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Tame Impala - The Ultimate Trip

Author: Carlisle Rogers
Monday, November 10, 2008

Perth trio Tame Impala came out of nowhere earlier this year when they signed to local tastemakers Modular Recordings. But who are they- Let 3D’s Carlisle Rogers reveal all their darkest secrets…

Unashamedly one of my favourite bands of late, Tame Impala manage to blend late ’60s psychedelic rock with early ’70s production values inimitably on their eponymous EP. Here are three kids from Perth nobody has ever heard of who come charging into town riding a shiny, brand new contract from Modular records and playing stuff that sounds like The Zombies if they worked with Rodger Bain, the production genius behind Black Sabbath’s first three albums.

Touring with You Am I as this goes to print, the band will also be supporting MGMT on their national tour this December, as well as appearing at festivals like Meredith and Laneway. All of this is just evidence that, even if you think you’ve heard this music before (and you haven’t, it’s as fresh now as if it had come out in 1971, except it sounds better than a lot of things coming out then, which means, by default, that it sounds better than about 99 per cent of what’s coming out now. That is, unless you’re into squeaky clean polished hip hop beats laid over stolen guitar riffs and grifted drum beats from, oh, there it is again: 1971), it comes from the same place as all of those classic rock albums, a place looking to explore within the music, and to take the listener along for the ride, soaked in real musicality.

Modular must have been on the hunt for another retro act after Wolfmother folded earlier this year, but Kevin Parker, singer/guitarist from Tame Impala, says it doesn’t matter, they’re much better. “I’m not really concerned because we know in our hearts that we aren’t like that and if anyone has half a musical ear,” he concedes, “they will be able to tell we are completely different.”

Modular offered to re-record the EP for the band, but what they released was the original demos, leaving us to wonder how good these guys would sound with a producer other than Kevin behind the wheel. “They asked us what we wanted to do and said the owner would fork out some cash just so we could go into a studio and record it. We turned it down because we just wanted to release the demos, which they said was cool. They’ve been really good about everything and just let us do what we want to do. The original plan was to record the EP in the studio or go straight into the album, but we thought about it and we’ve got heaps of recordings we’ve done over the years and the EP is only five from 25. We could go into the studio and record an album tomorrow, but I’ve still got some things I want to do first. There are some song writing advancements and things I want to work out before we go in and record an album. We’re going to do all that early next year.”

Watching these three blonde-locked lads, barefoot, take to the stage without so much as looking at the audience and wail into a swirling fuzzed out rendition of Blue Boy’s Remember Me, I looked around at a stunned audience, before someone leaned in and said, “Damn, that’s an incredible cover! They own it!”

“I recorded it ages ago,” Kevin says, letting me know you can find it online if you look. “We started playing it live and it was quite fun. We purposely decided not to release it on the EP because it’s obviously the most instantly accessible song. We thought it might overshadow things. The idea of it is just to express the melody and chords in a different way and to make it more organic.”

Kevin says his own strangely lilted voice is the product of a collusion of influences. “Jay, our drummer, attributes it to my dad being Rhodesian. I sing like him, he’s from Zimbabwe, but I don’t sound like him at all. When you double-track vocals, they take on a whole new quality. I see vocal melodies as being another instrument. If you treat them like an organ, not making too much wobbling, just sticking to the melody, and the more succinct you make it, the more meaningful and emotional it sounds.”

Tame Impala is really the product of a long history of Kevin Parker sitting around with a four-track recorder and guitar. “I’ve just done home recordings since I was 11 or so using crappy tape decks and slowly I’ve gotten better and got a decent eight-track. I’ve known Dom for nine years, but he’d never been on the recordings, I just did it solo. There was always the need to play it live purely for the purpose of performing it and so Dom has been in the band for ages. We met Jay two years ago in a town called Northam and he replaced our old drummer about a year ago.

“When Dominic and I first met, we were about 13 and we’d just jam to Rage Against the Machine riffs for hours on end. The people we’ve been living with for the last few years are all into that psychedelic type of music. We don’t really see it for its retro value, we just literally listen to it like it was recorded last week. Music from the late ’60s and early ’70s, for whatever reason or because of the mindset they were in, the songs were just better structured. Their outlook is much more in tune with who we are and the house we live in. When we put on music, the focus is the music. We sit down and put on an album.”

Eventually, though, the band had to take it live, which meant turning what Kevin did on his four-track into three parts and a lot more cables. “When it comes to taking it live, you just have to not be sacred about keeping various parts. The hardest thing was that we don’t have our own mixer and every time we play live, there is a new guy doing the sound. You have to explain to him, ‘We don’t want this huge stadium sound’ which every sound guy tries to make. That is the most frustrating part. When they mic the drum kit, which is the most defining part of our sound, the microphone is inside the kick drum, but it gives it that stadium feel which I think is just criminal. When you listen to a concert, your head is not inside the kick drum!”

WHO: Tame Impala
WHAT: Debut EP through Modular / Universal / Play Civic Hotel
WHEN: Out now / Thursday 20 November