Australia's Tame Impala, led by Kevin Parker, have taken the classic psychedelic sounds of Cream and "White Album" era Beatles, and combined them with elements that can only exist in the modern age. Their debut, 2010's Innerspeaker, was celebrated by critics and made many end-of-year "Best Of" lists. 2012 saw the release of the enthusiastically received Lonerism, which once again received gushing reviews. I sat down with Kevin in 2010, and again in February 2013, to talk about his five-year transition from precocious young songwriter to regular featured festival performer, and how disregarding common recording wisdom can often have fantastic results.
November 16, 2010
What was your first recording project?
When I was 12 my brother was recording himself on a boom box playing drums, because he wanted to hear what he sounded like. When he was finished I walked in and recorded myself playing drums for 30 seconds. I realized if I played that back into a new tape deck, whilst also playing a keyboard along with it, I could multitrack myself, and then do it again with something like bass guitar. Of course, each time we did it, it accumulated a ridiculous amount of mush; as soon as you did like three iterations of it, the thing that you did first was just static.
So you're another graduate of the Boom Box Recording School! What was next?
My dad's friend lent me Cakewalk [recording software] when I was about 14, and I used that for a couple of years. Cakewalk served me pretty well, except that the soundcard I had in my computer was not advanced enough so that I could play back audio while I was recording audio in. I had to set up a click and record the whole song from memory. I had to memorize everything that I'd done in the previous take, which was really difficult. The first time I went to a studio was in Perth, Australia, and I didn't find it very enjoyable. All of a sudden I was out of this world where I was able to do everything for myself. I was in this time-constrained environment where there were other professionals walking around telling me how to do things. That really put me off.
When was that?
I was about 18 and in a band. We had won some recording time in a stellar studio with a proper engineer, as a prize for coming in second in a band competition. But as soon as I started it was like, "What is this?" All of a sudden I'm just the guy who plays guitar. I listened back to the recordings and they sounded horrible. It didn't sound anything like the way I was used to hearing it. I didn't have a good first few studio experiences — it felt like as soon as another professional got involved they assumed they knew how things should sound more than me. I believed them for a while, like maybe they did know better, but then I just retreated back to my bedroom. I eventually decided that even if that was a crappier way technically, it was still closer to the way I liked things to sound.
How did the first Tame Impala EP come to be?
It was just a selection of five songs from a collection of20or25thatIhaddoneoverafewyears.I recorded songs on my own, and didn't bother releasing them. I didn't think anybody would like them. I just shared them with my friends. Then we got offered a recording deal from a label. I said, "Why not just put out these demos?" They were cool with it, because the songs had character. The recording methods were so shoddy! When we'd chosen the five songs that sat together the best, we sent them off to Mandy Parnell for mastering in London. I got a call from her saying, "What? How am I meant to master this? There's no headroom!" I'd mixed one of the songs on the little Boss [BR-864] 8-track until it sounded good and, without knowing it, I'd completely limited the whole thing by putting the master fader of the final mix up until it was flat lining! That Boss recorder has a feature where when it's about to start digital clipping, it limits it. It gives it a great, crunchy sound that I loved. But when I sent it to mastering she pulled it up and it was just a flat line. She asked if I could mix it again and I was like, "I can't! I mixed it four years ago." Each time you mix on this 8-track it's a different performance. I loved the way it sounded and asked her to work with it, but she hated it.
I noticed that you were routing your guitar through that live.
Yes, that's the...