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Tame Impala’s Kevin Parker on Lonerism, Tumblrs, and John Lennon Comparisons

Kevin Parker. Photo: Mark Metcalfe/Getty Images

Lonerism might be the last push necessary to anoint Australia’s Tame Impala as head priests of the Church of New Psychedelia. The sophomore album, released last week, was written, performed, and produced solely by front man Kevin Parker, whose voice sounds, as Pitchfork recently nailed it, “like someone trapped John Lennon’s vocal take from ‘A Day in the Life’ in a jar and taught it to sing new songs.” Parker, preparing to travel from Perth to Germany for the beginning of a tour with his band (they’ll play sold-out shows at the Music Hall of Williamsburg on November 7 and Webster Hall on November 10), spoke with Vulture about recluses, guitar-nerd fans, and how John Lennon’s ghost found its way into his voice.

Your second album is getting even better reviews than the first. What’s that feel like?
It feels pretty similar to how it’s always felt. We keep to ourselves a lot with what we think about music and our own music. Which sounds really snobbish, but … 

So, you avoid reviews altogether, good and bad?
We usually feel — as I can imagine almost every artist in the world feels — that most of the time your music is interpreted, it’s interpreted slightly incorrectly. No one’s gonna really get your music the way that you get it. Even when they’re trying to be positive, like, Aww, Tame Impala: They really know how to dig up those classics and rock out with the delay pedals. Well, that’s not really what it’s about, but thanks anyway. It could be someone we don’t really know very well or someone from a newspaper from the other side of the world. It’s absurd to actually really care what they think about music. We know what we care about in our music. You might as well keep it pretty insular. That whole world, for me, gets further and further away from the idea of falling in love with music.

Guessing you don’t spend a lot of time on the Fuck Yeah Kevin Parker Tumblr, then.
Doesn’t everyone have a “Fuck yeah” Tumblr at this point?

I don’t know — you might be in a certain echelon, having one.
Oh, I see. I’m gonna make a Fuck Yeah Zach Dionne. See? That’s the thing. It doesn’t actually take a fan base; it takes one person.

But you know there’s at least one young guy or gal out there who’s —
assure you it’s a guy. There wouldn’t be a girl that would make a Tumblr about me. I assure you it’s a guitar nerd who loves phaser pedals. 

The band only attracts males?
No, just my fan base. The rest of the guys are the chick magnets. I’m the guitar-nerd magnet. 

Lonerism is the title, and that idea of being a loner is all through the album. Is that an accurate portrayal of you?
I don’t know in the end how much of a loner I am compared to the great loners of the world. But it’s certainly something I feel satisfied expressing. I feel fulfilled in expressing that because it’s things you never get to talk about or never really want to talk about. 

Do you get any alone time while on tour?
Very small amounts. But luckily, thankfully, I’m touring with my favorite people in the world. It’s not as bad as being stuck with people that don’t understand you. 

Who would you like to open for?
Supertramp on their reunion tour, definitely. The Flaming Lips. Um … I was about to say AC/DC, but their crowds would be terrible, so no. 

I’m hoping this won’t be obnoxious and out of nowhere, but … can we talk about John Lennon a little?
Strangely, no one’s asked me that recently. Maybe they thought it was too sensitive or something. Fire away. It’s cool. 

Was there ever a moment when you were developing as a musician and you heard yourself and thought, Holy shit, my voice sounds a lot like one of the most famous and creative musicians of all time?
Uh … well … umm … I guess the last few years, I’ve noticed it. It’s kind of something I only notice when I’m listening back to it. I never actually personally thought John Lennon. I just thought it sounded like the Beatles. I still, to this day, have no idea why it ends up sounding that way, ‘cause when I sing in a room just playing my guitar, I don’t hear John Lennon or the Beatles or George Harrison or anything. And suddenly I’m recording a song and I listen back to it and go, “Fuck. People are gonna think that sounds like the Beatles.” Some of the time, I’m trying not to sound like him, and I can’t even do that. I don’t know what it is — I can’t put a finger on it, and I can’t seem to stop it. I listen back to it and I think it sounds cool because I hate the sound of my own voice when I hear myself talking. I fucking hate it. 

The similarity is so specifically in your vocals, though, and so minimal in the instrumentation.
I think it comes down to the effects that I put on my voice. Like, I double-track it and put delay on it and the way I EQ it, all those kind of things. I think it’s a case of I’m trying to do the same thing with the vocal sound that people were trying to do 50 years ago to try to get a particular sound. I just love really thin, silvery-sounding vocals. I love the way they affect your brain, the way they sort of deliver a pop hook more than the opposite end of the spectrum, like Tom Waits or something. I just love that kind of dreamy, treble-y kind of voice. That vocal sound really touches me more than anything else. 

You said it reminds you more of the Beatles than Lennon in particular. Are you not a Lennon guy specifically? There’s no way you’re a McCartney guy.
I’m not either or any. I love the Beatles, but I don’t listen to them at all regularly. Most of my friends are bigger Beatles fans than I am. I respect them and I love them — Abbey Road is probably one of my favorite albums, but I don’t think I’ve ever listened to the White Album the whole way through. I don’t think I’ve ever listened to Sgt. Pepper’s the whole way through. I’d say most of the rest of the world are bigger Beatles fans than me. They’d know more of the songs and more of the lyrics — I don’t really know that stuff. I just respect them. 

I know an impala is an animal but only because I looked it up. I thought it was the Chevy car at first. Do you have a stock answer for the name question yet?
I usually just say it’s the African animal, not the car. Not the car. I had no idea it was a car until someone in America heard about the name.

I wonder if many people hit play expecting to hear car music.
That’s slightly depressing. But that’s okay; as long as the music can transcend people thinking about cars, then I’m happy.

Tame Impala’s Kevin Parker on Lennon Comparisons