To be sure, Perth is a major metropolis, with a population of over 1.5 million, but the Western Australian city is also among the most isolated on earth. The nearest major city, Adelaide, is over 1,300 miles away. "There are other towns," says Perth native Kevin Parker of Australia's western coast, "but they're only, like, a few thousand people. If you want to get to any other city, you have to fly for a few hours."
Parker is the vocalist and guitarist for Tame Impala, the latest band from Perth to make its way Stateside (bands like the John Butler Trio and the Sleepy Jackson also hail from the Australian "City of Light"). But what's immediately striking about Tame Impala's sun-dappled haze-rock is that it doesn't sound anything like the product of isolation. Rather, it's a knowing synthesis of psychedelic rock's mind-expanding history, drawing from Cream, Black Sabbath, Neu!, and the Beatles at their most lysergic—as well as modern-day acts like Dungen and the Flaming Lips.
"I'm not sure what it would be like to grow up as a teenager in any other city," Parker continues. "I imagine it to be pretty similar, really. It's not like we're this backwards country town; Perth is still a city and it's still connected to the outside world. It's so hard to say, because I have nothing to compare it to. It has the same things as everywhere else, I guess. If you live somewhere on the coast, the beach is a pretty big part of recreation, at least in summer. It's quite a low-lying city; everything is really spread out. There's a lot of space, so you can make a lot of noise without too many people complaining, as opposed to somewhere like New York, where you get an apartment two meters across. It's quite easy to make noise. I don't know—what did I do when I was growing up? I can't remember."
Tame Impala's first full-length, InnerSpeaker, was recorded in even further isolation, at a coastal cabin some miles away from Perth, and it does indeed contain the joy of that freedom to make as big a noise as possible—not necessarily in terms of volume, but in terms of area. Parker's whooshing guitars, loping drums, and floating-in-space vocals seem to take on the entire horizon. The 11 songs—even the fast ones—follow a course similar to the gradual brightening and dimming of the sun, lazily charting a trajectory across patches of clear blue sky and casually swerving in and out of billowing cloud forms. Parker played almost all of the instruments on the record, with contributions from guitarist and childhood friend Dom Simper and drummer Jay Watson; a fourth member, Nick Allbrook, takes up bass duties on the road.
Signed to heavyweight Australian label Modular Recordings, Parker made InnerSpeaker with a bigger audience in mind. "It was the first time that I'd put together an album not just for the love of doing it," says Parker. "There was kind of a professional incentive as well, because we knew it was going to be released. So it's the first time I had to actually force myself to work when I didn't want to. We didn't have a producer or anything, and usually I just take months and months to do whatever I want, whether it's a song or a bunch of songs. So I couldn't help but feel like I was sometimes doing it against my own will, and when that happens, the magic is less organic, I guess. At the same time, we were just making the music we wanted to make."
The success of InnerSpeaker—which just won the J Award, which is kind of like the Australian version of the Mercury Prize—has led to Tame Impala's first tours of Europe and America, including a stint opening for MGMT and now their first American headlining tour. "The distance thing is probably the least foreign feeling," says Parker of being so far from Perth. "The only thing that's making us feel away from home is, at the start of the tour, it kind of felt... a bit trapped, like you're stuck in this routine you can't really get out of. The shows are really good, and the audiences are really amazing—but as soon as you get used to that, you have to try and find something else to keep your spirits up. Because the human brain, its instinct is just to get used to whatever is going on around it. So you just start to appreciate the really simple things, like taking a shit."