The sound of spacy, guitar-heavy psychedelic pop has never really gone out of fashion since the Beatles brought it to the mainstream in the late '60s, with proponents like Pink Floyd and the Flaming Lips managing to make long careers out of mining its every seam. In the 2010s, there is no more popular psych-pop group than Australia's Tame Impala.
Kevin Parker (vocals/guitar) and Dominic Simper (bass) formed the band as 13-year-olds in Perth in 1999, sticking to bedroom recordings until 2007, when Jay Watson joined them on drums and backing vocals. Their sound was pure late '60s, but wasn't the sound of any specific band from the era. They were as likely to channel the Nazz as the Jimi Hendrix Experience. Cocooned away inside walls of psychedelic fuzz in Western Australia, they re-created their preferred period one song at a time with the aid of gear and production techniques that sounded like they hadn't been dusted off since 1968.
Like a lot of the buzz bands of the mid- to late 2000s Tame Impala's story involves MySpace. The social networking website rocketed them from a teenage garage band to the sought-after trophy in a multiple-label bidding war. It started when Modular Records sent them a message after hearing several songs on their MySpace page and asked for more. Tame Impala sent them a demo with 20 songs, which led to requests and offers from everyone under the sun. After consideration, they stuck with the label that had shown first interest, and signed with Modular in 2008.
In September of that year they released their first self-titled EP. There was some confusion among reviewers, several of whom referred to the release as "Antares, Mira, Sun" after the notes written on the artwork, a representation of the Orion Nebula drawn by bandleader and songwriter Parker. As well as drawing the art, the perfectionist Parker micromanaged the recording, performing every instrument himself. 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 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 repeated as winners of the J Award for Album of the Year and topped many year-end polls (including NME), 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, 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 2019, Parker kicked Tame Impala back into gear, landing a handful of high-profile summer festival headline slots in anticipation of their Currents follow-up. The first single from that project, "Patience," was released that March. ~ Jody Macgregor