This is a guest article by Flynn Hendry, an Australian producer, musician, and Tame Impala tone enthusiast. He has covered several Tame Impala songs, and also created "If Tame Impala Composed Stranger Things", which has over 1 million views on Youtube. In this article, he talks through his Kevin Parker style production process.
In just under a decade, Kevin Parker, the mastermind behind Tame Impala’s music, has formed a distinct sound that has captured the ears of music lovers all around the world. I, being one of them, found a keen interest in trying to figure out how Parker makes everything sound the way it does. After doing some research, I realised that trying to achieve this sound would be impossible without draining my wallet, until I noticed that many of the techniques used in Tame Impala’s songs can be done by simply manipulating effects in music software programs such as Ableton Live. Using these techniques, I managed to pull off some covers that could be associated with Parker himself. In this article, I will be using an original piece I made in Ableton to showcase the sounds of Tame Impala.
The drums are probably the most important aspect of the Tame Impala sound; the sound is very distinct and easily recognisable. For this piece, a Kontakt library by Native Instruments, called Abbey Roads 60s Drummer, was used to recreate this drum sound. What is most important about the overall sound is the use of compression and effects. In this case, I used two Ableton Effects Rack presets, including the Boombox Drums and Crushed Drums racks. These effects are used to create a distorted sound, whilst also opening the drum sound up in order to create more space and depth in the overall sound.
The bass guitar plays an important role in the sound by filling in all the empty space in order to make the mix sound fuller. The bass is necessary for filling the low end since all the guitars are very mid focused. For the bass, I plugged the bass guitar directly into the box, added a compressor to give it a tighter sound, and increased the mid-range to create that rubbery bass sound that Tame Impala are famous for. I then added a saturator to make it more driven, and also used a filter to reduce some of the high-end.
The synth in Tame Impala songs is most of the time used in order to fill the space with more spacey sounds. The combination of live instruments like drums, guitar and bass, and synths, makes the listen more exciting and alluring. In this case, I was trying to emulate the sound of a Roland Juno 106 which Kevin Parker used primarily on Lonerism. I used a synth library called Retro Machines v2, which is also made by Native Instruments. I used a preset called Chroma Brass 1, which is a basic synth brass sound. To give it more depth and flavour, I layered two of them on top of each other each at different octaves. I also used the built-in LFO to control the pitch modulation of the synth which made it sound more retro and psychedelic. I then used a compressor and side-chained it to the drums in order to create a pulsating synth sound. I then used Guitar Rig 5 to add a phaser to the synth for added Tame Impala vibes. Finally, a big hall reverb was added to make the synth sound more spacey.
Tame Impala, without a doubt, has some of the best guitar tones I’ve ever heard. The cranked mid sounds of Kevin’s Vox AC30 amp, combined with unorthodox pedal combinations makes an alluring and powerful sound. In my piece, I used a Fender Strat on the middle pickup, plugged directly into the box, and made use of Guitar Rig 5 in order to get a nice AC30 sound. The Guitar Rig preset I made included an AC30 amp emulation (set to the Jangle preset), a stomp compressor, a vintage reverb, a short delay, and an EHX Small Stone phaser emulation. One of the most important things about this sound is that the reverb is placed before the compressor, which creates a distinct sound you can hear on all of the Tame Impala records. I also added an EQ as a finishing touch in order to really push the mids through the mix. I recorded two guitar tracks and panned them left and right to create a more spacious mix.
Thanks for reading, be sure to click the download link below to get the Guitar Rig 5 preset used in the article to play through yourself!