The imminent release of Tame Impala’s third album, Currents, has many admirers of the Australian psych-rock outfit’s panoramic soundscapes panting in breathless anticipation, while the expectancy among those who consider each new release to be the dawning of an epochal musical age is bordering on unbridled fervour. Refreshingly though, Kevin Parker – the man behind the music – remains genuinely baffled by this level of adoration despite being the recipient of almost unending acclaim ever since his bedroom project went global with the release of 2010’s Innerspeaker, Tame Impala’s expansively trippy debut. The success of his Grammy-winning sophomore effort, 2012’s Lonerism, only added to Parker’s sense of amused disbelief that a college drop-out from one of Australia’s most remote cities could become so universally lauded for delivering thrillingly unfashionable retro-futurism to the plastic pop masses.
“We don’t dance about, we don’t play music that you can really get down to and some of the songs go on longer than a Pink Floyd epic so it kinda confuses me as to why people actually like it,” Parker says with surprising honesty. “Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad they do but we don’t really fit in with what’s supposed to be popular. I suppose that’s part of the attraction.”
Popularity, fame and fortune were never the reasons Parker and his cohorts and comrades began making music. Ensconced as they were in the shabby confines of the notoriously Avant garde Troy Terrace commune in the Daglish district of Perth before destiny came calling, they revelled in the detachment from reality where their musical experiments brought them. Success was never the goal because no-oneno one from Perth – and even fewer from the Troy Terrace collective of misfits and outsiders – ever expected to make it. As a result, a rich counter-culture developed free of artistic expectations and industry pressure.
“To be honest, none of us thought anyone outside of Perth was going to hear our music,” says Shiny Joe Ryan, one of the original quartet of Troy Terrace tenants alongside Parker, Nick Allbrook (Pond) and Jay Watson (Tame Impala, Pond, GUM). “We made it for ourselves. It’s amazing that people over the other side of the world have heard and enjoy our music, but if none of that had happened, I have no doubt that we’d still be making music in one form or another and probably together still.”
“Being isolated spatially and culturally – us from the city, Perth from Australia and Australia from the world – arms one with an Atlas-strong sense of identity,” says Nick Allbrook, Pond’s frontmanfront man. “Both actively and passively, originality seems to flourish in Perth’s artistic community. Without the wider community’s acceptance, creative pursuits lack the potential for commodification. There’s no point in preening yourself for success because it’s just not real. It’s a fairy tale, so you may as well just do it in whatever way you like, good or bad, wherever you like.”
“It didn’t really matter if you were crap or silly or unbearably offensive, you wouldn’t get much further doing something different anyway,” adds Allbrook. “This helps to preserve a magical purity because it’s executed with love – with necessity. And what’s more, when these artists keep going and practising and advancing – which they must – somehow their crassness coagulates into something brilliantly individual and accomplished.”
It could be argued that because Tame Impala, Pond and, to a lesser degree, the spin-off projects from those bands’ interchangeable personnel have successfully taken that ‘coagulated crassness’ onto the international stage, those artists now developing in their wake back in Perth will be denied the freedom that the Troy Terrace set enjoyed. However, Peter Bibby, a contemporary of Parker, Allbrook et al, who is among the leading acts from the next wave of Perth bands, believes that while the inevitable wave of Tame Impala copyists that swelled after Innerspeaker’s breakthrough initially diluted the creative well, Perth is now benefitting from the exposure enjoyed by its wayward sons.
“Perth seems to have a pretty good reputation for music on a worldwide basis now and the boys, along with Spinning Top Records, have definitely helped with that,” he says, name-checking the label associated with nurturing the city’s underground talent. “They’ve been flying the flag high and proud for a good few years now all over the world and that has helped with myself and a lot of bands being recognised on a much wider basis.”
Clinton Oliver, vocalist and guitarist with garage rock group Gunns – another band on the rise thanks to in part forto the interest in all things Perth – agrees: “It gave everyone huge confidence seeing bands like Tame and Pond succeed,” he says. “They really put this city on the map. I feel like people are paying a lot more attention to bands in Perth now. So yeah it does make you wonder if your chance is coming.”
Whatever the impact these Perth bands have had internationally, back home the laidback attitude that provided them with the environment in which to thrive remains mostly intact, – which gives hope to all those still searching for their own voice in this creative melting pot at the end of the earth.
“Back in Perth, people don’t treat me differently, I’m still just Kevin and no-one attaches any of this bizarre, constructed rock star status to me or any of the other guys,” Parker concludes. “That’s why Perth is a sanctuary. I can go home and be with my friends or disappear into the crowd like I used to. Out in the world, people stop me outside venues and stick cameras in my face and want autographs, and I’m like – whoa, okay dude…I’m just this fucking guitar nerd who makes music in his bedroom… but hey, that’s cool!”
This article first appeared in the June 2015 issue of SOMA Magazine