Varsity Inn | June 15, 2010 | Columbus, OH
Photos by John Danner
As soon as the first few notes hit my ears, the sounds of Tame Impala made me wish I had a genie to grant me a grab bag of … “sound and sight enhancers.” I listened and re-listened, each time was better than the one before. Their EP filled me up, took me on a psychedelic journey and left me breathless.
(Never did get that grab bag though. Oh well.)
Never in a million years did I expect this underground Australian band to come State side within the first year of laying ears upon them. Then, one day, while making the best of company time, I was editing JitP’s Myspace and the news feed updated with a California concert date for Tame Impala. I thought it was a fluke, or just another show I’d secretly hate all my west coast friends for. Then, another date appeared…. then another… and another. All with MGMT! I watched as the announcements crawled across the country. When Colorado was posted and I decided I couldn’t wait any longer. I headed over to Promowest’s website and checked out the opener for the MGMT show. There it was. Like it was no big deal… Opener: Tame Impala. I jumped up from my desk chair and threw my hands in the air! Then smoothed my skirt, sat down, and went full force on getting an interview.
Day of the interview came. By the time I got out of work, the air was hot and heavy and threatening to pour rain and traffic was gnarly. I was so scared I wouldn’t make the interview in time. John can attest to how on-edge I really was. We arrived at The Varisty Inn, a small old hotel… with a drive-up check-in window on the southwest side of Ohio State’s campus. Yes. Not the greatest of places, such is the life of touring musicians. Tame Impala’s tour manager Jodie Regan met me outside the room and we chatted for a bit about MGMT’s kidnapping of the boys the previous night. ”Dom and Paisley are napping b/c they’re so tired and hungover,” she informed me. “But I can wake them up if you’d like!”
“No, no its ok.” I chuckeled. I had actually figured they were going to be tired. I was at MGMT’s acoustic set at CD101 earlier in the day. Andrew VanWyngarden looked a bit hazed as he told the audience of their kidnapping of Tame Impala.
I was introduced to Kevin Parker and Jay Watson. Both looked exhausted, but enthusiastic, sitting barefoot on the double bed across from the one I sat on. I set the iPhone recorder between the two of them…
Kevin: We were at the show last night, we were playing the gig, and we saw a guy hold up his iPhone with an animation of a lighter and a flame and he was holding it up and waving it. And he did it for MGMT –
Jay: When someone told me that afterwards, I was just like, here we are… in America.
Kevin: Here we are in 2010… in America.
Jodie: I’m pretty sure people have been making jokes about that happening for like years now.
Jodie: ‘Cause you know people put their lighters up and do their thing.
Kevin: Yeah, I couldn’t believe it. He was doing it for like a substantial amount of the gig.
Jay: Dude, maybe he was doing it like tongue-in-cheek. Surely, he knew it was hilarious. Or you think he was just like, oh, sweet, I’ve got this lighter app on my iPhone. [laughter]
KP: He downloaded it specifically for your concert.
Jay: Yeah, he did it to MGMT as well.
KP: How long have you been on tour in America so far? Like two, three weeks?
Jay: We can tell by this shirt! Kevin, what’s the first date?
Kevin: The first date was the 28th of May. And… um, and we are in Columbus
KP: Oh, you’re almost done!
Kevin: Just over two weeks.
KP: But you guys are doing some headlining shows here and there, right?
Kevin: Oh yeah, yeah. We’ve got some stuff to do.
KP: So, how’s your American experience been so far?
Kevin: Cool. Amazing. It’s like a new experience around every corner.
KP: Have you guys ever been here before?
Jay: No, never.
Kevin: I was in New York for two weeks mixing the album, but that was about it.
Jay: I’m constantly surprised at people like yourself’s ability to look healthy living in this country. [laughter] The food is just outrageous. The stuff people eat here is just ludicrous. The cheese and stuff and the meat,
KP: What’s the weirdest food you’ve eaten here so far?
Jay: Nothing weird, it’s just like you get a sandwich and there’s that much meat on it and like orange cheese. And we have like kind of nice cheese and a tiny bit of meat.
KP: American cheese is not really cheese.
Jay: It was cool for awhile because I like junk food. But then after like a week or so, we were just like, wow, we can’t find anything. ‘Cause we were mostly eating in like diners and roadhouses and stuff.
KP: Yeah. Especially on the west coast. There’s a lot of diners out there.
Jay: At least they have Mexican food — I love Mexican food. But yeah, that’s my most interesting thing is your guys’ general… as an average nation, the levels of unhealthy food that is consumed. [Laughter]
KP: What’s been the weirdest thing about American culture except for the food for you guys? The biggest shocker?
Jay: How friendly everyone is. Everyone’s friendlier, generally, over here than at home. Um, I don’t know why I thought that Americans weren’t going to be super-friendly, but everyone seems… like, when you meet someone or you see someone in the street, they do something for you. Like everyone’s a lot nicer. I’m taken aback by how nice everyone is.
Kevin: I’m trying to think about what the most shocking about American culture is…
KP: Didn’t you guys come across some kind of cult in the middle of the desert or something.
Kevin: Oh, that’s Nick’s blog.
Jay: That’s wildly exaggerated for poetic effect. That’s just his way of writing. He was trying to go for some sort of On the Road, Kerouac-thing.
Kevin: I can’t put a finger on it, but it’s something to do with like everyone being really excessive and like you being allowed to eat as much of something as you want. Or, you know, if you want something, you should be allowed to have it. Like if you want a large Coke, you should be able to get a fucking gigantic Coke. Yeah. I think the general scale of everything is bigger than Australia.
Jay: The food portions are definitely bigger.
Kevin: Yeah. The size of the pick-up trucks — we call them utes in Australia. But like, some of them are just like gigantic – [Laughter]
Jay: And they never have anything in the back of them! Like in Australia, people have these small utes and they’re filled with workman’s gear or ladders or, you know, whatever people have got they bought, it’s the best place to carry (?) And then you just see dudes driving these massive pick-up trucks and they’re always empty in the back. It’s like, why didn’t you just buy a small truck? I guess it’s just like a big macho kind of massive car.
KP: Just wait until you guys drive through West Virginia. They get bigger and scarier.
Jay: We’ve been in some pretty like — what’s the word? We’ve been in a few quite redneck places. We’ve been pretty much everywhere on the west to middle of America so far.
KP: Yeah, you’ll get the other side of the Mississippi. Tell me the biggest challenge about international touring.
Kevin: Biggest challenge… staying healthy, I guess. Or staying in a bodily state. A bodily state where you don’t feel like you’re slowly withering away. [laughter]
KP: Especially being kidnapped and everything like that. By MGMT.[laughter]
Kevin: Yeah. That has something to do with it too.
Jay: Touring is a lot harder and less glamorous… ‘cause people, you know, you go to a show and you see the band that night and you’re getting a drink and there’s lights and stuff and then the band disappears. But you never think that the band’s been driving for ten hours just before they went on and they’re just going to leave after they play. But yeah. I don’t know, we’re pretty used to it now.
Kevin: At the same time though, when you’re a band that has enough money to pay for a tour manager and a stage techie and stuff, I think you start taking it for granted? Like, some guy setting up all your stuff every night. Suddenly, when you go home and you have to like play a gig for some reason and you don’t have a tour manager and a stage hand and everything, then it’s like, aww, I gotta set up my own amplifier, are you kidding? So you do get quite sort of like, um, what’s the word…??
Kevin: Yeah, I guess so, spoiled. And oh, fuck, I’m not going to remember the word. It’s a really simple word…
KP: You’ll think of it as soon as I walk out the door.
Kevin: Oh, I probably will, yeah.
Kevin: No…. it doesn’t matter.
Jay: These interviews are so funny, because you think of a concept and then spend the next 5 minutes thinking of what you should have said. [Laughter] Everyone’s just like uhhh!
Kevin: [Laughs] You get the general idea.
KP: How did you react when you found out you were doing the American tour with MGMT? I know you guys, you toured with them in Australia. So, when you found out they picked you up to come here…?
Kevin: Yeah, pretty shocked. And it was hard to look forward to it because we were on another tour at the time in Australia; we had another tour to do. It’s hard to get into the mindset of going on another tour when you’re still on another on. You kind of just want to get through that one first. We were getting asked if we were excited about America. I had to say yes because I knew it was a good thing, but it’s so hard to —
Jay: We flew to L.A. straight after we played our last show in Perth.
Kevin: Yeah, we did. We did a tour of Australia. We did our headline show of Australia. You know, quite decent venues, quite a few people. And yeah, an hour —or a couple of hours after the last show in Perth, we were driving to the airport to go to L.A.
KP: Well, it seems like, from what I’ve heard, it’s been going really well for you guys.
Kevin: Oh yeah! There hasn’t been a hiccup.
KP: Have you been surprised at the American fan base here?
Kevin: Yes! A few people have known us or wanted a picture or whatever, which is completely shocking. It reminds me of when that happened in Japan. There was someone who recognized us in the street in Japan and wanted a photo; we were like… ??? You know, it doesn’t compute in my brain
KP: Really? In the street? I have a hard time recognizing people on the street, so…
Kevin: Yeah, well, I think it would have been pretty easy for them, in Japan. [Laughter]
KP: Yeah, that’s true. [laughter]
Kevin: Complacent is the word I was looking for! [Laughter]
KP: There you go! InnerSpeaker is such a well-formed album in my opinion, it’s a really mature sound. I wanted to know who your main musical influences were when you were recording that or in general?
Kevin: Um, I generally just go for whatever sounds good, but it ends up sounding… Influence is like a subconscious thing. But I love they’re a Swedish kind-of psych rock band. They’re the band that I always accidentally end up sounding like because it’s hard to do something that’s not like what they would do. Anyway, Dungen. I always kind of liked dream-pop bands, like Beach House and stuff like that. Um, the Beatles, I guess, even though they’re not really like a conscious influence. Yeah, half the time it ends up sounding a particular way, it was unintended. You know, like, people say the album sounds like the Stone Roses, but I don’t even like the Stone Roses.
KP: Yeah, a lot of people I’ve talked to seem to say Cream seems to be a big one.
Kevin: Yeah, that -
Jay: We had one song off that EP that we had for ages and threw it in the album that was particularly like Cream-sounding.
KP: You know, Eric Clapton lives like twenty minutes away from here.
Kevin: Oh, really?
KP: Yeah. My friend’s son goes to school with one of his kids or something like that? So I was like, call your friend’s mom and have Eric Clapton come out to the show.
Jay: So he lives in Ohio?
KP: Yeah, he lives in Dublin, OH?
Jay: It seems weird that he wouldn’t live in like New York or LA or something?
KP: Yeah, or London or something.
Jay: Or London, yeah.
KP: But apparently his wife’s from the area. He lives pretty close to here. So we were trying to get him to come out to your show —
Jay: Oh yeah?
KP: In some weird roundabout way, trying to get him to come out here.
Jay: Yeah, I don’t think as someone who’ a devout audio file, I don’t really hear Cream in that album.
Kevin: Yeah, I think it’s more of just an easy reference point for people. I’m pretty sure that everyone who says it sounds like Cream hasn’t actually heard that much of Cream.
KP: I pretty much brought up the Cream to bring up Eric Clapton. [Laughs]
Kevin: Oh, there was a time when I was obsessed with Eric Clapton. Not so much now.
Jay: I was never obsessed with Eric Clapton; I liked Cream…
KP: Well, if he shows up to the show tonight… you know that Tracey got him there…
Kevin: Whoooooaaaa. He’ll probably hate it.
KP: What’s your creative process like when you sit down and record songs?
Kevin: It’s usually, the first time a song gets recorded anyway, it’s a quick like 30-second demo that I’ve just got to get out into some sort of physical form so that it doesn’t evaporate in my brain. A lot of songs, I think, don’t end up getting pursued because I forget them. I don’t have time, I don’t get the chance to go and like record it in some way. Even if you write it down, it doesn’t work — I’m not good enough at note-taking music, so I have to get to like an 8-track or some sort of thing where I can demo it. And then that 30-second demo exists for a long time with me deciding whether or not it’s good enough to make into the rest of the song. And so the album is just taking a whole bunch of sound clips and stuff like that and figuring out which should be proceeded with. And yeah, it’s very much a sort of calculated, like pieced-together thing of making songs. There’s very rarely any jamming, you know, as a band that turns into a song. It’s usually just aiming for one thing and then trying to get it.
KP: Does everybody write their own parts?
Kevin: Uh no, it’s like a recording project. It’s mainly mine. So I record most of the instruments. And these guys have their own bands. And we all have our own like things, and some of us are in each other’s things. In Perth, we’ve got a large musical circle of friends, where we all — it’s quite incestuous. There’s lots of music being made. And the fact that each one has a name is almost irrelevant, I guess.
KP: I know Peter Arko of Ears of the Beholder. You recorded for Yours Truly out in California. How was that experience?
Kevin: Yeah, really fun.
KP: Yeah, it looks like you guys had a good time.
Jay: Yeah, it was cool. It got pretty hot in the end.
Kevin: Yeah, it was the most amazing thing at the start. And then like, by the end, we’re like, alright, let’s just do a good take. ‘Cause like everything was getting to be hot. My pedals were burning. And his cymbals…
Jay: I was really paranoid of my drum kit, which was fairly new, warping. Because that’s happened to me before, like the shell would warp in the sun.
KP: But it survived?
KP: You know the music blog over here, YVYNYL? From what I noticed, he picked up on you guys six, seven months ago, and then it just seemed to explode from there. And he wanted to know if you guys surfed in Santa Cruz.
Kevin: Surfed? No, no. We can’t surf.
Jay: We’re not the Beach Boys. [Laughter] We go to the beach a lot and we like the beach a lot, but we can’t surf.
Kevin: I’ve been surfing a couple of times.
KP: I think he had his heart set on like the image of you guys surfing in California.
Kevin: No, well… for the record: I love surfing and surf everyday. [Laughter]
Jay: Andrew, I think went for a surf. He surfs. From MGMT. But he taught himself in Australia. He had like a few months off and he taught himself to surf. Now he surfs like pretty much every time he can, but we can’t surf. We haven’t got time to surf!
Kevin: Yeah, I’ve been meaning to get into surfing. My girlfriend surfs.
KP: Yeah, you should teach yourself.
Jay: I think it’s just because we’ve got somewhat brown skin and long hair and live on the beach and like the beach.
KP: I think Americans have this big assumption that Australians should just automatically know how to surf.
Kevin: Oh, we go to the beach like everyday in the summer.
Jay: But it is pretty weird that none of us know how to surf though, Kevin. Like a lot of people who like went to your school around your area would know how to surf, like a lot of guys and girls.
Kevin: Hmmm, not really. In the proper coastal inland.
Jay: I reckon most coastal suburbs, like most of the teenagers who live in coastal suburbs can surf to some extent.
Kevin: No. There was like a handful of guys at my school that surfed and they were called like the salty dogs
Jay: Well, I think it’s more popular on the east coast. Like my cousins lived in—-
Kevin: Yeah, that’s true.
KP: Do you guys have day jobs when you’re back in Australia, when you’re not on tour?
Kevin: Not anymore, no. Apparently we can stand on two feet now.
KP:That’s cool. That’s really cool. You know you’ve made it when you don’t have to work.
Jay: Yeah. Five hundred bucks a week. Each.
Kevin: Yeah, we’re not rich, though.
Jay: Yeah, we get — we’re kind of getting quite popular in Australia. Like commercially, like on commercial radio and stuff and like playing quite big shows ourselves. And get played by mainstream radio and stuff. And people in Australia think we’re a lot richer than we are because we do quite well there. Over here, you know, it’s the way it actually is, we’re like quietly staying in quite crappy hotels and stuff. In Australia, people think we’re pretty rich and we’re definitely not. Definitely not rich. I got Kevin to buy me my ice cream at the service station last night because I didn’t have any money left.
Kevin: Yeah, I didn’t remember. No, actually, I can remember, like tunnelvision.
KP: Soft-serve ice cream?
Jay: No, no, like those… drumsticks, sort-of?
KP: Was it a big one? Was it a huge one?
Jay: They’re big, yeah, like — those drumsticks in Australia are like *that* big.
Kevin: I remember it being really big, I was like, dude…
Jay: And your ones are like… *makes sound effects* Takes about forty minutes to eat! [laughter]
Another big thank you to Kristi for transcribing this interview faster than I could have ever asked for!