Having initially formed in 2010, Melbourne's King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard have established themselves as one of the most charismatic outfits on the live circuit. Not to mention one of the most prolific when it comes to recording too.
Although strictly speaking not entirely a "new band" in the most pedantic sense of the word, most people in the UK probably weren't aware of their existence this time last year. However, after signing to highly esteemed independent Heavenly Records in September 2014, they've released two critically acclaimed long players (I'm In Your Mind Fuzz and Quarters!) as well as wowing audiences the length and breadth of these isles thanks to some exhilarating live performances.
Comprised of seven members in total - Stu Mackenzie (vocals, guitars), Cook Craig (guitars), Joey Walker (guitars, bass), Lucas Skinner (bass), Ambrose Kenny Smith (keyboards, harmonica, vocals), Michael Cavanagh (drums) and Eric Moore (drums, percussion). They've gone from being underground sensations back home in Australia to one of the most talked about bands around at the minute.
Last month saw them play three profile raising shows at Glastonbury which has seen several dates of the band's subsequent week-long tour of the UK sell out in advance. This evening they'll play to a full house at Nottingham's Rescue Rooms. First, main mouthpiece Stu Mackenzie will tell DiS about the whirlwind twelve months he and his bandmates have experienced, how the band's sound has developed over time, and reveals their next album Papier Mâché Dream Balloon should be with us before the end of the year.
DiS: You've been on tour for most of the summer. How's it going so far?
Stu Mackenzie: It's been great. We came over to Europe from the States so it's been a pretty long tour. We weren't expecting to play for so many people every night so it's been awesome, especially in the UK. Glastonbury was amazing. It's just been crazy!
DiS: You seem quite taken aback by the response from UK audiences.
Stu Mackenzie: It has taken me aback for sure. We saw these shows as taking our first steps on the ladder over here and expected to be playing to no one. We don't consider ourselves rock stars or anything like that, and I don't particularly want to play in places that are too big anyway. It just wouldn't feel right.
DiS: How does it compare to the response back home?
Stu Mackenzie: We've been touring round Australia for a few years now and we also toured the States twice before we came to Europe. So by the time we got over here it didn't feel like we were a new band any more even though everyone else did. We've sold more tickets to our London show on this tour than we ever have anywhere else which to us seems pretty weird.
DiS: You played three sets at Glastonbury this year, and each one was different. Do you specifically tailor your sets for the stages or audiences you're playing to?
Stu Mackenzie: I think it's quite important to try and play a set that suits the venue at least. The faster, punkier songs don't work so well on a big outdoor festival stage. It's harder to engage with the crowd and pull that sort of thing off. But it does work in a really small room like the Crow's Nest. Whereas the slower, more jazz-based psychedelic stuff would be harder to pull off in a small room. I guess we just try and wing it every night!
DiS: You're also very prolific when it comes to recording, having released six albums in four years. Is it difficult to balance writing and recording between touring?
Stu Mackenzie: Three of those albums we spent a lot of time on - probably a year on each - whereas the other three happened a lot quicker. They were more experimental in the way we approached and recorded them. For example our last record Quarters! was made in four days. It's not so hard knock out an album really quickly. I guess it depends on our mood at the time. But then spending longer on an album doesn't necessarily correlate to a better record. Sometimes it's just about getting the vibe right.
DiS: I hear you've just finished mixing album number seven today, and there's also another album ready to go after that?
Stu Mackenzie: That's right. I've literally just sent the mastered copy of the next record to Heavenly this evening!
DiS: How many songs are on the next album?
Stu Mackenzie: There's twelve on that record. They're quite short, punky songs. Whereas the other record will probably have seven or eight longer pieces on it, but that's still a work in progress. This next one's quite different to both I'm In Your Mind Fuzz and Quarters!. They were very conceptual records, very structured for the most part. I started to get a bit bummed out by that. At times it felt like we were thinking too hard and I felt pressured to have to write songs that were really epic or something. It got to the point where I couldn't just write a song to fit that ideal, so these songs are just normal songs. No concept, no theme, no ideal or set structure, just songs.
DiS: Does the album have a title yet?
Stu Mackenzie: It's called Papier Mâché Dream Balloon. I really didn't want to make a concept record yet it still ended up with all these concepts tied to it. There's no electric guitars or keyboards on the record. No electric instruments full stop. Instead we've used a double bass, acoustic guitars, a flute, a clarinet, a cello. I guess it has a more orchestral feel about it, almost quite Beatles-y but played with more traditional instruments.
DiS: Will you be playing the record live?
Stu Mackenzie: I don't know. We haven't really tried yet. We recorded it all at home. We had three or four months off during the Australian summer and recorded it all then. We didn't have many shows around that time so it ended up being pretty straightforward to put together.
DiS: When are you planning to release it?
Stu Mackenzie: I don't think we have a date but it will be out before the end of the year.
DiS: And the one after?
Stu Mackenzie: I'm not sure when that will come out. We've been playing one or two songs live off that record, but we still have to record most of them as a band. It's quite energetic and heavy. I guess it is pretty similar to I'm In Your Mind Fuzz but much darker. To me it sounds like borderline metal but some of the songs aren't quite finished yet. I want to get them jammed and in everyone's brain. That way they'll evolve, which is why I see it as more of a long term project.
DiS: Will you be coming back to the UK again before the year's out?
Stu Mackenzie: I hope so. Either at the back end of this or early next year. It just depends on how everything pans out.
DiS: You signed to Heavenly Records last year prior to releasing I'm In Your Mind Fuzz. How did that come about?
Stu Mackenzie: Jeff Barrett who runs Heavenly got in touch with us just after he heard 'Head On/Pill'. It was a song from our third album Float Along. Fill Your Lungs and he loved it and said he wanted to work with us. Which was really cool as we'd never had that much interest before. He put out a twelve inch picture disc of the track for Record Store Day last year, which was only meant to be a one-off at the time. We put out another record after that (Oddments) and did all the distribution ourselves, and then with the next record (I'm In Your Mind Fuzz) we sent that to a few labels as we wanted to try and release it overseas. Jeff was the most keen of all the people we sent it to and he ended up putting it out. We actually played his Heavenly Records birthday show in Liverpool last night. We got to hang out with Jeff and all the Heavenly gang which was great.
DiS: Would you ever consider relocating to the UK?
Stu Mackenzie: Part of me feels like I would love to. But then I think in reality it would just never happen. It would probably be easier if there were fewer people in the band. Then there would be less variables. But having seven people in the band means we'll probably always live in Australia.
DiS: What's the Melbourne scene like at the minute?
Stu Mackenzie: It definitely has the strongest scene in Australia and has done for at least ten years or so. There's a lot of focus on music and the arts in general and also several great festivals like Meredith and Gizzfest which we put on ourselves earlier this year.
DiS: How did the band's sound develop? Have you always played as a seven-piece with two drummers?
Stu Mackenzie: Everything about this band is so unintentional! We've all been friends for a long time but mostly started out playing in different bands. Then we all just ended up - the seven of us plus three or four other people - jamming together. Sometimes there'd be three of us and other times there'd be ten. It was a bit of a revolving cast to begin with rather than a true band. We used to play parties and stuff, always under a different name. All the songs had just one chord and one word, and it got to the point where we had to rehearse and that's pretty much how the band started. Once we had some songs we recorded an EP and then we did an album but even then, there was still no fixed line-up as such. People could move in and out of the band as they wished. It was all quite natural and organic and that's pretty much how the band evolved until the third album.
DiS: How does the songwriting process work?
Stu Mackenzie: It tended to differ a lot on the early records but with this line-up it's more structured. We work from record to record by taking each one with a different mind frame. For example, with Quarters! it was strictly improvised. All the songs are based around simple chords but then left open to interpretation. Whereas I'm In Your Mind Fuzz was very structured. Very thought out and rehearsed. It was mostly recorded live but not very jammy. We knew how we wanted that album to turn out from the outset with much shorter songs. There's a few different songwriters in the band and everyone tends to muck in expanding upon them after.
DiS: So far, you've produced everything yourselves. Would you work with a producer in the future?
Stu Mackenzie: We've worked with other people in the studio on mixing and mastering. I think we're all experienced enough to know how to work things out when it comes to recording. But then it is good to have other people involved, if only to keep things fresh.
DiS: Jason Galea who does your artwork has pretty much become the eighth member of the band. How did he arrive at some of the concepts for your videos? 'Cellophane' for example.
Stu Mackenzie: Jason's been touring with us pretty much everywhere for the last two years. He's totally become the eighth member now. With 'Cellophane', the lyrics are about 3D movies so his concept was to make a 3D clip. We didn't really know what to do so he had these costumes that he wanted us to wear and then he'd film us clowning around and chop it up afterwards.
DiS: Are there any new bands you'd recommend Drowned In Sound and its readers should check out?
Stu Mackenzie: There's an awesome band from Byron Bay called The Babe Rainbow who we've been playing with around Australia. They have this 1967 summer of love vibe going on. They're really talented musicians. Then there's this other band I really like called ORB. They're quite heavy in a Black Sabbath way. I don't think either have played outside Australia yet. Hopefully both will get the opportunity to come over here soon.
DiS: Finally, what advice would you give to new bands just starting out?
Stu Mackenzie: Do your own thing. Do whatever you want. Don't take it too seriously.
For more information on King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard including releases and live dates, visit their official website.