Interview: Psych-rock chameleons King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard on what makes them unique
25.05.2022

Interview: Psych-rock chameleons King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard on what makes them unique

King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard
words by sidonie bird de la coeur

Legends of Australian psychedelic rock, King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard are known for their hectic work ethic, with the release of 'Omnium Gatherum' marking their 20th studio album – and the band’s first double album.

Meaning a collection of miscellaneous people or things, Omnium Gatherum is a two hour long journey through tracks that range from prog-rock jams to rubber-legged hip-hop to pure thrash-metal abandon – capturing the variety of styles that the band are capable of, as well as the varied methods of recording they used throughout the process of the album’s creation.

Omnium really ranges – the whole gamut – from all of us in a room to one person doing everything,” says Lucas Harwood, King Gizz’s bass player. “It just depends on what’s happening at the time … we don’t put any pressure on each other, it’s just like whoever’s there, whoever’s keen, to get involved to record songs. There’s no rules really, and that’s the best thing about Gizzard.”

“The first track ‘The Dripping Tap’ was created when we were all in a room jamming together, I guess that’s something that happens less and less these days – well, especially in the last couple of years with lockdowns.”

Their three latest releases before Omnium Gatherum – 2020’s K.G. and 2021’s L.W. and Butterfly 3000 – were all recorded under the constraints of Melbourne’s many lockdowns, with the band members recording their parts separately to a grid track. I asked whether creating these albums in isolation had changed Gizz’s perspective on the process of recording.

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“We’ve just learned a lot of new things – just experimented with a lot of new instruments and tricks and getting more into that computer world. Now we’re slowly using modular synths on stage with sequencers and stuff, which naturally seeps into everything else that we’re doing.”

“The three albums preceding Omnium were very much all done in isolation, with each of us working on our own individual parts and sending it back and forward. I guess this one was a combination of all of those different writing styles – from all of us jamming in a room, to Cookie’s song ‘Garden Goblin’ which was pretty much him. I think he did like, everything on that, and a few of the other guys did a few little overdubs.”

Known for their endless experimentation across genres, King Gizzard’s sound has morphed and evolved with every album – from Butterfly 3000’s new age trance pop to a heavy metal barrage with Infest the Rat’s Nest.

“You can see a pattern of this throughout our albums – there will be a song on our albums that’s kind of an outlier and it’s kind of this seed, this idea that influences the concept of the next.”

“Stu was working on some of these Omnium songs before the Butterfly 3000 songs, so some of that sequencing and those arpeggiators on songs like ‘Evilest Man’ actually preceded Butterfly and influenced those modular sounds that came on Butterfly.

“It’s just the constant journey of trying to learn and do new things and push ourselves creatively … you can even pick up a $20 piece of crap Casio keyboard from an Op-Shop and it has a random sound on it that is just way more inspiring than a $2000 Nord organ. It just shifts something in your brain to do something differently.”

Currently in the States, the band are in the midst of a mammoth world tour that will see them playing shows across Europe, the US and Mexico. “It’s been awesome, it’s just so good to be on the road again. It’s been so satisfying to just get over here and get into the swing of it again”

“It’s been two and a half years since we’ve done this type of touring, playing four, five, six nights a week, and just becoming gig fit again – becoming a tight band. You lose that pretty quickly if you’re not playing often.”

Playing a different set-list every night of their almost yearlong tour, one of the best parts of King Gizzard’s ever-energetic live shows is their constant variety.

“From this tour so far we’ve played, like 88 different songs. We’re trying to get to 100 by the end of the tour, which I think we’ll do but I think that’s about the cap of what your brain capacity can recall, without practising for hours a day. That’s what makes us unique, and what I think makes fans come to shows – and come to multiple shows – ‘coz it’s not the same every night.”

Not just famous in their homeland, King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard have a crazy international reception, with die-hard fans scattered all across the globe. “We’re so, so lucky to have that. We’ve been touring internationally since 2014, we’ve done about three trips a year since 2014, with the exception of the pandemic for those two years,” he laughs. “We just haven’t stopped.”

“The crowds [overseas] are just like, insane. They’re like soccer fans, they do chants and stuff. The people in Mexico especially, are just so, so lovely. So appreciative if you try to speak some Spanish, which we’re all terrible at, but attempt what we can. It feels really good to be back on the road, and to be playing lots of shows.”

Recent fathers, front man Stu Mackenzie and drummer Michael “Cavs” Cavanagh have bought their children on tour with them. “We’re all in our 30s now, we’re all grown up, and it just feels kind of like the natural progression,” says Lucas on change to the tour dynamic. “We check in prams and strollers and cribs now on top of guitars and car seats – but that’s all that’s changed, really. Partners have definitely come on the road for little stints, so that’s no different. It’s just more people on the road – the more the merrier, it’s fun.”

“I have three kids, so it makes it a little bit more difficult … I love having the kids on the road, I’m a tiny bit jealous that mine aren’t here as well.”

If you caught King Gizz at their marathon Return to the Curse of Timeland show earlier this year, you’re probably as impressed as I am that the band managed to sustain such energy in their live performance over three sweaty hours. “For Cavs, the drummer, it is genuinely an insane workout – I’m kind of jealous of him for that. For us though, I don’t think it’s that much of a physical workout, coz we’re not going insane like he is – but you just really have to pump yourself up mentally.”

“It does really feel like this huge, daunting task, like fuck we’re going to play for three hours – but yeah, you get into this zone probably about an hour in, and it just feels like you could play for six hours. It probably would be kind of similar to what athletes experience – just getting in that mental zone and like, not really thinking about mental or physical exhaustion anymore. You’re at this point where you’re feeding off the crowd and you have all this adrenalin and it just gets you through.”

 

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The show saw the release of their album Timeland, a 30 minute electronic EP, where each member of the band created snippets at 120bpm, later to be stitched together by Stu Mackenzie. “We actually made that album in 2019 – that was always intended for the 2020 Red Rocks shows that are now scheduled for later this year. We always wanted to release it with a live show – to use as interstitial music.”

It’s not their first foray into a more electronic sound, with electronic elements creeping in throughout albums like Murder of the Universe and Fishing for Fishies. “We’re not huge gear-heads, we don’t have all the crazy expensive stuff, but just a piece of gear like a synth can just really inspire you. With ‘Cyboogie’ we’d just bought this new, well – not new, this old Roland Juno Synth, which we use quite a bit. The sound of it – the arpeggiator, inspired ‘Cyboogie’. Just another opportunity to push us in different directions.”

“With Butterfly that was a new synthesiser that Stu had gotten that inspired all those songs – it’s just a random sequencer, in that it just randomly orders the notes that you’re playing on the Moog Grandmother. He just made the song based on all these little sequences.”

Omnium Gatherum is out now via KGLW. Check out their website by heading here