pala’s live light shows—as if he didn’t have enough to do al­ready. “You could have a light­ing per­son who un­der­stands the mu­sic,” he rea­sons, “but they could never un­der­stand it as in­ti­mately as some­one on the stage, as some­one play­ing the mu­sic, some­one who wrote and pro­duced it.”

Tonight, Parker will fly back to Perth and fin­ish work on the al­bum’s last two tracks. A few days af­ter that, he’ll turn around and jet back to Los An­ge­les to re­hearse with the rest of his band for their up­com­ing ap­pear­ance at the Coachella Fes­ti­val, and a sub­se­quent series of shows. He and his girl­friend have been talk­ing about set­tling in L.A. for a while, but Parker re­mains am­biva­lent about it. “I don’t care where I live, to be hon­est,” he says. “But now that I’ve al­most fin­ished the al­bum, I just wanna ex­pe­ri­ence the world again.” ■

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