tame impala's kevin parker on the shows that changed his life
From hecklers in small-town Perth bars to booking the slot before Adele at Glastonbury, by way of tripping out at a Flaming Lips gig in Japan and having a football singalong with a stadium of Argentinians, here are the live shows the shaped Kevin...
After years of playing dive bars in Perth, Tame Impala finally came to UK shores in 2009, booking a support slot in the small basement of Manchester's Deaf Institute. Fast forward to 2016, and Kevin Parker and co. had their track covered by Rihanna on her new album, sold out two consecutive nights at the 10,000 capacity Alexandra Palace, and earlier this week were announced as the act before Adele's hugely anticipated headline slot on the Pyramid Stage at Glastonbury.
Reflecting on this spectacular and diverse timeline of shows, i-D caught up with Kevin ahead of his Primavera set tonight to discover the live performances that changed his life.
What was the first gig you ever went to?
The first real gig was a White Stripes concert. It was an over-18s concert, and I was in high school, so I borrowed my brother's ID -- he has naturally blonde hair and I have brown hair! The tickets were about 75 bucks -- I spent all my money and I didn't even know if I was going to get in. It was on the night before my Ancient History year 12 exam, but I was like, fuck it, I'm going, I'm not missing this! All the odds and reasons were against me, but I got in and it was amazing, I couldn't believe it. It was pretty life changing. I'd been to gigs, you know, but not real rock and roll shows.
Was there a show that made you want to be a musician?
I'm not sure it was even a show that made me want to be a musician -- it was probably the first time I heard grunge music. I had a Silverchair video, on VCR, that I watched religiously when I was a kid. It wasn't even a super high production live release, it was just following them on tour, like, seeing how much sweat they've got on their shirt backstage.
What's the best live show you've ever seen?
Seeing the Flaming Lips in Japan. I happened to be on acid at the time, which I don't usually do for gigs, because everything is way more intense. I'd never seen or even knew much about the Flaming Lips [and their famously psychedelic live act] before that, so I was like, 'Oh yeah, we'll check this band out,' trying to keep it together, so naively. I knew people came out in costumes, like big teddy bears, but 10 seconds into their intro I was absolutely in pieces. It's still such a big influence on me today. I feel like every time I try to think of something that's going to affect people, my mind instantly goes back to that time.
Tell us about the very first Tame Impala gig?
The first Tame Impala gig, officially, was just when I changed the name to Tame Impala; there was a name before that, and before that. I've always had a recording project and then had a band that [performs the] live side of it. The first time we played as Tame Impala, we played a show in a country town, south of Perth; it was the first time Jay [Watson] joined the live band coincidentally. It's a pretty rough town. You know in Blues Brothers when they play that gig and people are throwing bottles at them? It's one of those places. There were no bottles, but there was a bit of yelling.
Do you miss playing tiny venues now that you sell out huge shows?
Yes and no. Yes, because obviously everyone knows there's something about those shows that can't be replicated in a big place, you know, the temperature of the room, the amount of personal space. But we were playing in the Perth scene with that sort of thing for so many years, so comparatively it hasn't been that long that we've been playing only big shows; I don't think the ratio has tipped that way enough yet for me to forgot what it's like.
Would you ever go back to playing small shows, or mix it up?
I think [in the future] one of us will start a side band or something, and do a show as some band we just made up on the day, at a bar down the road from us in Perth, so we can get that feeling back of being unknown. That's a feeling that's more potent than the size of the venue, the anticipation of who knows you, maybe two people and the rest are there to see a band later on, or to pick up chicks or whatever, and getting up there and having to prove yourself, to win some people over.
What your favorite ever gig of your own?
It always keeps changing, like, 'Ok, now this is the best show ever!'. I guess the most recent one would be somewhere in South America to be honest. The people are just crazy, amazing. People in Argentina love to sing, even between songs, they just start up. Not my songs; this one time they started singing their national football anthem, but they replaced 'Argentina' with 'Tame Impala,' and Julien [Barbagallo] starts playing along on the drums, because he loves football, so all of a sudden we're having a jam with the audience singing their own football song; that was definitely one of the more beautiful moments!
You're playing at a load of festivals, including Primavera tonight. Do you like playing festival sets? How is it different from gigs?
Yeah, it's kind of more off the cuff, fun, anything goes. With your own show, it's incredibly controlled, and you've got a super routine down -- not that it's a bad routine, but it's like a theater show -- you know what's going to happen at your own show. With festivals, it's the [difference in] expectation; if you just want to wig out, you can!
You've been announced as the headliner before Adele on the Pyramid stage at Glastonbury. How does that feel?
Pretty amazing! I've known for two weeks and it's just been really frustrating not being able to talk to anyone about it. We were talking about whether we were going to play Glastonbury a while ago, and it wasn't looking good, we couldn't get a spot on one of the stages and I was genuinely bummed. It's always just a good excuse to go. I'm playing a DJ set with Mark Ronson the same night [Tame Impala] are playing, and we booked that before, just as a way to get there! Actually, our first time at Glastonbury we played on the Pyramid stage, but it was like 11:30 in the morning and there was no one there, we were playing to people coming out of their tents, rubbing their eyes and stuff! [This time around] it's really going to be a life fulfillment!
What would be your ultimate gig or festival date?
I mean, I'm running out of those!
If they perfect space travel, would you do a festival on the moon?
Oh yeah! I'd love to make one of those claims, where I plan to be the first musician to play in space, but I reckon heaps of other bands have made that claim as well, and are probably in a much more realistic place to claim it. What about under the sea?! Have bands been claiming that?
Not that we've heard!
Well, there you go, I've claimed it! For the record, it will be an underwater gig, so the speakers will be actually under the water. Everyone will have snorkels. Cool.
Text Charlotte Gush
Photography Phil Smithies