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35: Tame Impala

Photo by Tame Impala

"Company Is Ok, Solitude Is Bliss..."

Historically, all great rock bands have benefited from an iconic ‘frontman'. In a similar fashion, where team sports require a captain and religious groups' spiritual leaders, all communities big or small are strengthened by a good chief. Although there is equal contribution and every person’s importance holds equal weight, the leader is required to guide, protect, and ultimately hold the responsibility for any pitfalls. In the rock world, a charismatic frontman can lead to momentous success for a band. Throughout the '60s era of rock n roll, legends like Jimi Hendrix and Jim Morrison set the stage for ‘rock gods’, with a succession of iconic figures like Freddie Mercury and Kurt Cobain in the decades after that. These leading men embody the qualities of charisma and unapologetic authenticity that capture the attention of vast audiences. Their fans are devoted to them like idols - ‘‘Men want to be them, and women want to…,” well, you know the phrase.

When comparing modern rock bands, such dynamics are evident. Power struggles and personal conflicts often emerge, as seen in the case of Liam and Noel Gallagher from Oasis. Liam, the charismatic figurehead, and Noel, the prolific songwriter, had a yin-and-yang dynamic, but their conflicts led to the band's demise. Arctic Monkeys, a Sheffield-based band, thrived on collective creativity. Yet, it prompts questions: Would they have gained the same cultural significance without Alex Turner? Would Alex Turner be the revered frontman without his bandmates?

Consider Tame Impala, for instance. When you think of the band, your mind instantly conjures the image of Kevin Parker, the lead singer, songwriter, and producer. His distinctive look, awkward hairstyle, and ethereal vocals shaped the new wave of psychedelic rock, highlighting the frontman's ability not only to lead but to personify the entire band. His solitary creative process is irregular from the classic rock bands before him.

From the moment Kevin Parker veered away from an astronomy course after signing Tame Impala to Modular Recordings in 2008, he has expanded his musical potential as if an astrologer in the realm of aerial waves. Tame Impala is unequivocally centred on the personal development of its frontman, an autobiography of coming of age, emotional hardship, and ultimately growth. The message contained in his music resembles his many experiences and is painted in a tapestry of melodies delivered honourably by the separate band members.

In 2009, Tame Impala released their first studio album "Innerspeaker,", emerging as a psychedelic rock masterpiece, rising from the underground music scene in Perth, Australia. Kevin openly acknowledges the influence of '70s rock artists and the transformative effect of psychedelic experiences on classic rock songs, particularly under the influence of shrooms. Tame Impala grew a cult following and a name for itself as a ‘stoner band’ from years of Parker’s self-exploring recordings.

Cover Art for Tame Impala’s 'Innerspeaker'

Parker’s passion for electronic equipment is heard in the sound of Tame Impala, experimenting with devices such as the Rickenbacker 335. His recording method is known as solitary, a loner genius tirelessly tweaking and looking for the lost chord. He has described himself as being consumed by the music created, the rest of the world fading away, becoming completely immersed.

“Tame Impala are not really a band, but a headspace; by their very nature, they’re something insular and self-absorbed, concerned only with the neuroses and anxieties of one man...”

Parker’s passion for electronic equipment is heard in the sound of Tame Impala, experimenting with devices such as the Rickenbacker 335. His recording method is known as solitary, a loner genius tirelessly tweaking and looking for the lost chord. He has described himself as being consumed by the music created, the rest of the world fading away, becoming completely immersed.

It was in the following 2012 album Lonerism that Parker discovered himself musically. Lonerism explores the emotional fragility of Parker, an honest and unashamed perspective into loneliness and despair. With conviction, he reflects a generation of men who struggle to contend against rejection and isolation.

The album's defining song ‘Elephant' is a stomping anthem of the belligerence and vulgarity of a bully which, paired with Why Don’t They Talk to Me?,’ reflects the inner turmoil of a socially awkward and reclusive young man with a universe of musicality dancing through his mind.

Paralleled to Kevin Parker's journey of loneliness and spiritual exploration, Tame Impala ushered in a fresh cultural perspective centred around the conversation on mental health. The issues he addresses make their music relatable to others who share similar struggles.

The album propelled the band into universal stardom, critics compared them to rock giants like Pink Floyd and Led Zeppelin, reflecting their devoted fans, immense production style, and surrounding atmospherics on tour. A turning point in Parker’s creative process and music artistry was his growing friendship with Mark Ronson, taking him away from his alternative rock roots towards a pop sound. In their 2015 album Currents, Parker focuses on melodies over instrumentals, with the rhythms more indebted to R&B.

The lyrical transitions of the album note the immense internal shifts he has undergone since his previous works, displaying an entirely autobiographical series of songs from ‘The Moment,’ ‘Yes I’m Changing,’ ‘The Less I Know The Better,’ to ‘New Person, Same Old Mistakes.’ The album reflects on approaching adulthood, letting go of old identities and a shift in psyche when embracing an updated version of oneself. The album was Tame Impala’s most commercially successful album, debuting as number one in Australia and three in the UK, as well as hugely favourable response from critics.

Through the process of making Currents, his blossoming relationship with Mark Ronson drew attention to his solitude, and he began expanding his creative process through collaboration. Parker began to expand outside of Tame Impala, working with a variety of high-profile artists from Rihanna and Kanye West to Travis Scott, and even blockbuster movies Barbie and Elvis.

Tame Impala’s fourth studio album The Slow Rush appears to be an amalgamation of all Parker’s influences to date. It never appears to rest on its style but instead strings a track list together born from soul, acid house to contemporary R&B. In this album, Parker demonstrates a confidence to experiment with his sound and to trust his intuition in the music he produces. On the other hand, the loose end of the album leaves listeners wanting more as it seems to visit decades of music influence without much harmony.

Cover art for Tame Impala’s ‘The SlowRush

Parker continues to resist the idea of Tame Impala as a communal space, but rather a vessel capturing his exact experiences. This unique approach allows Parker, recognised as both a production genius and a reluctant rock god, to maintain the authenticity of his artistic expression. By keeping Tame Impala as a solitary endeavour, he uses the band as a canvas to experiment with sound and production techniques, creating a distinctive sonic landscape that has set Tame Impala apart in the music industry. The commitment to individuality underscores Parker's dedication to preserving the purity of his creative process, ensuring that Tame Impala remains a genuine reflection of his musical journey.

Tame Impala's trajectory offers a compelling exploration of contemporary society, with Kevin Parker's distinctive solo creative approach deviating from the conventional practices of classic rock bands. In contrast to Jimi Hendrix's pursuit of freedom during a time of war in Asia and Freddie Mercury's pioneering role in championing queer rights and embracing differences, Parker's artistic journey reflects an era defined by individualism and isolation. His unfiltered vulnerability deeply resonates with a generation grappling with the complexities of self-identity. With each album, he brings a new vision to life, offering a poignant commentary on today's social climate through the introspection of his emotional world. Tame Impala reflects our ever-changing landscape marked by transformation and confusion.

Written by: @hannahmaybaldwin

Edited by:  @Arriv3r