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Page 2: Tame Impala

The Psychedelic World Of Kevin Parker By Tom Doyle
Published July 2020

Current Events

Moving onto the third Tame Impala album Currents, released in 2015, Parker continued in this nostalgic vein, utilising what he describes as "naff" early digital synths such as the Roland D-50 and the JV-1080 module, whose sounds he recognised from pop radio as he was growing up.

"That's that evocative thing again," he says. "I'll do anything for evocation. Anything. I'll forsake everything else to just do something that transports me. Even if every classy bone in my body and my inner rock & roll producer is screaming."

Elsewhere, in the drum machine department, Parker works often with the Sequential Circuits DrumTraks. "I love that it sounds like a LinnDrum," he says. "It's instant kind of disco, those sounds." Meanwhile, 'Glimmer' from The Slow Rush features a Roland TR-707 with — in the tradition of late '80s house records — a touch of blanket reverb.

"Yeah, or more than just a touch, I think," he says. "The 707 I love. That's another one of those things I just find instantly evocative. Especially when you drive it through a tape machine and you put reverb on it. That whole song is just like a snippet taken from a long jam I had with myself where I sync'ed all the machines up. The 707 is easily my favourite of the Roland drum machine series, and I love it more than DrumTraks. Not that it's a competition [laughs]."

Parker: "I find the SH‑1 to be a better synth than the Minimoog. Just because it has more personality."Parker: "I find the SH‑1 to be a better synth than the Minimoog. Just because it has more personality."

On The Slow Rush, Parker brought other synths into the mix, including the Oberheim Matrix 6 keyboard and Matrix 1000 rack unit, and the Roland SH‑1.

"That features a lot on the album," Parker says of the latter. "It's just a really unique sound. I generally don't care for anything that's high quality. Like, I find the SH‑1 to be a better synth than the Minimoog. Just because it has more personality. Nothing against the Minimoog — it's fine and you get the thundering bass and all that kind of stuff that everyone talks about. But I'd probably use the SH‑1 for bass, just cause it sounds so different. It's not supposed to be a bass synth. Something I get a kick out of a lot in the studio is using something for what it's not supposed to be used for."


The making of The Slow Rush was not without its drama. In November 2018, Kevin Parker rented an Airbnb in Malibu, California to work on ideas, in the process buying up around $40,000 of recording gear. One day, he looked out of his window, saw smoke and flames on the horizon and quickly learned that he was being advised to evacuate the house due to an enormous wildfire.

Parker grabbed his computer, hard drive and 1960s Paul McCartney-style Hofner violin bass, and left. The house was subsequently destroyed by the fire, along with all of his new equipment.

"The Hofner was the only thing that was irreplaceable," he says. "It's one of the only things that I own that I'm sentimental about. Just because it's been with me through thick and thin. It accounts for almost every bass note in the Tame Impala songs. I had a Stratocaster in there that was given to me by Fender, which I was kind of sad that I lost. That was new, everything else was new. A bunch of preamps and stuff that I lost."

At the heart of Parker's studio is a Studer 963, which he uses primarily for routing rather than for mixing.At the heart of Parker's studio is a Studer 963, which he uses primarily for routing rather than for mixing.Work on the album continued back in Parker's house in Freemantle where he'd previously made Currents in a corner of one room, before moving to another house two blocks away and turning his original property into his dedicated studio. He had by now bought his Studer 963 console, which he uses only for routing.

"I don't mix through it," he says. "I just have it as permanent inputs for synths and drums. The drums are basically the first eight channels and I never unplug them. I just like to have everything up and ready for when I play. For me, nothing's worse than wanting to do something and then having to spend 10 minutes plugging in stuff. By then, the inspiration's gone."

In terms of monitors, Parker massively upgraded from the Yamaha HS7s he'd used to make Currents, to a pair of ATC SCM45A Pros. "I went from $300 monitors to $10,000 monitors," he laughs. "I had a bit of money from Currents, so I was just like, 'Fuck it, I may as well.' The HS7s, I was always fine with. But a few friends of mine in LA have studios and they've got the ATCs. They just blow me away every time."

Parker's characteristically fizzy guitar sounds, meanwhile, are typically DI'ed — his effects workhorse being a Seymour Duncan KTG-1 tube preamp. SOS tell him that someone selling one on recently noted that if you'd heard of the unit, you must be a Tame Impala fan.

"Wow, that's amazing," Parker says. "There's nothing else that sounds like it. It's got a bass, mid and treble EQ and the drive section. It makes your guitar sound like it's already coming out of an album. Without me realising, I fell in love with it because it sounds similar to the way that producers were recording guitar in the '70s, which was just DI'ed straight into the desk and then driving the channel.

"Now, for me, the idea of tracking guitar without it sucks. But at the same time, I hate saying that this piece of gear is essential. If you plug straight into that, you won't get a Tame Impala guitar sound. It'll sound like what it was made for, which was like '80s metal. But if you do a few other things..."

Things which Kevin Parker, for obvious reasons, isn't keen to divulge. But sometimes, he says, as when working on the drum track for the bouncing funk of 'Borderline', the second single released from The Slow Rush, he'll land upon a sonic solution that he considers to be his own personal breakthrough, only to see it by chance replicated elsewhere.

"I wanted it sound like this kind of '90s hip–hop track," he says of 'Borderline'. "Which was just incredibly hard to do with real drums. Y'know, the drum samples on those kind of things, the kick drum might be sampled from some old soul album and the snare is sampled from a completely different album. They've got control over the kick and snare.

"So, I was doing a few kind of tricks. I was doing this thing where I did a really thin EQ bump at about 60Hz and jacked it up so the kick drum was resonating. Then about a week later I got Ableton 10 and it has that on Drum Buss, as a little effect. So, weirdly, after I felt like I'd invented this new thing, which was make any kick drum sound like an 808 by making the EQ resonate, you can do that on Ableton now. It's something I wouldn't have revealed but it's on Ableton 10 [laughs]."

Kevin Parker is fond of reel-to-reel tape machines — pictured here are his Revox B77 and Ampex ATR-700 two-track recorders.Kevin Parker is fond of reel-to-reel tape machines — pictured here are his Revox B77 and Ampex ATR-700 two-track recorders.

Another important element in the punchy drum sound that Parker achieves is the fact that he'll often feed a stereo mix of them onto one of his three reel-to-reel tape machines — a Revox B77, Ampex ATR-700 and TEAC A2340R — for added saturation.

"I'd say probably half of the drums on the album were run onto either the Revox or the ATR. I bounced some drums, put them on the tape, took them off and then never went back to the stems. Even if it didn't sound right, or something could've been better, I didn't go revisit from before the tape. It was like, 'These are the drums now... deal with it.'"

Vocal Sound

When recording his vocals, Parker will sometimes similarly and purposely create limiting factors for himself, in an effort to create something different–sounding. "With this album I didn't want there just to be one vocal sound," he says. "Sometimes I'd be totally aggressive with the EQ, for no reason other than to make it sound like some shitty old microphone. I'd spike it at 8kHz and put that at the start of the chain and then compress and then try and fix it afterwards.

"It was just for that feeling of, you've taken a sample of a vocal that was recorded in the '70s on, like, some old Turkish album. Then you're trying to put it on an album that's like modern day commercial pop. I was really into that idea, so I was often destructive in that way. I would do things in the track just to fuck it up."

In the past, particularly on Lonerism, Parker generally used a Sennheiser MD421 to record his vocals. These days, he tends to chop and change between various other mic options. "I've got a few funky mics around," he says. "I'm obsessed with anything that sounds a bit weird. But by the time it came to doing proper vocal takes, I had an Electro–Voice RE-20. I'd been doing most of my vocals on that, but that was lost in the fire. My distributor guy in LA didn't have another one at the time, so I got a [Shure] SM7[B] which was the same mic that I'd used on Currents for vocals."

Parker records his vocals alone, which he accepts can sometimes be hard, when there's no one giving him direction or asking him to do a take again. "But at the same time, I wouldn't dare do it like that either," he states. "Because I like to just have all the time in the world. For me, doing vocals is such an intensely private thing, and it always has been. I have nothing but admiration for people who can record vocals with someone at the computer. It would give me such anxiety, sharing that kind of moment with someone.

"I have moments of great emotion when I'm recording vocals, y'know. So, for me to be able to share that with someone would be massive. But then to have someone that could go, 'Alright, that's the take'... that would be great."

A case in point being the song ''Cause I'm A Man' from Currents, which Parker remembers involved precisely 1056 vocal takes. "It wasn't like I had a thousand complete vocal takes," he stresses. "But I pressed record and stop over a thousand times. Ableton automatically labels the WAV file, and it went up to over a thousand for that. But that would've been me sometimes singing one word and then stopping. Most of those I wouldn't have got one line in."


Similarly intensive is Kevin Parker's mixing process, which he told himself he wouldn't overlabour on The Slow Rush. It didn't quite work out that way. "Some of my favourite albums are where you can hear it's been mixed really quickly," he says. "And I think there's a magic to that. Because there's something about a mix sounding undesirable in some way. Y'know, where it's like you can tell someone mixed this album and their monitors didn't have much 3kHz, or something. You're like, 'How did they bounce this not thinking this was gonna hurt some people?' But there's something wild and magical about albums that sound like that.

"So, I told myself I wasn't going to labour over it too much. But I did. I laboured over it more than I wanted to on the mixing side, and also went more insane than I wanted to. Just with going back and forth and having it remastered and remastered."

One track, 'Posthumous Forgiveness', took Parker 10 months to complete. But he singles out 'Borderline' as being the toughest mix to nail. "I actually redid it a few times, performance-wise and instrument-wise and mix-wise. Which I hardly ever do. I hardly ever re-record parts. But I re-recorded the bass for that and the drums and all kinds of stuff. For me, it had to hit the spot sound-wise, which it just wasn't. It was so tough."

Some of my favourite albums are where you can hear it's been mixed really quickly... And I think there's a magic to that.

On Currents, Parker's summing chain involved a Neve 1073 DPA stereo preamp, an SPL Vitalizer and a Manley Variable Mu compressor/limiter. This time around, for The Slow Rush, he wanted to simplify the process. "I completely 180'ed with mix bus processing," he says. "Nowadays, it's literally just a limiter, no EQ. I'm just a bit more minimal. I do use a couple of things, like SSL G Bus or whatever on some tracks, but not all of them."

Four very different Tame Impala albums into his career, the ever self-critical Kevin Parker finds that he can now sometimes sit back and enjoy listening to his own records. "I can if it's been long enough, or if I'm drunk enough," he quips. "I can listen to Innerspeaker 'cause I hear the decisions that I made as a producer and I'm like, 'Oh, that's cute.'

"On a number of occasions, one of my friends has asked if we could listen to The Slow Rush late at night and I've been like, 'OK, whatever, I'm kind of out-of-it enough.' It definitely seems like a late-night album.

"I think I'm maturing in my kind of artistic self-consciousness," he adds. "Because, before, I couldn't listen to any of my first three albums for years after I made them. But The Slow Rush I can. I almost enjoy it (laughs)."

Looking to the future and the fifth Tame Impala album, Parker says that for him the possibilities are wide open. "I'm interested by anything. Like, the more my perspective widens and I appreciate things I didn't appreciate before, the more interesting everything sounds. The more the prospect of recording in some other way sounds appealing.

"I also think we're entering an interesting time in recording music. Because pop music is no longer the music that's the most flashy. You're perfectly likely to hear something kind of distorted and weird on a Top 40 song. I almost feel like we're entering this post hi-def era. I think we've reached the peak of HD and we're kind of over the other side of the hill in a weird way.

"I'd love to make an album with no computers and all just physical EQ," he says. "And I'd love to make an album that's just digital and see if I could make it sound good, y'know. I'm intrigued to try everything."