“It was definitely a band that wasn’t deliberately over ambitious,” Stu Mackenzie reflects. From any other group, that statement would seem par for the course – but King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard aren’t just any other group. Having released eight albums over the past five years, and stating they’re to release a further five this year alone, ambition seems to come hand in hand with everything the Australian psych-rock septet do.
Rewind several months: after the release of their infinitely looping album ‘Nonagon Infinity’, the group were understandably exhausted. “It was the hardest record that we’ve ever made – it was a brutal process,” Stu admits. “It had to be very thought out and pieced together, more than anything we’d done before by a long way.” Each track a continuation of the one preceding, refrains repeating and evolving as the record continues, the process that birthed ‘Nonagon Infinity’ took a toll on the group.
Having created what they describe as “the heaviest record that we’ve ever made,” the outfit found themselves in much need of some time for themselves. “After we’d made that record we thought, ‘Let’s just take a break for a second, let’s just chill out’,” Stu recalls. When the group is as prolific as this one, it’s unsurprising to find out that the break didn’t last long. “In chilling out for a while we might’ve got excited,” Stu grins.
Heading into 2017 with the announcement that they were to release not just one, not even two, but five new records over the course of the next year, King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard are once again hard at work. “I think we said that we’d do that, maybe not thinking about the consequences,” Stu admits with a chuckle. “Now we have to do it.” For anyone else, it’s a challenge that might seem insurmountable, but the Australian psych rockers seem relatively unfazed.
In true King Gizzard fashion, every album they create is conceived with its own theme and identity that makes it stand apart from the rest. “The thought of trying to make music just from scratch, not knowing what direction you’re walking in, it gives me anxiety,” Stu confesses. “Music’s such a 360 thing. It’s an almost intimidatingly broad field.” Honing down their creativity might seem like a difficult task, but in doing so, the group enable themselves to push everything to its limits.
“A lot of the time it’s easier to write, or it’s easier to be creative, or whatever field you’re in, if you box yourself in a little bit,” the frontman continues. “It’s the classic thing of it being easier to explore inside the box – and sometimes even more fun to explore every corner of the box – than it is to try to think outside of it.” Fine tuning their ideas to such a degree, the band bring every project they undertake to life with an unmistakable sense of character.
The first of their many albums to see release this year arrives in the form of ‘Flying Microtonal Banana’, a record named after the custom built guitar the band wrote the songs on. “I’ve spent the better part of half my life playing guitar,” Stu expresses, “but then I pick up this instrument, and it’s like playing a completely new thing. I don’t recognise the fretboard anymore. It sounds all wonky and out of tune. It took a lot of getting used to.”
Customising a further two guitars and a cheap bass “with similar but different fret arrangements that would suit,” modifying a couple of harmonicas and an out of tune piano to match the microtonal instruments, and picking up a zurna, King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard set about undertaking their latest project in a brand new way. “I think for every record we’ve tried to change the process up,” Stu considers.
The result is a driving venture along the dark side of psychedelic rock through the destructive nature of human behaviour. “It’s pretty doomy, and it’s fairly nihilistic,” Stu illustrates. “There’s a bit of love on this record I think, but most the songs have kind of a fairly depressing undertone – a ‘human beings are wrecking the world’ type undertone, or an ‘it’s all getting a bit too much’ type undertone,” he details, “but that’s the world that we live in.”
With multiple albums to release this year, that’s not the only concept the band have been busy with. “We’re working on numbers two, three, and four all at the same time,” Stu reveals. “It’s all a bit confusing, but it’s good. I like it that way.” United in their origins (all the groups 2017 albums are being recorded in their own studio in Melbourne), each of the group’s upcoming releases is being created in true King Gizzard form – with their own unique personality.
“We had these four or five distinct ideas that we wanted to explore,” Stu divulges of the choice to work on so many releases. “It’s been a bit of a challenge. It’s up in the air a little bit, but a lot of it’s written. I think it’ll happen.” With one of the upcoming records being described as “kind of heavy,” another is being made in collaboration with Alex Brettin of Mild High Club.
Performing together at Gizzfest – a concert series run by King Gizzard that “essentially started off being venue shows that we just gave a funny name to and probably booked too many bands to play at” – the two struck up a creative partnership. “Alex stayed at my house for like two or three weeks,” Stu recalls. “We just went to the studio most days. We hung out and recorded a bunch of stuff.”
Continuing to collaborate “futuristic digital internet style” after Mild High Club returned to the US, this “more jazzy” record is just one of many directions we can expect to hear King Gizzard taking over the coming months. “I hope we can fit it all in,” Stu chuckles. “We’ve got ideas. We just need to put them to tape.” It’s a lot to live up to, but there’s a very strong sense that it’s a challenge the group are taking in their stride. “We always did exactly what we wanted to do,” the frontman laughs. “You don’t have to listen to sensible people if you don’t want to.”
King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard’s album ‘Flying Microtonal Banana’ is out now.