King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard. It’s a name you won’t soon forget, but also a name that maybe has you squinting your eyes in skepticism, and rightfully so: What could a band with a name like that sound like? A cartoon? The Beatles? A heavy metal house band from a Star Wars cantina? The answer is: all of that, and then some. Lead singer Stu Mackenzie wouldn’t say any of that, though — he wouldn’t say much at all, actually. He’s at a loss for words when asked to describe the music of his band.
And you can’t really blame him. Not only is the music on the Australian band’s newest album, Nonagon Infinity, dark and pulsating and foreboding, it’s also, paradoxically, a ton of fun. The thing is, that description doesn’t necessarily work for the seven albums that came before it. They’re at times bursting with funk and swimming in eccentricities, but each is distinct — an already impressive achievement that becomes doubly so when you realize they were all released in the span of five years.
Mackenzie’s not quite so speechless when asked about his band name, which began as a joke. He concedes that it’s worked against them, and that it’s silly, but adds, “there’s nothing wrong with being silly.” And that’d be a good enough descriptor for the band’s aesthetic, but it’d also be an unfair one. Because King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard is more fun than silly. And there’s certainly nothing wrong with fun, especially when it’s done so well as it is on Nonagon Infinity.
This album — the band’s eighth, though it does have nine songs, hence the title — is fun as hell, despite the fact that it sounds like the horrorshow of a face melting. But the “coolest” thing about it is that it plays as a perfect, infinite loop. The record can be played front-to-back-to-front-to-back and the sound won’t break. It sounds like a gimmick, but it feeds the intensity of the music, if you can believe it. And so what if it is a gimmick? Has it been done before? Not that I know of. And so maybe, more than anything else, King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard are a band of firsts.
We talked to Mackenzie about the new album, his non-musical inspirations, his need to experiment, and, as an outsider, what he thinks of this currently bizarre political climate in the U.S. Oh, and also, how he feels being saddled with that Lizard Wizard name.
So, how did you come up with the idea for something that could loop infinitely?
Thinking back, I guess, a year and half or two years ago now, when we made I’m In Your Mind Fuzz, that had some kind of similar things in there, the first four or five tracks all kind of link up and sort of don’t stop in that way and have recurring themes, sort of like one big song. While we were making that record, we wanted to make a new record that didn’t stop and was kind of like one big song. We lost track a little bit and wrote songs that didn’t quite fit in, and half-abandoned the idea. This record was us just trying to do that again.
The looping thing is something we thought of later, where we thought, well, if all of these songs are going to link together and be just one long sequence, what’s gonna happen when we get to the nine track? It’s gotta link somewhere. It was a logical next step.
What was the recording process for this like? Was it more complicated to make sure everything lined up?
That was the most difficult thing we’ve ever done, was putting this piece together. More rehearsal than we’ve ever done before. There’s not really any kind of time stretching. We recorded all of the tracks more or less separately, but we would play the first 30 seconds of one track as well as the last 30 seconds or so of the previous track. Recording was actually less painful than the conceptualizing it and rehearsal process, definitely.
Well, it’s impressive, it almost sounds like you just played it straight through, live.
Great, that was the idea! We would’ve maybe played it all the way through if we maybe had a few more weeks of practice. It was genuinely hard to remember all of the parts.
Yeah, these aren’t simple songs. Tell me about the drum solo in “Gamma Knife.” Not enough songs have drum solos these days.
Cavs [Michael Cavanagh] is a brilliant drummer, but he’s very modest. He’s not an ego drummer who wants to do a big solo. I actually remembered about two years ago, but he was like [adopts meek voice] “No, no, I don’t want to do a drum solo.” And then I think when this song came around, it’s got that kind of like — maybe 11/8 or a bar of six and a bar of five in a row? — so, I think he had this thing where this guitar thing was happening where he could do like a drum solo or drum break that wasn’t really self-indulgent. It took a bit of convincing, which I guess is a testament to his low ego.
You usually play a bunch of instruments on your songs — what’d you play on this album?
There aren’t many weird instruments on this album. “Wah Wah” has a zurna in it. It’s like a Turkish flute — I’m not sure what you’d call it in a Western sense. It’s a long wooden flute type thing with a reed — you can bend the notes on it. It’s a real wild instrument. It’s got kind of a snake charmer sound, but it’s not actually a snake charming kind of thing.
You named a song “Wah Wah.” Did you feel any pressure to live up to the George Harrison song of the same name?
Definitely! I’m a Harrison fan, so there was always that in the back of my head. The rough title was always “Wah Wah,” because that’s kind of like what it keeps saying, and it keeps crying, and it’s got a wah pedal. So the rough title was always “Wah Wah.” The whole time, I was worrying about changing the name, or changing the chorus, but it just never happened.
The songs on this album are a bit faster and definitely darker than on past albums. Was that something you did consciously or did it just develop with the concept of the album?
I wanted the songs to start off loose, and over a long period of time to evolve. We played a lot of these songs for about a year before we recorded them. The more we played them they just got faster and faster and faster, and kind of louder and more abrasive.
The record took on this persona as this kind of evil, fast thing.
You’ve kind of balked at being labeled psych rock — if you had to label your music, how would you?
It’s hard to be all-encompassing. Maybe not in the traditional sense, but, at least to me, every record we’ve made has been experimental. Even if it’s just trying to experiment with an idea that’s been done before, but that we haven’t done. But, then, I don’t know, I guess we’re not even experimental.
Every single song we’ve ever made has always been motivated by, “Let’s try this, that sounds fun, we haven’t done this yet.” Or, let’s try this because — what is it? I don’t know.
I can’t get the psych label. Especially if you listen to a record like Paper Mache [Dream Balloon]. Maybe it sounds like late ’60s, but it doesn’t have effects in it.
The psych label has kind of gotten watered down to the point where people just have a really vague idea of what it is, so a lot of stuff falls under it now. It’s kind of an easy signifier at this point.
Yeah, I mean, to me, the way people label psych is pretty much every band that plays guitars and doesn’t necessarily fit into an easy genre of like soul or metal. If you’re just not “normal,” and you play guitar, people call you psych.
I have to ask you about your name. Do you regret the name, or do you think it’s worked to your advantage at this point, having such a unique name?
I definitely think it’s been to our disadvantage, but that’s fine. I don’t know, I guess, you know, when the band started, the band didn’t mean anything to anyone, so we didn’t really care what the name was, or anything like that. So we obviously didn’t think about it very hard. But, it is what it is. We obviously would never change it; it’s kind of too late for that.
And it’s sort of silly, but that’s fine. There’s nothing wrong with being silly.
Your name, the aesthetic, and your lyrics kind of inspire this sense that you all consume a lot of culture outside of the band. What are you into right now?
As far as things that came into play on Nonagon, I can’t think of much. Frank Herbert’s Dune, and dystopian. I’m kind of like a sci-fi geek in terms of film and literature. Dark, futuristic. That theme runs through the record in a lot of ways, lyrically and musically.
You’re touring in the U.S. at a really silly time, politically. What’s your perspective on the election, as an outsider?
I mean, I’m Bernie all the way. But, my political opinion is irrelevant. It’s definitely crazy. You’re in New York, right?
Didn’t just they finish up with the counts there?
We had the election yesterday.
Was it Hillary?
Yeah, she won.
I don’t know so much, but that would’ve been my prediction. She seems like one echelon more sane than Trump.
Which is really all we can hope for at this point. And, in other insane news, you guys are playing in North Carolina soon. With the boycotts happening over the House Bill 2 law, I was curious if you had an opinion?
I felt like we were playing in Asheville, which, from my experience of only ever being there once, doesn’t really feel like North Carolina. We’re traveling with a few guys — not necessarily in our band — will be effected by that stuff, in theory. It pisses me off.
I don’t necessarily feel like us not playing is gonna do any good, I don’t know. It’s real tough. Asheville doesn’t feel like North Carolina, but the laws are still in effect there. It’s super tough, man.
We’ll play, and speak to the people there — they’re the relevant people to connect with. It’s more powerful than not going.