Tame Impala's Surprising 'Lonerism' Influence: Supertramp

Tame Impala
Tame Impala
David Marchese WRITTEN BY
David Marchese

There's a pretty famous scene in Spinal Tap where lead guitarist-idiot Nigel Tufnel is explaining the ontological questions raised by the all-black cover of the band's new album. "It's like, 'how much more black could this be?'" he wonders. The answer? "None more black."

Speaking on the phone from a tour stop in Chicago, Kevin Parker of Tame Impala is running into much more difficult problems trying to elaborate upon his own brand of cavernous, gorgeous, synesthesia-inducing psych-rock. "I was more into melodies that beam at you rather than wash over you," says Parker. He's explaining, uneasily, the differences between his band's upcoming sophomore album, Lonerism, out October 9 on Modular, and Innerspeaker, its 2010 debut. "This time," he continues, "I was more intrigued by the idea of a song being more like an explosion rather than a wage." No, that's not right. "I got it now," he says. "I want the songs to be like waves that hit you rather than you swimming in an ocean of melody. Know what I mean?"

Pretty much. Lonerism is a deeply trippy, deeply beautiful, deeply melancholy album in which to wade. Parker sings of solitude and sadness, setting his words to dreamy melody. His lush, wobbly guitars sound like no other guitars you've ever heard. (Except for the ones he layered all over his girlfriend Melody Prochet's stellar Melody's Echo Chamber album, which Parker produced.) Though the Australian band is a powerful, motorvating, live outfit, their music evokes a vast, lovely loneliness that comes as a bittersweet refuge in an ultra-connected world. "I was interested in the desperation that comes when you're questioning yourself," says the affable Parker, who comes off as far more down-to-earth than his cosmically-inclined music would suggest. "For me, music is about filling a void. But you have to face the void if you want to try and fill it."

Heavy stuff, though one of the inspirations — and I say this as a serious '70s prog-pop fan — is a kinda surprising, generally unremarked-upon shade of '70s prog-pop heavy. "The feeling of solitude that I'm shooting for, the only other music that has that introspective thing is Supertramp. I get a big buzz out of their music. It's got that explosive quality, that big sound with introspective lyrics. I love that. They're exploding outwards, inwardly. I don't know. I can't describe it."

Parker gets into more actually-pretty-intuitive linguistic mindpainting when talk turns to his distinctive guitar tone. "The example I use," says Parker, "is that most guitarists use a distortion pedal and then use a reverb pedal after that it. They sound like they're playing distorted guitar in a church. I do things the other way around. I'm trying to sound more like I'm playing in a church inside a distortion pedal. Inside a dirty shoebox."

Either way, it's a sound to space out in. Very deep space. Very third eye. The whole album, Lonerism that is, sounds like the Beatles' Revolver spinning comfortably on the Wheel of Suffering. Or maybe like a kick-ass Supertramp? "That works for me," says Parker, laughing. "I just wanted to make something crazy."

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