Chris DeVille speaks with Kevin Parker about writing, producing and covering music. He touches on his movement into the world of producing:
STEREOGUM: When you’re programming drums for a rap record, do you approach it differently than if you’re working on a Tame Impala record? Does it just differ from song to song? What’s the determining factor on how you approach it?
PARKER: At the end of the day, it’s the same. It’s this dance between making a rhythm — it’s hard to explain. It’s about making the choice of where to put a beat. It’s just choosing where to put beats and where not to put them. Not like a beat like a rhythm, but like where to hit and where not to hit. Which at the end of the day is the same whether you’re playing drums or programming them. That’s the difference it comes down to. The Tame Impala stuff I’m playing the drums, and with hip-hop I’m programming them. Which is different in how you go about it, but mentally it’s exactly the same. Choosing what rhythms to play. For me it’s everything in a song. It’s everything. I spend by far the most amount of time on drums and rhythms of my songs than any other part.
This reminds me of something Chilly Gonzales said in an interview with Red Bull Music Academy:
My friend Mocky always talks about drumming. He says, “Drumming is easy. It’s actually quite simple. You just have to know what to hit and how hard.” In a way that means that with one single note, or a single chord, you can really give off a lot of attitude. [plays piano] Same chord. Those are two very different emotions. What you put into it, I’m pretty sure if you do it right, the audience will know what that is. Even if they can’t put the name on it, they know that one was like gangsta and the other one was kind of like sad sad.
Parker talks about calling out a ‘soundalike’ and subsequently getting paid royalties on a track:
A soundalike is a thing. You hear it all the time. I heard a soundalike of “Someday” by the Strokes on the new Ricky Gervais After Life trailer. If you play that, there’s a soundalike of “Someday” in there. So if I were the Strokes I might go, “Hey.” But the reason it sounded like me is because it’s the art form, making a knockoff of the song and making it sound as much like the song you’re trying to knock off as you can without it being a copyright infringement. That’s just what this was. But I felt like they overstepped. I wasn’t posting it because I was like flagging it for everyone, like trying to rally up support. I just thought it was hilarious. Like I honestly thought it was hilarious. I wanted people to hear this hilarious version.
Reflecting on Rihanna’s request to cover his music, Parker talks about the idea of ‘stems’ and the fact that there are different qualities depending on the effort put in.
STEREOGUM: I don’t know that much about the art of production. I know producers release their stems and say, “OK, remix my shit,” but when you talk about “stems printing” — I didn’t realize that’s something that could be high or low quality. Is there an art to printing stems?
PARKER: It’s kind of just the amount of care you put into it, really. I hate doing stems because you have to send the song out in pieces, basically. Which takes a lot of work, and you have to have high attention to detail. And usually you just kind of press a couple buttons and give them whole sections, but I gave them every little bit of it.
Discussing covers, Parker spoke about his own limitations and how he really likes listening to different interpretations, especially from good singers.
I love it when someone’s reinterpreted them as kind of barebones. And if they have a nice voice, it’s nice to hear what my songs would sound like if I was a good singer. ‘Cause I’m not. I’m honestly not a great singer, but I do what I have to do to make it sound good.