It’s a reassuring sight to see an Australian band successfully take on the world in the way Tame Impala have over the last few years. Their lush, psyche-pop sound feels like it was born between the grooves of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, evolving inward and outward, feeding on a wealth of influences and dreams unrealised.
Tame Impala’s long awaited second album Lonerism, the follow-up to the much lauded Innerspeaker, was released worldwide last week. Lonerism amps up the poppier side to their psyche dreams, more lavish and exploratory and insane. Currently on a worldwide tour, Chris Berkley of Static spoke to Kevin and Dom from Tame Impala about the making of Lonerism and its effect on the chief songwriter.
Was it a long gestation period to make the record? Obviously you’d be working on it on and off for a long time, were you relieved to finally have it out?
Kevin: Yeah. It’s more like ‘on and on for a long time’. I can’t even begin to describe the torment. Not torment, but I haven’t even begun to think about music since finishing the album, my brain is just dead.
Do you cocoon yourself away to make a record? On the album sleeve it says stuff was recorded between 2010 and 2012, so it’s not like you had this intense period, right?
Kevin: I was pretty much just recording it in a room next to my bedroom for the last two years or whatever. So, we’d go on tour and stuff and then go back into the studio. But that’s the thing, when I was on tour, I had my computer with me, so I wasn’t able to escape from it. It was just more and more of an obsession this time.
Why was making this one a bit different than the first time around? Was it because you knew there would be people expecting it?
Kevin: It wasn’t even that, it was just the way I set it up where I had myself to be doing it all the time. In hindsight it probably would’ve been healthier to allocate a two month/three month period to do it, but because I had it in the room next to my bedroom it would be just all day, every day.
Is that the room that’s on the record cover as well? That picture of you amongst all this crap that you can barely swing a cat in?
Kevin: Yeah (laughs).
You need to follow the Rolling Stones idea and rent some chateaus in France or something for album number 3.
Kevin: Right. That would definitely serve us better.
What’s it like for you guys in the band watching Kevin make a record then? Is he easy to be around or do you kinda feel sorry for his torment?
Dom: It’s always been the case that Kevin would be working on music incessantly since I’ve known him, since he was 13, 14 years old, so it’s nothing new to us. It’s just like, if we’re in the van, he’ll have his headphones on with Ableton open, going at it. It’s just how it works. It’s not weird to us. He doesn’t get ratty. It’s just how it is.
It seems for Lonerism you guys have kinda drawn the curtain back a bit as well, obviously people now know that it’s just you that makes the records, Kevin. Was it a bit of a misconception when Innerspeaker came out?
Kevin: Yeah, but I didn’t mind it, because I’ve always gone with that thing in the past. I always said it was a band because I felt a bit shy probably. I was too self-conscious to say that it was all me. I just felt safe hiding behind a blanket of other people.
Dom: It definitely wasn’t an intentional thing. If someone asked us how the songwriting process evolved, we’d always say “It was Kevin”. It’s just people didn’t kinda get it.
Kevin: We’ve never told fibs or anything. For some reason we say what we say and people still just go “sounds like a rock band playing in a room”.
The fact that a band like Ponds being so busy that last couple of years makes people realise that you can’t all be in two places at once, so it has to be you.
Kevin: Exactly. Well that’s kinda the other thing, I don’t feel like it’s representative of what we do now, like Tame Impala. Every one else has a band that people know about, so I can just say “Tame Impala’s my little thing” and it makes sense.
Is the album title Lonerism a bit of a giveaway then? Is that what you do?
Kevin: Not at all, that’s just a coincidence, or if anything, the recording process is a result of being that kinda person.
So how do you build things up in the studio if there’s not a band there? Do you literally do it track by track yourself? How do you get the scope of what a track’s gonna sound like?
Kevin: Usually I just record the first thing I can think of, the thing that’s loudest in my head, some chords or something and then sing the melody over it. I just have to get the basic kind of idea down before I forget it, and then just slowly put drums and bass over the top, in whatever order seems inspiring. There’s no rules.
Are you guys around then for bouncing ideas back and forth as well? Are you sounding boards every now and then?
Dom: Not in an intrusive fashion. We’re always there if Kevin wants a second opinion.
Kevin: Dom’s usually my go-to guy.
Is he the guy that says “yes” the most?
Dom: I’m a harsh critic.
Kevin: He’s totally brutal and honest, which is what you need. The worst thing possibly imaginable is someone who says “yes” all the time. I wouldn’t be able to stand it.
After touring Innerspeaker for so long were you pent up with a lot of ideas that you wanted to try when you got to go back and be that studio guy? Some of the stuff on the record seems like you’ve really enjoyed that part of the process, like the hand on the tape stop in “Apocalypse Dreams”.
Kevin: Yeah, totally. It was just a result of using a computer to do it rather than an 8 track like on the last album. On an 8 track you kinda have to plan ahead what you’re gonna do before you start the song, but with a computer there’s infinite possibilities.
Even stylistically it seems you guys have a bit more fun on Lonerism. I’m want to say it but it almost sounds like more of a pop record than Innerspeaker. A song like “Elephant” is this glam shuffle thing, which I guess you guys hadn’t dipped your toes into before as well. When those songs were coming out of the studio were you excited by what you were hearing?
Dom: I think in the past we’ve always been a bit more self-conscious of not wanting to be really lame, whereas now, having the reception the first album brought and the positive feedback received we’ve been more confident with doing what just felt right, rather than just imposing restrictions on ourselves with what we think is cool.
Do a lot of fans and reviewers of Innerspeaker as well mention bands and reference points that you guys hadn’t heard of? Do you have to kinda go and check them after people were latching onto Innerspeaker?
Kevin: Yeah, totally, that happens a lot of the time. Sometimes I check them out, sometimes I don’t bother. I would imagine that happens to everyone though.
Because for the “Elephant” remix you got Todd Rundgren to do one.
Kevin: Yeah, we’re all massive fans of his work and his adventurism in the studio. Definitely.
Are there a few more crusty 70’s underground heroes you have on your remix wishlist or to work with then?
Dom: I’m not sure a lot of them would even know how to operate a computer.
Kevin: I don’t know… Robert Wyatt, or something could be amazing.
You’re obviously on tour forever, how do you make time for album number 3?
Kevin: I don’t know. I don’t really know what it’s really going to be like. I’ve got a few kind of ideas that could be really cool or could just sound terrible. It’s still just a thought process at the moment.
Remember my hint, get out of that room — chateau, south of France.
Kevin: Chateau, south of France. Right.
Interview broadcast on Static on 01/11/12. Static can be heard on Sydney’s 2SER (107.3 FM) and via the Internet (www.2ser.com) every Thursday evening (AEST).