How shrooms and the Bee Gees inspired Tame Impala

Since the project’s inception in the late 2010s, Tame Impala has become the defining name in contemporary neo-psych rock. Layering fuzzy guitars with electronic-inspired production, Kevin Parker is one of the most recognisable and referenced names in alternative music. The project has gained widespread critical and commercial acclaim, with sophomore album Lonerism even receiving a Grammy in the alternative album category.

Tame Impala’s summery neo-psych sound borrows from a number of artists and genres. Parker has noted the influence of the initial movement of psych rock in the 1960s, but he has also referenced the likes of My Bloody Valentine’s distorted guitars, experimental electronic acts like Aphex Twin and Squarepusher, and pop producer and songwriter Max Martin.

Parker also once cited 1970s pop outfit the Bee Gees as an influence, specifically recalling an occasion he listened to their music while on shrooms. In an interview with The Guardian, he remembers taking mushrooms in Los Angeles at the end of their Lonerism tour. Parker recalls: “I was coked up as well, and a friend was driving us around LA in this old sedan. He was playing the Bee Gees, and it had the most profound emotional effect. I’m getting butterflies just thinking about it.”

He explains the transformative experience of listening to the disco trio’s 1977 hit ‘Stayin Alive’, which he dubs “a song I’ve heard all my life”. But, upon this listen, the track had a particularly cathartic effect: “At that moment, it had this really emotive, melancholy feel to it,” he explained. “The beat felt overwhelmingly strong, and, at that moment, it sounded pretty psychedelic. It moved me, and that’s what I always want out of psych music, I want it to transport me”.

Though Parker didn’t go on to write soulful disco tracks full of harmonies, his beats are equally pervasive and transporting. Currents, the album that followed Lonerism, has particularly memorable, danceable beats and synths in standout tracks like ‘The Less I Know The Better’. Parker’s transformative, cosmic psych has garnered him an association with shrooms and stoner scenes alike.

While Parker has openly shared the role of drugs in his own music production, he also speaks on his caution around developing a dependency on substances to create. He notes: “I’d be disappointed if I was sat there with no ideas and thought: ‘Hey, maybe if I get stoned, I’ll have some ideas.’”

Adding: “I’d feel quite defeated. At the same time, sometimes, if I’m smoking a spliff halfway through a recording session, it makes things sound more potent. When I had the idea for some of my best songs, I was stone-cold sober. Some of my best songs I thought of stoned and recorded stoned. There’s no correlation.”

Tame Impala is undoubtedly tangled up with the psychedelic scene, garnering inspiration from the sound and substances pioneered by the 1960s movement, but Parker seems to have no dependency on this inspiration. Pulling from pop, electronic, and the disco of the Bee Gees, Parker’s discography is equally beloved by psychedelic users, stoners and sober listeners.

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