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August 2019
Feature

King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard return: "We really thought we knew what we were doing, and then..."

King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard are back after a year off to recover from 2017’s epic album streak, with a new record in tow and their biggest ever UK headliner.
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Published: 10:16 am, April 23, 2019Words: Jessica Goodman.
King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard return: "We really thought we knew what we were doing, and then..."

A brightening blue sky. Calm ocean waves. A wooden water raft drifting with the breeze. This is the setting for ‘Fishing For Fishies', the title track from King Gizzard and The Lizard Wizard's new album. As light, breezy, and whimsical as the music video that accompanies it, the song is a breath of fresh air from a band who, just over two years ago, set themselves the astounding challenge of releasing five albums in the space of just twelve months.

"It was a pretty crazy year," frontman Stu Mackenzie recalls. "I don't know if we'd ever do it again," he laughs. From an album written using custom-modified microtonal instruments, through a narrative-driven concept album about the end of the universe, a collaboration with Mild High Club, and beyond, each release was distinctly Gizzard, and distinctly different.

"I love touring, and I love playing shows, and I love performing and all that stuff, but for me, I love making records the most," Stu enthuses. "I love experimenting with sounds, thinking about music and making stuff and the architecture of songs, or just trying something new and getting it down." Music is something King Gizzard live and breathe – it has to be, considering the band have released a seemingly countless number of records over the past seven years (by Wikipedia's count, the tally is at 13, but ask Stu, and he responds with a hesitant "I… I don't know").

"To be honest, it was a little bit scary, or daunting," Stu reflects on their release schedule two years ago. "The whole play was always to make four albums. Somehow, somewhere along the line, it became five. I don't actually know how that happened." But happen it did, and over the course of 2017, King Gizzard offered the world five different worlds to delve into and explore. "For me, it was a selfish endeavour," the frontman states. "This is what I like to do. If you like it, cool." He shrugs, then pauses, thinking over his words. "Is that a good answer?"

Which brings us to today: talking on an early morning in Melbourne before heading to their studio to record with fellow Flightless band Stonefield, the energy is high. After a year spent recharging their creative batteries and touring around the world – including a headline performance at Green Man ("My mum and dad were there, which was cool," Stu grins, "what a beautiful festival"), the group couldn't be more enthused with the record they're about to share.

"We were really busy, but we weren't really thinking about making a record at all last year," Stu states. So, naturally, it wasn't far into 2018 that their newest album started to take shape. "We worked on it over the course of last year," Stu describes. It wasn't the creative break they were intending (is it even possible for this band to switch off?), but away from the pressured schedule of the year before, the band were able to take their time to bring their creativity to life.

"We'd had such a hectic 2017," Stu recalls, "so we just wanted to do this blues thing…" Said "blues thing" arrives in the form of ‘Fishing For Fishies', an album that – despite the group's original intentions – may well stand as the least blues-y blues record you'll ever hear. "We recorded a lot of songs as if they were jams, which is not how we usually make a record, but it just kind of felt right for this," Stu describes. "It was, for some reason, what we were listening to, and it was what we were being inspired by." He pauses, thinking from their original inspirations to the finished product. "It changed a lot," he laughs.

"It was strangely one of the hardest records that we've ever made"
Stu Mackenzie

From the blissed-out acoustics of opening track ‘Fishing For Fishies' and the sun-scorched elation of ‘The Bird Song' to the retro-crashlanding-in-the-future energy of ‘Cyboogie', this is King Gizzard at their most varied and their most vibrant. "It was kind of strangely one of the hardest records to make - that we've ever made," Stu portrays. "The songs would just keep on changing, over and over and over and over again. They were stitched together, mashed together, stretched, warped... Just bizarre things."

Twisted, turned, and transformed, ‘Fishing For Fishies' might have started as a blues record, but the finished album is a wide-open venture to wherever you want to go. "We were trying to make this blues record, but it just kept sliding off," Stu laughs. With a tracklisting devised "in order of how bizarre they got," the latest record from King Gizzard is a venture into, as thee frontman describes, the "full-turbo crazy-bizarre." "I think at their heart, they do have this kind of bluesy thing in there," Stu offers, before pausing. "Maybe."

The album's most far-afield moment arrives in ‘Cyboogie', a song that doesn't seem far off what an 80s band might sound like if they crashlanded in a dystopian future. "That song kind of started out as this groovy, bluesy guitar jam, with jazz chords in it," Stu illustrates. "It was kind of really funky. We were having a lot of fun with it." Never ones to hold back, it didn't take long for the song to scale to a new extreme.

"Someone made the call that we should put a vocoder in there," Stu states. "I was like, 'ha, that's really funny,'" he mocks. It might've started as a joke (or at least been taken as such), but it sparked a series of changes that led to one of the outfit's most addictive songs yet. "Basically every single electric guitar and keyboard was just replaced by synths. It just became this synth thing," Stu portrays. "It was funny it went to the place that it went," he adds. "One day I should release the demo because it's so different."

That's just one song. The rest of the record underwent a similar process, challenged and changed until it found the shape we can hear it in today. "The songs weren't like that at the start," Stu emphasises. "They were bluesy, guitar, drums, piano, and that was it. It was old fashioned sounding." From the past to the future, from blues to boundless, this is the (admittedly, trashed) template that brought ‘Fishing For Fishes' into being.

"We've never made a record like this before," Stu expresses. "We thought we knew what we were trying to make. We really thought we knew what we were doing, and then..." There might not seem to be much rhyme or reason behind it, but is that really important when the music sounds this good? "It's funny after making five records with conviction," Stu chuckles. "For me, I think about making albums a lot more than I think about making songs," he details. "An individual song, for me, has to make sense on an album. It has to work in sequence with the record. It has to fit."

Matching only in their escalation towards the "full-turbo crazy-bizarre," every song on ‘Fishes For Fishies' is an adventure of its own. "Every song was its own little unique world," Stu distils. "It was kind of just like letting each song go on its own journey, which is something that we often don't do when we're making a record." Trashing the template of not only their own direction but of their tried and tested practices to boot, this is King Gizzard as you've never heard them before.

"In my head, it is really cohesive," Stu starts, "but that's because I know how all the songs started," he explains. "We ended up with a record that we didn't expect to make, which is nice. That was kind of a liberating experience." Freeing themselves from any restraints, letting the songs evolve into whatever they wanted to be, it's a record that's as vibrant as it is varied, brought into being over a year in which they never intended to make an album at all.

"I'm pretty certain it was the longest that we've ever spent making a record," Stu contemplates. "By the time we finished it, it was like... ‘Fucking hell, get this thing out of my hands!'" he laughs. "When you're recording you can always think 'I could've done that bit better' or 'I should've done this chord instead'. You change things, and you edit things that you do. For me, saying to myself 'I'm happy now' is just the best feeling."

"There were a lot of variables on this album," he adds. "With every song, there was a lot of things going on and a lot of changes made and a lot of bizarre decisions, maybe. There was a very large sigh of release on this record when we finished." As driving as it is danceable, as blissed out as it is blistering, ‘Fishing For Fishies' is the sound of a band refreshed and reinvigorated.

And it doesn't stop there. The outfit will be playing their biggest UK show to date at London's Alexandra Palace this October. "It's incredible and daunting and exciting and scary and intimidating, but, you know, lovely?" Stu offers, questioningly. "I'm excited. I'm always excited to play somewhere new," he enthuses. "It's flattering and overwhelming to play these places. I still feel very, very, very much unworthy, so anyone who comes to our show I'm very thankful for."

With an album about to be released, and a world tour ahead of them, and hard at work recording music with other acts, anyone would think the band have their plate full. "We're gearing back up to be insanely busy again, which I'm looking forward to," Stu enthuses. "We've been thinking about what we're going to do when we get back into touring again," he expands, before teasing "and we've been doing some recording work on some new music…" The details might be on the down low for now, but rest assured, King Gizzard are at full force. Did anyone really think otherwise?

Taken from the May issue of Dork. King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard's album 'Fishing For Fishies' is out 26th April.

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