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Taming expectations
Taming expectations

There could be any number of reasons Tame Impala's anticipated debut album InnerSpeaker boasts a track aptly titled Expectations.

With the local music community pinning their hopes on the WA band's success - not to mention serious investment from one the country's leading labels, Modular - musical wunderkind Kevin Parker and company have the weight of the world on their shoulders.

Throw in on-site support from Death in Vegas engineer Tim Holmes and belated mixing input from global super-producer Dave Fridmann (Mercury Rev, the Flaming Lips) and that's not even coming close to the pressure-cooker environment created by the personal standards of Parker.

It's been a tough six months for the Tame Impala frontman but considering the ease and sense of anticipation surrounding his band on a crisp autumn afternoon at their local pub in Fremantle, you'd never have thought it.

When we met last July at the Margaret River studio where the band was recording InnerSpeaker, Parker was in the midst of creative frustration. Stolid and unshaven, he had three days to finish up recording, following three months of seclusion in the breathtaking beachside recording studio, before taking off for a tour of Japan.

The Impala leader had been given the location, the help and equipment to make it work and all he had to contend with was himself. Unsurprisingly, Parker never met his deadline. Instead, it would take another four months and countless recording reconfigurations, in various local studios and a bedroom, before the global release would finally come to fruition.

"He didn't finish it," drummer Jay Watson repeats, as Parker comes up with a plethora of excuses as to why the album will be making its debut during a European summer and not an Australian one.

"It was a lot more difficult than what the second album is," says sucker-for-punishment Parker, who is already looking ahead to their sophomore long-player while the first one has barely hit the press.

"When you do an album yourself, you write the songs and you're in a constant seesaw between doubting the songs and thinking the sound is the only thing holding it up and doubting the sounds because the song is the only thing holding it up. That's what puts you at a stalemate with yourself," he chuckles, recalling how much control he exercised over the finished product.

Parker's attention to detail not only extended to composing, recording and playing on the tracks but the final mix and cover art as well. "I had a phone conversation with the artist about what we were looking for and what I was trying to achieve with my Microsoft Paint effort," he laughs. "It wasn't Microsoft Paint but something similar."

Meanwhile, as instrumentals were being recorded right up until December, lyrics were still being written as Parker flew to Fridmann's Tarbox Road Studios in the US to lock off tracks.

"I was thinking, 'We're going to be mixing this song in the next six hours'. I hadn't done any vocals and I didn't have any lyrics; I was literally losing my brain. I'd stop, sit outside in the snow and try to think of lyrics."

For the time being, the worst is behind them, as the band - which also includes guitarist Dom Simper and semi-permanent live bass addition Nick Allbrook - has a national tour and a coveted US support with fellow psych-rock sympathisers MGMT.

As they take a break from rehearsal, the whole band is relaxed and amiable. All friends, associates and accomplished musicians in their own right, the young but no less gifted members maintain a sharp distinction between Tame Impala on record and its live incarnation. Embracing the more organic aspects of performance, their constant evolution echoes a band of self-professed music nerds eager to explore the wide world of melody.

"They swapped because we wanted to sound better," Watson says in his typically candid manner. "It feels more natural this way. Dom was a guitarist initially and me and Nick play together more than the rest of us, so the rhythm section is more telekinetic."

"We're quite comfortable with each other as musicians rather than in having roles because we have all these other bands," adds Parker, who also plays drums for Allbrook and Watson's other band, POND.

In overcoming the hump of a difficult first album, Parker is looking forward to the future and confident the next one won't be so torturous.

"Up until a couple of months ago, I thought the album was the worst thing ever because I'd listened to it so many times. I broke down on my own on numerous occasions and I thought it was s…," he reveals. "Now I quite like it."

InnerSpeaker is out May 21. Tame Impala play Metropolis Fremantle on May 27, supported by the Silents. Tickets from Heatseeker outlets.

The West Australian

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