Starting off their career as psychedelic explorers, the Australian band Tame Impala spent a decade subverting expectations and mutating their sound in fascinating ways, as well as being an inspiration to musicians as diverse as Unknown Mortal Orchestra and Lady Gaga. Guided by the musical prowess of Kevin Parker, the band's 2010 debut album Innerspeaker was a huge, loud guitar rock album dipped in swirling psychedelic colors. The follow-up Lonerism (2012) dialed down the guitars in favor of a more expansive style, after which Parker swerved into a poppier sound that brought in hip-hop (2015's Currents) and disco influences (2020's The Slow Rush), while upping the sugar content of the hooks. It proved to be a winning approach, and by decade's end Parker was collaborating with some of the biggest artists on Earth (Kanye, Travis Scott) while the band was selling out stadiums and tons of records.
Parker grew up in a musical household and dedicated himself to learning guitar and drums at at early age, partially to escape the pressure of family life. His school friend Dominic Simper shared his love of music, especially the psychedelic sounds of the late '60s and the pair formed a band called the Dee Dee Dums in 2005 with drummer Luke Epstein. They became fixtures on the underground Perth scene until Epstein left in 2007 to join another group. Jay Watson took his spot and they changed their name to Tame Impala. The trio formed the live band, but Parker mostly took care of recording duties himself, crafting trippy, woozy psychedelic pop in his bedroom. He posted some songs on MySpace and they quickly became a phenomenon. The band released an EP, Tame Impala, in 2008 on the tiny Hole in the Sky label, then signed with Australian label Modular Recordings and released another self-titled EP later in the year.
The EP went to number ten on the ARIA charts and number one on the independent label charts. Though Parker played everything in the studio, live Tame Impala functioned as a real band, though at their early gigs they were famously unprepared and never wore shoes. At one such shambolic gig for a Vice Magazine party in Melbourne, indie electro-pop band MGMT's label manager caught their act and was impressed enough to offer them the support slot when his band toured Australia. That year they also supported the Black Keys and You Am I on national tours.
In 2010, Tame Impala made their full-length debut with the Dave Fridmann-mixed Innerspeaker. Recorded mainly in a remote beach house four hours outside Perth, Parker did almost all the music, this time letting Watson and Simper contribute a little bit. The album was a critical and popular success, gaining the band fans all over the globe, being nominated for many awards in Australia including ARIA Album of the Year and winning the J Album of the Year nod. Shortly after the record's release, Parker returned to his home studio in Perth to begin work on new material, which he started recording while the band was on tour. Along the way he lost half the album when his iPod fell out of his bag, he moved to Paris (where he produced Melody's Echo Chamber's self-titled album), and eventually, after a year of mixing with Dave Fridmann, he finished the album.
Released in 2012, Lonerism was a less-guitar-heavy, far weirder album than Innerspeaker, yet it made an even bigger splash. Tame Impala were again winners of the J Award for Album of the Year and topped many year-end polls (including NME's), and the record was nominated for Best Alternative Album at the Grammys. All this success made Parker an in-demand collaborator, and Mark Ronson was the biggest name to make a connection, with Parker working on a handful of tracks on Ronson's Uptown Special album. At the same time, Parker and some friends formed the space disco band AAA Aardvark Getdown Services. These were touchstones for the next Tame Impala record, 2015's Currents, which saw their sound expanded to include more up-tempo dance music-informed tracks and some smooth R&B stylings. The record swept a number of categories at the 2015 ARIA Awards, including Best Album, and was once again nominated for Best Alternative Album at the 2016 Grammys. Parker stayed busy during the next few years with collaborations including work with Koi Child, Lady Gaga, Yasiin Bey, ZHU, SZA, and Mick Jagger. On the Tame Impala front, they released an expanded edition of Currents — which contained three previously unheard tracks and remixes by Pond and Soulwax — in 2017.
Parker's star power as a collaborator continued to rise during the band's downtime; in 2018 he guested on Travis Scott's Astroworld, he co-wrote a song on Kanye's Ye album, and teamed up with Ronson again on 2019’s Late Night Feelings.
That same year, Parker kicked the live version of Tame Impala (which still included Simper and Watson as key members) back into gear, landing high-profile festival headline slots at Coachella and Primavera Sound. Prior to this reappearance, Parker had been working steadily on the fourth Tame Impala record, folding in disco influences and delving into confessional lyrical territory. After a long rollout that saw the band debuting new songs on Saturday Night Live in May of 2019, and a steady trickle of singles seeing the light of day as Parker continued to tinker with the album, The Slow Rush was released in early 2020, just before the band launched a worldwide tour. ~ Jody Macgregor