One of the greatest joys of being a Tame Impala fan is losing yourself in the endless interconnected threads of each touring member's musical projects outside of the Kevin Parker-helmed psych monolith. First, there was Mink Mussel Creek and POND - the latter being one of the most underrated Australian groups of the 2010s - before Jay Watson, Cameron Avery and Julien Barbagallo broke off and debuted their own solo projects, with each member presenting an artistic identity that was all the more exciting and unique than the last.
However, there was one member who seemed as if he'd be the one to eschew such a solo identity in favour of anonymity - guitarist and keys player Dominic Simper, one of the earliest members to join Tame Impala and a key factor in bringing Kevin's textural guitar arrangements to life in a live context. For many staunch Impalans, the prospect of solo material from Simper was nothing but a mere pipe dream - that is, until today.
Spanning a mere six tracks, unfolding marks Dom's solo debut under the Bambi moniker. Drawing upon the likes of Japanese new age, European film soundtracks and classical minimalism, unfolding is an immersive instrumental offering that pairs Simper's love of environmental music with aspects of the avant-garde, resulting in a tantalising debut that hints at everything he's learnt from being in one of the most influential groups of the past decade.
To celebrate the launch of the new project and hear about its origins, we spoke with Dom over the phone to discuss how he's spent his time in isolation, the influences behind unfolding, his recording and compositional process, and what to expect next from Bambi.
Hey Dom! How are you going over your way? Are you in Fremantle?
“Good! It's pretty surreal actually. It's kind of just like business as usual, except, you kind of have this sense of how messed up everything is in the rest of the world. It’s a bit of a weird vibe, but it's probably one of the best places you could actually be right now.”
It's crazy how you guys have always had to put up with your scene being so isolated from the rest of Australia, and now it’s finally meant you’re all at an advantage. Have you been to any live shows or anything since they've started up again?
“Nah, not really. I tend to kind of just stay at home most weekends with my girlfriend, but it is nice just to get out and go down to the pub for a pint whenever you feel like it.”
For sure. So, Bambi: it's crazy to see you finally releasing music. What was the motivation behind this one? Were you prompted to do something when the pandemic happened, or have you had this one in the pipeline for a while?
“We actually recorded it back in 2018, and there was just a combination of factors that it made it take so long to piece together. I kind of wanted to decide how I wanted to go about releasing it, and then I was obviously touring with Tame for most of last year, and I also moved back to Australia last year.
“There was kind of like a multitude of factors as to why it didn't come out until now, but there's no great kind of motivation or reason for why I put it out. I just had this collection of songs, and it seemed like the logical thing to do with them.”
The EP is inspired by some pretty left-field influences such as old European film soundtracks and Japanese new age. How did you initially gravitate towards those influences?
“I feel like I became kind of interested in the idea of environmental music: the idea of music working with space, whether it’s somewhere in nature, or just like a well-designed house or room - there’s a kind of synergy that you get when you hear the perfectly placed music to an environment.
“There was a lot of trawling through YouTube for inspiration, but you can't really rationalise what attracts you to something. You just kind of follow this unknown, because that’s what your taste is, you know?”
Yeah, totally Have you ever listened to Mort Garson’s Music For Plants album?
“Yes! That’s amazing. It’s one of my favourite records.”
It’s amazing how so many of those records have had this huge second revival through YouTube’s algorithm. Like, it’s crazy how so many forgotten records have been pushed to the forefront again just because of an auto-play recommendation.
“Look, honestly, I try not to think too much about that… It does have this kind of dystopian twist to it, that these algorithms are running our lives for us. But it's definitely an amazing time for the landscape of music and the way that we listen to and consume and find out about new music. It really is an interesting time.”
Tell me a bit about ‘élan vital’ - I love how the melodies and the chords invoke the feeling of creation or new life. Can you explain the sentiment behind the track and how you went about recording it?
“I think I really like seeing like symmetry and patterns that repeat themselves and overlap and present hidden meanings. You know the artist Escher?”
The dude with the drawings that just keep bending around shit?
“Yeah, he’s the guy that has like the staircases that don't make sense. So, the chord progression I actually one melody that's kind of layered over itself four times. That was kind of just what inspired me to start, and then just kind of following that kind of cascading energy.”
Interesting. Unfolding is described as a record that ‘encapsulates the underlying movement beneath everything’. I know this is probably a really tough question to answer, but how do you think that the EP conveys that idea, given that it’s a fully instrumental project?
“I think a big part of it is repetition that's not strictly repetition, if that makes sense. There’s these slight ornaments or slight adjustments to melody or rhythm that convey this sense of recurring patterns, but every time they occur they’re a bit different. Every moment is its own unique experience.”
You also recorded the project in The Netherlands. How long did you hole up there for?
“I was living over there. I was seeing a Dutch girl, and was really just was more a matter of recording at home.”
How long had you been living in The Netherlands for?
“Quite a few years. I was kind of half there and half in Australia, and we spent some time in Belgium as well, but now I'm fully back in Australia.”
Sweet. Did you have a collection of gear that you got carted over there? Or did you just go about sourcing all your new stuff when you were living overseas?
“No, I didn't. I don't really have that be a collection of hardware or anything. I do most of my writing just in Ableton, working with MIDI. I try and get the chords and the melodies and the basic song structure in that environment. And then I just had a few synths; a lot of the synth sounds are just a Roland Juno 106. In terms of my setup, it was all pretty minimal.”
Do you guys ever rack the brain of Kevin for any recording techniques or advice?
“Not so much like that. It’s more just the little tricks and things that you pick up when you're in the room with him. But he was deep into the recording of the last Tame album, so I didn’t really want to bug him with what I was doing at the time.”
“I kind of feel that the most valuable things that you learn, you kind of learn while you're exploring yourself. It’s one thing to have someone explain something to you, but if you discover it through experimentation and exploration, then you own the knowledge a bit better.”
For sure. Is that how you've always approached music? Did you kind of just throw yourself in the deep end, or are you a bit more classically trained?
“No, I didn't have any kind of formal training, but I did go through a few years where I would just read and take a more passive approach and just watch tutorials rather than what you just said, diving into the deep end without really knowing what's going on. I think I'm getting better at just spending hours having no idea what I'm doing, and then hopefully getting something out of that.”
Does that mean you learnt keyboards to play with Tame Impala, and just converted all that knowledge into what we’re hearing now?
"Yeah, 100%. That’s pretty much exactly how it went down!”
Just all self taught out of necessity?
“Urgency and necessity. I bought a piano this year - I really like piano music and that's probably where I spend most of my time just improvising, just passing away a lot of the day at the piano. So I think I've been heading more towards that sort of direction.”
Do you ever feel like you'd ever do like a similar instrumental project on guitar, or or is that too limiting now that you’ve been playing that for so many years?
“I wouldn't rule anything out, but at the same time, I've been playing guitar since I was like 11 years old, and when I pick it up, I just have this muscle memory of all those years I spent practicing, and all the shapes and scales. It feels a little bit less playful than if I'm at the piano or if I'm working with synths or if I'm just using Ableton, you know? It feels a little bit more constrained.”
Definitely. I also find it real interesting how you’ve named the project Bambi - I know this is a bit naff, but there’s no relation to Tame Impala with the whole deer reference is there?
“Oh no, no, it doesn’t have any connection to that! It popped up from some nickname I had back in Fremantle. I’m very inspired by nature and the naivety behind the word ‘bambi’. It implies this childlike innocence that we lose as we delve further into adulthood, and I kind of wanted to maintain that for the project.
“That’s also why everything isn’t super-polished at all - as an EP, I kind of wanted to leave it relatively capturing the idea I had while I was recording the songs, and I feel like refinement will come further down the road.”
That brings up another question regarding Tame - you guys are scheduled to make up for your April touring dates later in December, but everything is still quite up in the air right now. Given that you’ve made your bread and butter from being a touring artist over the past decade, how do you feel about the current state of the Australian touring market? Do you have any big concerns about how things are going to go after the pandemic?
“I think at the moment, it's all a big grey cloud of uncertainty. It's hard to know what to make of it or how it's going to look in 12 months time or 24 months time. I do worry about it. I also worry for all the venues and promoters and the whole live industry in Australia. I don't see how it can work if there's no gigs going on, you know? But at the same time, I try not to get too down about it. I guess you can see this time up as an opportunity to be productive and reflect on things - that seems like the best way to deal with it.”
unfolding is out now via Spinning Top Music / Caroline Australia.