Let's start with an indisputable fact: Kevin Parker is not Jesus. He is, admittedly, on earth to spread a kind of salvation. And he has that hair and those warm eyes and the little beard, which combine to make him look like he should be sat at the centre of Leonardo's Last Supper. But no, Kevin Parker is almost certainly not Jesus.
Granted, in the flesh, you might wonder. He has this energy, or perhaps, a lack of energy, that bequiets a room. It's a kind of stillness, a preternatural calm that seems to soothe the people around him. That might actually just be because he's a softly spoken Australian who's partial to a joint and who's written some of his best songs stoned out of his tree. For Parker, getting high is a way to escape the twanging of his brain, which can get in the way of his creativity. Hence, the mellow vibe.
But even at larger scales, you can sense his aura. He can lean out from the edge of a stage and make tens of thousands of people feel like he's singing just to them. Oh, and he does write songs like 'Posthumous Forgiveness', the centrepiece of his upcoming fourth album, The Slow Rush, in which he laments the failings of an absent father before offering him exoneration (although unlike the Biblical Son, Parker's comes backed with pillowy synths). And he does occasionally withdraw from the world for extended periods of painful self-examination, after which he drafts a group of acolytes to spread his message. But, look, he's not Jesus, OK?
Although if he was, it would explain all the Kevin Parker-as-Christ art his fans make, and why they self-identify as 'Disciples', and why they caption selfies taken with him as their "lord and saviour". It would also make sense of their fervour, which seems religious in its intensity, as though they're experiencing his music as something more than music, something transcendental. Hence why, though I'm fairly confident that he's not actually the Messiah, it's hard to be sure. Then again, nothing about Kevin Parker, or his alter ego Tame Impala, is exactly certain.
He is perhaps Australia's most famous rock star, but has spent most of his career hiding behind a band that doesn't really exist. He is a sought-after collaborator who literally cannot write music with anyone else in the room. He is a festival-headlining pop artist who makes dense psychedelic rock music. He is a perfectionist, verging on control freak, who thinks his best music is born in moments of unbidden inspiration. And he is a self-confessed anxious, self-critical loner who's rarely happier than when he's stood on stage in front of thousands of people.
This dichotomy is encapsulated in his songs, which can feel both intimate and enormous. Take 'Let It Happen', the breakout single from his breakout 2015 album, Currents. It's an eight-minute psych-rock wig-out, driven by a military drum beat that frequently judders apart like a scratched CD. As a record, it bangs. But Parker's falsetto and his shimmering synths are gossamer things that seem like they might blow away if you focus on them too hard. It's a song that makes the blood pump and stills the heart, all at the same time.
Which is precisely why Tame Impala is such an astonishing thing to experience in the flesh, ideally shoulder-to-beer-soaked-shoulder with thousands of fellow apostles. The communal uplift of 'The Less I Know The Better', or 'Lost In Yesterday', almost makes me understand why people go to those speaking-in-tongue megachurches. Parker has the ability to induce a kind of collective mania which makes you doubt the veracity of your memories. Did I really feel those things? Could I ever feel those things again?
When you see Tame Impala live – and I cannot stress this enough, when he hits the road later this year, you must see Tame Impala live – he will be flanked by other men, on drums and synths and guitars. For years, it was assumed that Tame Impala was a collective noun. A band, in the time-honoured meaning. And then, around the time that Currents was going platinum and being nominated for Grammys and winning ARIAs (the Australian equivalent), Parker slowly began to disabuse people of an assumption that he'd spent years cultivating. There was no band. There was him, alone.
im电竞官网-Those songs, those rapturous, transportive songs, were his, the fruits of his mind and his fingers and nothing else. He wrote every chord, recorded every hi hat, mixed every vocal line. He had no producer, no engineer, no session musicians, sometimes not even friends to ask for feedback. It was lonely work at times, but it was his work. And then, when the time came to tour it, he'd teach his mates how to play the songs he'd written.
It turns out that this is how Parker has made every Tame Impala record, since 2008's first eponymous EP and up to his next album, The Slow Rushim电竞官网-, which is due on 14 February. Being the best thing he's ever made, it's a lovely Valentine's Day gift to the world.
New music is here. A new tour is pending. He has a new approach to life, as well, which embraces success rather than fleeing it. Kevin Parker probably isn't Jesus. But he's definitely been reborn.
Your first gigs start soon. What's the process of turning music you've made on your own into something you can take on tour?
It's different every time. Converting something that I do by myself into something that five people stand on stage and perform in front of people is fun. It's one of the parts of everything that I do that is just unabashed fun. It's a little bit daunting because I never consider my music as something that needs to be performed live for it to fulfil its potential. For me, the music I imagine making is for people listening to by themselves.
I find that slightly surprising, because there's definitely a disco, dancefloor feel in The Slow Rush. 'Glimmer', especially, sounds like a house record.
I've always loved disco and I've always loved primitive house music. I've always just checked myself to not make Tame Impala that. But 'Glimmer' was just something I was messing around with in the studio one day. I didn't actually intend for that to be on the album.
im电竞官网-Not at all. I kind of jam with myself all the time in the studio. It's usually the stuff that I do in between working on the music that I'm passionate about, like, just fucking around the studio is kind of what I do. Almost like a palate cleanser. 'Glimmer' was one of those because it was just me. I just set up a 707 drum machine and I just hit record because I was testing out this new tape machine that I had. I listened back to it and it just spoke to me for some reason. It makes me dream, you know?
Is it important to have that sense of chance when you're writing songs?
Yeah. I can't emphasise enough how important it is to me to feel like I'm just outside my safe zone. It's really important to me to feel like I'm on the verge of it all turning to shit.
It's always the most exciting when there's risks being taken.
You've talked before about experimenting in the studio, things like putting chords on as you go to sleep and then waking up with a melody in your head. Is that part of that?
Yeah. I mean, it's funny cos that that one, the putting the chords on loop and going to sleep, I didn't think of that as an experiment. It was more just like, 'I'm just gonna do this because it seems like a good idea'. But the thing is I'll do whatever it takes to get to a spot where I feel like the music I'm making is inspired. Which is different to making music that I think is good. Like it came from a part of me that wasn't calculated, where I don't know where that came from. That's important to me.
What else gets you to that point?
im电竞官网-When I'm kind of uncomfortable, that's when I think of melodies. They come to me when I mentally just want to kind of escape, or mentally fill a void. And I hate being stoned in public, right? I hate finding myself in that situation, it makes me uncomfortable. So when I was recording this album, I intentionally did that. Just to see what happened. Rather than not go outside, I went, OK, I'll go to the shops or try and do some grocery shopping.
Now, a pop psychologist might see these unbidden melodies as a form of mental self-protection. Parker's childhood was, let's say, non-linear. His parents – both emigrés, his father a Zimbabwean accountant, his mother a free spirit from South African – divorced when he was four. He bounced between them for a decade, at which point they briefly reunited only for things to fall apart again. A year or so before this rekindling, Parker's father had discovered he was smoking weed with his friends and banned him from ever seeing them again. He also informed their parents. At the precise moment a young man's social world is meant to expand, Parker had his ripped away. He developed an almost chronic shyness, for which music became a kind of balm. Could those unbidden melodies be his mind's way of filling up the space where voices suddenly weren't?
"There's probably something in that for sure," Parker says. Music had already saved him once, in the wake of his parents' divorce, first when he discovered drums at the music school they sent him too and then when he started dabbling with the guitars that littered his father's house. "It took over almost instantly from me playing with Lego. You could probably mark quite clearly where I started learning drums because I stopped playing with Lego. It was quite abrupt."
im电竞官网-He knew early, too, that he wanted to do everything himself. It was like a problem to solve, a puzzle to piece together. He likens it to Lego, the idea of "creating something from nothing." But it also led to a strange relationship with creativity. When he joined bands later, using music as a way to make new friends, he struggled to draw the lines between fun and work. He still does.
im电竞官网-"I've never been able to separate making music with other as a social time from it being a creative time," he says. "When I was 14, playing in a rock band in high school, I was more excited by the fact that I was hanging out with my friends than I was about being creative. Going on to bands I was playing in when I was 21, even then making music with my friends was still just a time that I relished as time I got to hang out with my closest friends. And then when I would be on my own, that's when I could finally start being creative."
im电竞官网-In the last few years, the isolated solo artist has became an in-demand collaborator, who's crafted hits for Travis Scott and Lady Gaga and spent a bunch of studio time with Mark Ronson. But the awkwardness endures. He still can't really write with other people, can't split fun time from creating time.
Is it tough to collaborate when you've got that urge towards solitariness?
im电竞官网-I always saw being solitary as a necessity, because I didn't know how to make [music] with people. I like to think that if I could make Tame Impala music with other people I would. So I always wanted to make music with other people. The idea of me writing pop songs that I didn't sing was extremely alluring to me. To be honest, this is another thing that I dragged myself kicking and screaming into doing. I mean, it's no more uncomfortable than just meeting new people. Some people hate doing that and I'm one of them. But I knew the rewards would be great.
Who would you love to work with?
You know what, I'm running out of people that I haven't worked with that I would like to, just because of how it's worked out.
That's a good problem to have.
Yeah. I'm not gonna say anyone because I don't want to jinx it, you know? But hey, fuck it, I'd love to work with Daft Punk. I think that could be really good.
What's your role when you're in a room with, say, Mark Ronson?
im电竞官网-Mark is someone I've been super close with for a long time now, so it's much easier for me, but the big difference is because I've never been able to separate creative time from social time, I know that I piss Mark Ronson off sometimes. Because we get together and I can sometimes just be in a giggly mood because I'm hanging out with Mark.
How long does it take before you're comfortable enough to just snap into it?
I've never snapped into it. I never have. There's no one in the world that I've been around with where I've felt as creative as I do when I'm alone. All the songs that I've worked on with people have been things that I've started on my own and brought to them. I haven't written a single chord progression in the company of another person that made it in the actual song. When I'm alone, there are just different things that come to me. I just have a different, I guess, way of thinking.
'Posthumous Forgiveness', which is kind of the lynchpin of the new album, is about the relationship with your father, right? Can you unpack that a little bit for me?
im电竞官网-It's a song for the sake of the song right, you know? My feelings in that song are not how I feel every day. But it kind of struck me how I discovered something about my dad after he was dead. Around the time that he died, I was still pretty young – he died around 10 years ago. Him being my father, I worshipped the ground he walked on, I never assumed that he could ever put a foot wrong because he was my dad.
im电竞官网-It didn't occur to me that he actually made decisions that were because he was weak. Because he wasn't courageous or he was only looking out for himself in a particular situation. It just struck me that he was just a regular old person who does shit things sometimes. And then a short while after that I just decided to not get hung up about it. So the last bit of the song is meant to suggest this idea that when you forgive someone who's dead, you don't forgive them because they were suddenly able to explain themselves. You just forgive them because they're human and they fuck up, you know?
They're not asking for it, but you are able to give it.
Exactly. So 'Posthumous Forgiveness' is one-sided in that way. It's not like it was explained to you. I guess it was something that I got from growing up, too, realising that adults aren't necessarily any better than children.
im电竞官网-Last December, Parker released 'Posthumous Forgiveness' as an album single proper, but before that there'd been a nearly seven-month gap when fans had heard nothing new. Which was odd, because a year earlier, things had looked rosy. In December 2018, Tame Impala was announced for the Saturday headline slot at Coachella, which had just been vacated by Justin Timberlake. This was notable for a number of reasons, one of which was the novelty of someone playing a guitar at a music festival in 2019, but also because, surely, it meant new music. It had been four years since the last album and no one announces a festival slot, and a world tour, without something new to promote. And, duly, two singles arrived: blissed-out funker 'Patience', and 'Borderline', which sounded like ELO covering Pharrell. Then, nothing. Silence. Fans got edgy. The tour was nice and all, but shouldn't Parker be in the studio?
He should have been, and he wanted to be. He wanted to have new songs to play, but they weren't ready. So he wasn't going to play them. In hindsight, he even regretted putting those singles out. "It was around the time I was so inside my own head and just completely lacking in perspective," he says. "And so those songs came out and then I just realised that I wanted them to sound different." On the album, 'Borderline' has taken a new form, one closer to the version that had first materialised in Parker's mind. "I thought it was totally slamming hip hop, boom-crack drums," he says. "Months later I listened back to it and I was like, ah, kind of sounds like Seventies rock."
Back to the studio it went, to be reworked, polished, remixed and remastered, until he got it close enough to the platonic version that existed in his brain. It's how he writes all his music: first, inspiration; then what can seem like an endless process of reshaping until the corporeal thing is close enough to the imaginary thing. "There's no song that sounds exactly like I imagined it, because when you imagine it, it doesn't really exist. It's completely abstract," he says. "In a way, from the moment I think of a song, it's just a series of letdowns."
Are those "letdowns" what led to the gap?
No, that would be my own brain. I really wanted to have [the album] finished for that touring season but it was wrong of me to choose timing over quality. And I guess it proved to myself that I care that much about my albums, because of how much I wanted to have an album finished by then. And I get really hard on myself. I was like, 'You're fucking worthless, you're pathetic', but I guess the fact that it is me doing it all, there are more ways that it can grind to a halt.
There's no one telling you to just release it?
im电竞官网-Not just release [it], but let's go to the studio. 'Let's sit down and let's write those chords that you have to write to finish this song.' The hardest thing to do in that time would be to just sit down and finish the song because I just wanted to do something else, or something would take my attention, or I was bugging out about it. In those moments, I wish I was just a pop artist who had people buzzing around doing all these kinds of things around me. I just suggest something on a whim and it happens.
But you could have that. The only thing stopping you is you choosing not to have that.
Exactly. But I know in my heart that the music would suffer. I would love to just be lying on the couch the entire time my album is being made and have someone else carry out my wishes. And maybe the music wouldn't suffer and maybe it would just be better because I wouldn't be – I have all kinds of thoughts like that, with this album at least. I knew I had to do it that way. But this might be the last album that I do like that. I don't just mean on my own, but working that intensely.
What would that look like?
Like, if I just made an album in a week. If I made an album in one week, some of my fans would consider it my best album. I honestly believe that. And the more albums [I make], I realise how important that kind of shaking it up is. You have to shake the snow globe up.
Do you actually feel this way, or is this just the post-album emotional hangover?
Here's the devastating plot twist: I said everything I've just told you when I finished [last album] Currentsim电竞官网-. My manager reminded me just the other day, actually, when I was finishing up this album. I was like, 'I'm not doing an album by myself again'. And she said, 'You fucking said that last time'.
Was this one tougher than the previous ones?
The last sort of two or three weeks of making the album was just nonstop. I'd wake up at nine in the morning and go until midnight and then go to sleep. I didn't watch TV. I didn't go out to dinner. I don't think I left my house in LA in about two weeks.
What are you working on at the point?
Everything. I was writing lyrics up until the hour that I finished it. There was a song, 'Is It True', that was only half-finished at about midnight. It was a demo that I'd recorded in about six hours almost a year before. From about midnight to eight am was when I completed the rest of the song which was writing, recording and mixing. That song was about one minute long until midnight, 21 November. And then I finished the whole album the next morning.
That's seven months after your Coachella slot. How tough was it touring with only two new singles?
im电竞官网-It was. That's not to say it wasn't fun and fulfilling. But that's why I desperately wanted to have the album out because I wanted to play new music.
The scaling up of your live shows has happened in conjunction with you taking ownership of Tame Impala more, accepting your rock star-ness, at least more than you used to. Has that changed anything for you?
im电竞官网-It hasn't changed my songwriting, but I guess everything else it has.
In what way?
Just appreciating myself as an artist, which is something I didn't do. For anyone that's a fan of me, to hear that they would probably think that's ludicrous, you know? But it took me a long time. It's this, I guess, self-confidence thing that plagued me. Being afraid of people judging me, which everyone has, but I had it particularly hard. When I became a teenager I got the shyness thing pretty hard. It's taken a lot to drag me out of that. This sounds a very overblown way of saying it, but it took international success for me.Which is not to say that it should – it shouldn't take that to pull anyone out of that, you know, because I still feel worthless. And you know what else? I know that people a hundred times more successful than me feel worthless and feel socially inept. André 3000 feels socially inept, sometimes, or most of the time, I guess, which blows my mind. But I guess what's changed is appreciating myself as an artist and realising that me as a person, how I feel and how I see the world, is an important part of presenting my music. In the past, I would have thought that a video clip of my ugly face singing the song, it's just going to make the song worse. Now, I think, well, even if I do have an ugly face, at least it's me. And I should celebrate that where I can.
Have you done work besides, you know, massive international success?
No, I'd love to say there was an enlightening, 10-day silent meditation trip, but it really wasn't. It's just me telling myself that this is how my journey as a music creator will be better and make sense. And you know what? Not just better for me, this will make it better for everyone. I always assume that people will enjoy it more if I kind of just don't do anything else to go along with the music. But the biggest thing was as soon as I realised that I was doing people's enjoyment of the music a disservice by being kind of shy and just being severely understated. It's funny, because every night I walk on stage, you know, in the few minutes before I step on stage, I'm like, 'Oh my god, what am I doing?' There's a part of me that wants to run back to the dressing room and there's another part that's like, 'Come on, Kev', just dragging myself on stage. And then I walk offstage feeling like a pop star in the best possible way.
Do you feel trepidation when you share something you've worked on alone with other people?
im电竞官网-Not if I'm feeling good about it. If I'm feeling good about it, I can't wait for people to hear it. But I know that as soon as I do play it to someone my expectations will lower a bit. When I'm working on something that I've written myself, and no one in the entire world has heard it, I feel like the first person who does is gonna burst into tears of joy and tear off their clothes and run into the ocean. Which is obviously never true. At least to my knowledge. So playing my music other people is kind of a process of bringing the song back down to earth.
Do you take feedback well?
Uh, yes? [pause] Yes. I mean, I don't tell them to fuck off. I'm not going to tell them to ram it. But like I said, me playing my music to other people is a time of the sun coming back down to earth. And in that way it's always a letdown but that's part of it. That sounds really depressing but it's not.
What songs are closest to how you first imagined them?
im电竞官网-That's difficult. Well, 'Is It True', weirdly enough. And that might be because it was a song that I spent the least amount of time on, which actually now that I'm thinking about it, is actually quite profound. But none of them, really.
Has success brought more confidence or do you worry about how things are going to be received?
Oh, no, there's always that concern. I mean, that's kind of one of the whole things of it, being at peace with the idea of people hating it. And also trying to find some way to harness that and use it as an energy. I think Kanye West said a while ago that people hating you is the same as people loving you. Same emotion. Because it's just them caring about you.
The worst thing is no reaction at all.
Exactly. So I've been coaching myself to embrace the idea of people thinking something that I do is trash. It's important that they disagree with it.
What does success look like for you now?
im电竞官网-I guess it's like artistic fulfilment. Which may be this pot of gold at the bottom of the rainbow that I'm chasing. And probably is. But it won't stop me trying. I feel like there's a kind of a magical, mystical way of me making music that will just be, you know, easy. Like making brush strokes on a canvas and feeling satisfied with them. I'm one of those people that's infinitely curious about things, as well. The idea that my albums only occupy a small area of the world of music kind of annoys me. There's so much more I want to do. But it has to be on my terms. It has to be good, which is what makes it difficult.
The Slow Rush is released worldwide in 14 February.
Styling: | Styling assistant: Rosalind Donoghue
Photographer: Danny Lowe
Art direction: Lisa Barlow
Grooming: Andrea Gomez Anzola using ClarinsMen
Hair stylist: Andy Smith