Tame Impala 2020
Photo: Matt Sav / Grandstand Media

Tame Impala: The Champion of Introverts

Despite society’s antagonism toward introverts, Tame Impala’s Kevin Parker steadfastly offers himself as a vulnerable, somewhat blushing symbol of the gifted loner.

He’s the thrice Grammy-nominated, multi-ARIA award-winning “Best Australian Band” title-holder and a coveted songwriter, producer, and collaborator. Contemporary pop juggernauts Lady Gaga, Dua Lipa, and Justice have enlisted him for personal projects and albums. He’s created songs for multiple films, from Greta Gerwig’s Barbie (2023) to Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves (2023). Yet, despite washing in waves of fan accolades and critical acclaim, the Australian band Tame Impala‘s sole virtuoso, Kevin Parker, remains an introvert.

The sayings about fame changing the famous don’t extend to one’s core personality, and Parker, though ever developing in confidence, maintains his position that “Solitude Is Bliss”. Through an oeuvre of psychedelic pop and rock smash hits, from tracks on 2010’s debut EP, InnerSpeaker, to the hopeful expectation of continued willful isolation on The Slow Rush (2020)—”As long as I can / “Spend some time alone”—the tender-hearted multi-instrumentalist has inadvertently become the champion of emotional introverts everywhere.

“I have to be alone to be able to write the type of music I want for Tame Impala,” Parker has shared. Such music usually consists of melancholy, introspective reflections on identity, belonging, and the pressures of repressed romantic feelings and paranoia-inflamed love. “Am I wasting my time living in my head?” Parker muses on InnerSpeaker’sWhy Won’t You Make Up Your Mind?” Fast-forward to 2012 with Lonerism—an album emblematic of the isolation and alienation sensitive people feel within a frenzied world—the pensive gloom of Currents (2015), and The Slow Rush‘s soft, ruminative pop strokes, and listeners unearth an artist bursting with emotive blooms.

In numerous press photos and promotional images, Parker gazes dreamily at the camera, eyes adrift in imaginative voyages or perhaps mapping out the percussive landscape of his latest flash of musical genius. He’s remarkably forward and vulnerable for an introvert, available for the faraway listener to draw closer via the heart. “I think that I’m just trying to glorify being a loner for myself so I don’t feel so bad about it,” he told MTV. Parker built connections with millions of fans worldwide on his self-consolation quest and effectively elevated introversion into a badge of honor rather than society’s branding of shame.

All the emotional sculpting and emptying required for Tame Impala’s music takes time and solitude. Recording Lonerism, says Parker, was “this amazing time of unhinged experimentation and exploration. I would record until 5:00 am, I’d go to sleep, and wake up and start again.” Parker’s near-obsessive interest in his music evidences his devotion to the songwriting craft and has even led to alternate releases of songs. The original version of the hit single “Borderline” was pulled from streaming services and readjusted for The Slow Rush‘s release because Parker disliked the softness of the bassline and wanted to eliminate roughly 30 seconds from the track, in addition to tweaking several other elements.

Parker’s musical mania is so intense that he feels reasonably confident that “There could be an apocalypse going on outside, and it probably wouldn’t affect [working in the studio].” When asked by Synth History about his favorite studio memories, Parker answered, “All my greatest memories and musical discoveries have been made—just me, alone in a room, late at night, but they’ve been magical times. When I’m deep in the zone, it’s like I’m in a room full of people, but it’s all just me.”

But what about outside the studio sanctuary? To no introvert’s surprise, Parker wasn’t always keen on headlining festivals and Coachellas. The man who self-admittedly struggles to share new Tame Impala lyrics with his touring bandmates also confesses that live performances have been a bit of a learning curve. “In the early days, I didn’t like touring because it was… the terrifying outside world and interacting with people and all that stuff. But the pandemic made me realize how much I loved it, even more than I thought I did because I started missing it.” Starting out, Parker didn’t know how to address crowds when performing with Tame Impala. “I didn’t consider myself as having the type of personality who could stand up in front of 6,000 people and get them revved up,” he explained, “and I’m still not that kind of person.” Fortunately, Parker found his groove and realized he was building expectations in his mind that he didn’t necessarily have to live up to. As a result, he’s grown more comfortable performing.

Despite society’s antagonism toward introverts and its approval of the plentiful, carefully contrived images of rock and pop stars, Kevin Parker steadfastly offers himself as a vulnerable, somewhat blushing symbol of the gifted loner. He’s more comfortable in the studio among his various instruments and electronics than in the company of people, which he considers “really tiring”. Before releasing an album, Parker spends every day making tweaks and adjustments, losing himself in the music. When it comes to release day, he’s painfully shy about the public’s reception of his long hours of work. But when that music enters the world, it’s welcomed to the tune of awe-stricken listeners and instant emotional resonance.

Parker’s breezy, heart-on-the-sleeve persona suspires on InnerSpeaker in tracks like “Solitude Is Bliss”, wherein a miffed-sounding Parker dismisses social interaction (“Company’s okay, solitude is bliss”) in favor of the superior alternative: a reclusive existence in which his “soul can breathe”. Parker probes deeper into solitary living in “Why Won’t They Talk to Me?” from the aptly-named Lonerism, lamenting that a non-specific “they”—presumably a group of party-goers or another extrovert-dominated crowd—won’t associate with the estranged Parker. Despite bemoaning this exclusion, Parker comforts himself, singing, “But I don’t really care about it, anyway,” adding that “I wouldn’t listen to a word any of them say / They just talk about themselves all day.” He caps the half-hearted nonchalance with “One day, I’ll be a star / They’ll be sorry.” Heavy, plodding drums, playful synthesizers, and achingly sincere vocals communicate an adult’s agony at the continuation of petty schoolyard social dynamics into his current life. Spite-ridden assertions that he doesn’t care aside, Parker clearly regards his loner status as nothing short of painful.

Tame Impala’s Lonerism‘s more implicit introvert colors blush bashfully in “Sun’s Coming Up” and “Keep on Lying.” The insecure, disempowered lover can sympathize with Parker’s dreary lines in the former—”I wasn’t daring, not much a chancer” / “Oh, my darling, why won’t you answer?” / “7:00 am, midnight in Dover” / “Sun’s coming up now, I guess it’s over”—and the timid tip-toeing around potential emotional landmines in the latter: “All I give are little clues / “Maybe one day, I’ll get through.” Both tracks bespeak Parker’s dread of forthright communication and confrontation, which, depending on the context, can be slippery slopes for introverts.

“Elephant” tromps on arrogant extroverted recklessness. “And he feels like an elephant / Shaking his big, gray trunk for the hell of it / He knows you’re dreamin’ about being loved by him.” It’s become a common grumble among introverts that their outgoing counterparts don’t understand them, but introverts have easily decoded their counterparts. “Elephant” strikes as a slap in the face to the noisy, loud, insensitive machismo of the empty-headed and aggressive, contrasting with the album’s humble vulnerability.

Lonerism sees Kevin Parker’s reticent hand reaching for meaning in this dizzying, often ear-stoppered world. When apps and what-can-you-do-for-me attitudes frame modern social connections, Parker protests the thoughtless, chattery insincerity in ennui-drenched synths, guitars, and vocals. Lonerism, according to him, “is about the process of realizing the outside world and seeing that you really don’t belong in it and how foreign it is to you.” How does a foreigner identify his people? He sends out a call: in Parker’s case, a song-steeped heart cry.

Listeners responded to the call in droves in 2015 following the release of Currents. The psych-pop collection spawned mega-hits like “The Less I Know the Better” and “Let It Happen”, the former having surpassed one billion streams on music platforms and the latter winning Song of the Year at the 2016 APRA Awards ceremony. The record’s RIAA-certified platinum status, spurred by millions of enthusiastic fans from all walks of life, cemented Kevin Parker and, by extension, Tame Impala as 21st-century cultural cornerstones.

Currents added further ripples to Parker’s deep pool of personhood. Additional fan favorites include “Yes I’m Changing”, “Eventually”, and “New Person, Same Old Mistakes”. Here, the music shifts into shadowy synthesizers and moody, relationship-centric lyrics. “Let It Happen” pulls listeners through an interdimensional portal of languor and longing. Swells of cinematic grandeur and glimmers of yearning, hope, and a larger-than-life melody sweep a worn soul into the softening of self-acceptance. “Yes I’m Changing” finds the protagonist, in true introverted fashion, contemplating themselves, phasing into that existential transition, and acknowledging the necessary death of things that cannot join them in their tentative new reality. “Eventually” teases the desperate hope that happiness will find us in time once we fully resurrect, but for now, hearts are destined to break and connections to cleave. Parker’s vocals, swimming in hazy tides of reverb, guide weary spirits through the spacious instruments and crestfallen chords of Currents‘s vast, interstellar sprawl.

If Tame Impala’s Lonerism captures a more straightforward, off-the-cuff image of introversion, Currents undulates into sensitivity’s inner depths. It’s dialed back, intimate, gentle, yet lush. It explores dark nights of the soul and romantic jealousy with a kind of sonic sigh of both the dreamy and morose variety. Lonerism‘s delightful roughness buffs into a polished surface in Currents as the album reflects introverted traits—sweeping sincerity, richness of feeling, and shy, slow-burning warmth—like the surface of a pool. If still water runs deep, Currents delves a little deeper in its tender trickles.

Parker heaved his latest sigh on 2020’s The Slow Rush, his most current studio album. In it, he ponders time and how we relate to its passage. Serving up more of his inward-gazing nature, Parker attempts to reconcile his complicated relationship with time, aging, and the future with his musical prowess and existing success. “If I’m counting days / Dream fruition ain’t / What it’s looking like,” he sings in “On Track”, “And all of my dreams are still inside / ‘Cause strictly speaking, I’ve got my whole life.”

“Borderline” finds Parker lost in a whiplash tide of emotion. Or, rather, tides of pain and rapture as he vacillates between apathy, dejection, and fragile hope, singing in the original 2019 version that “LA really messed me up.” “Tomorrow’s Dust” stirs striking yet simple thoughts like “There’s no use pining for love / When you’re on your own,” and “No use biding your time / If the bell has tolled.” These pithy statements, seeping through warm, unhurried tones, illuminate Parker’s gathered wisdom and epiphanous observations since his last major musical effort (Currents). In his boldest stroke of self-revelation, Parker addresses his strained relationship with his deceased father, amounting to a moving, two-part synth ballad in “Posthumous Forgiveness”. Beginning in tension and easing into eventual repose, the track highlights Parker’s personal life in a way millions of listeners can relate to.

Introverts are often considered excellent creatives because of their natural introspective, deep-thinking capabilities. Whereas extroverts typically eschew alone time for frequent conversation, introverts thrive on solitude and individual purpose. Unfortunately, even with introversion’s gradual understanding and acceptance in psychology circles and online communities today, Kevin Parker’s hallmark traits—reclusion, passionate tendencies, love of ideas, concepts, and art over love of socialization—maintain their cultural taint. What Parker offers modern introverts is the unique opportunity to be championed, expressed on a global scale, and, finally, truly heard.

Contemporary melophiles tend to love the Tame Impala project, as it’s imbued with the DNA of its psychedelic superstar forefathers—Pink Floyd, the Beatles, the Flaming Lips, etc.—while also boasting a cutting-edge sound. Both retro and futuristic, nostalgic and forward, Kevin Parker’s sentimental touch on Tame Impala gives listeners a reason to care about the vast swathes of expansive synths and glitzy chords and hooks.

Modern fans can find solace in the music’s depth without suffering overwhelm from pomp and shallow showmanship. Parker’s lyrics hit sweetly and simply, and the songs are constructed to be deceptively simple: they’re consistently pleasant to listen to despite Parker’s “sonic maximalism” writing approach (in which everything and the kitchen sink are thrown into the tracks). As traits like relatability and transparency continue to trend on social media and in broader Western culture, Kevin Parker will likely continue to reap the rewards of a bountiful and faithful audience.

It’s the natural consequence of baring one’s soul in these times pockmarked by superficiality and aimless trends that prop up narcissistic self-indulgence rather than cleansing, creative self-exploration. Kevin Parker is an acclaimed introvert living in an extrovert’s world. The least he could offer with his musical prowess is more dead air white noise to join the collective cacophony, and the most is what he’s actually giving his fans.

Whether musing about unrequited love, existential angst, or why on Earth somebody (or several somebodies) won’t talk to him, Kevin Parker “gets it”, and his listeners “get” him, too. In a puddle-deep, SNS-driven society wherein humankind has, ironically, never been so detached and alone, the music of Tame Impala exists as the connective tissue between Parker, art, and the fringe-dwelling loners of the world.

“In a way,” Parker shared during an interview, “that’s kind of what this music is trying to do: establish a connection with other people that have that pessimistic view of themselves in the world, that feel like they are totally alienated and like there is something cosmically wrong with them like they have some kind of curse existing among other people. This music is like a signal shooting out a message to those people.”