King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard: meet the prolific psych-rockers

The far-out Aussie seven-piece are notorious workaholics, but their latest quest looks a tall order. Can they pull it off?

What with all the time-consuming acid trips and having to grow your hair long, psych-rock hasn’t generally attracted a lot of people with a strong Protestant work ethic. That’s at least until bizarrely titled Melbourne seven-piece King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard gave the genre a shot in the arm and made everyone else look downright idle by releasing eight records in the last four years. Now they’ve upped the ante even further, announcing that in 2017 they’ll release no fewer than five new albums.

“I figured I’m no good at chilling,” says Stu Mackenzie, frontman, flautist and master of understatement. “Over the years I’ve tried to keep myself super busy so I don’t go insane. If I’m going to be a musician and a creative person, I may as well be a productive creative person.”

As anyone who’s seen King Gizzard live can attest, they’re not the sorts to do things half-arsed. Their extensive lineup means they have two drummers firing like twin engines and still have manpower left over for three guitars, a harmonica, a theremin and even the odd bit of Mackenzie’s flute. Everything is played very loud at 1,000mph, and the effect on the crowd is to create a circle pit of sweaty bodies who swirl into a vortex as if they’re being sucked down a venue-sized plughole.

It’s on record where they really show how serious they are about trying new ideas. The band’s albums have each been guided by a different organising principle. They followed the bluesy psych of their 2014 breakthrough I’m In Your Mind Fuzz with improvised jam album Quarters!, made up of four tracks each exactly 10 mins 10 secs long. They followed that with the pastoral pop of Paper Mâché Dream Balloon before releasing Nonagon Infinity in April, a heavy garage rock album that comes closest to the terminal velocity of their performances.

Nonagon Infinity showed just how far they were willing to go in pursuit of a concept. An infinite loop where every track runs seamlessly into the next, including the last track into the first, every song also refers back to and is constructed from elements of the music that’s gone before. It could be seen as a single 41 min 45 sec song (or otherwise an infinitely long one).

“The idea for Nonagon Infinity came early on,” says Mackenzie. “We’d experimented with longer form tracks as early as [epic 16-minute 2013 single] Head On/Pill, and we always wanted to make a record that you could call one track. I guess [the songs on] every record link in some ways, whether it’s instrumentation or lyrical themes, but we wanted to take that further.”

While Mackenzie says piecing together Nonagon Infinity was “tiring”, it’s clearly taught the band to indulge their ambitious nature. The first of their five 2017 albums, to be released in February, is called Flying Microtonal Banana. It takes its name from the modified guitars they had built for it that have extra frets, inspired by the movable frets of the Turkish bağlama. “We were messing around with microtonal tuning,” explains Mackenzie. “Without getting too technical, it’s like dividing the musical notes so there’s one extra space: 24 notes an octave instead of 12. It opens up a bunch of possibilities.”

The effect is to create an incredibly intricate and textured version of garage rock that works beyond any oddball concept. The band built three guitars and a bass (all shaped like Flying Vs and painted yellow, hence the title) to help them go in search of this new sound, but hit a bump. “Everything you do sounds wrong,” says Mackenzie. “You’re culturally attuned to a certain set of frequencies. Our challenge was to make music that didn’t sound too wrong within those parameters.”

Stu Mackenzie.
Stu Mackenzie. Photograph: Andrew Benge/Redferns

You get the sense that if you offered Mackenzie a choice between an easy road and a hard road he’d start hacking his way through the undergrowth, but it’s that desire to plunge into the unknown that makes King Gizzard sound so singular. They’ve yet to go into detail about the four further albums they’ve got planned, though Mackenzie does say they’ll include a record that follows the “trajectory” of Nonagon Infinity and a collaboration with some “jazz dudes”. If anyone can pull it off, it’ll be the hardest working band in psych. “The records already exist in my brain,” says Mackenzie, confidently. “It feels cool to announce that we’re going to do them because now it means we have to.”

That may be bad news for Mackenzie’s chances of learning to chill in 2017, but it’s very good news for psych rock.

The single Rattlesnake is out now; Flying Microtonal Banana is out on Heavenly on 24 February 2017


Kevin EG Perry

The GuardianTramp

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