ABOVE (FROM LEFT TO RIGHT): AMBROSE KENNY-SMITH (HARMONICA/SYNTHS/VOCALS), COOK CRAIG (GUITAR), ERIC MOORE (DRUMS/THEREMIN), JOE WALKER (GUITAR), STU MACKENZIE (VOCALS/GUITAR), LUCAS SKINNER (BASS), AND MICHAEL CAVANAGH (DRUMS). PHOTO COURTESY OF BEN BUTCHER AND JASON GALEA.
The seven members of Australia’s prolific King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard have cultivated a dimension of sound that swerves and swirls with an arrangement of drums, guitar, and theremin. On November 11, the band released their fifth album in under three years, I’m In Your Mind Fuzz. If the album’s sound was transformed into colors, it would emit glowing fluorescent hues. The group fuses experimentation, imagination, and themes of reptilian conspiracy theories.
Starting out as a jam band in Melbourne with a cast of revolving musicians, King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard gradually formed a stable lineup of Stu Mackenzie, Joe Walker, Eric Moore, Ambrose Kenny-Smith, Lucas Skinner, Cook Craig, and Michael Cavanagh. They recently released the video for “Cellophone,” which sees Mackenzie taken into a third dimension.We recently spoke with Mackenzie about everything from the album and the idea of mind fuzz to Neil Young.
J.L. SIRISUK: It’s been hard tracking you guys down. You’ve been touring all over, haven’t you?
STU MACKENZIE: Yeah, sorry about that. We’ve been so damn busy. I think this is our 16th show in 13 days, so we’re all pretty knackered and tired out. But it’s cool. You kind of get in the rhythm of it, I guess, and now I think I’m gonna fall into some weird depression as soon as we don’t have a show.
SIRISUK: Have you been doing a lot of CMJ shows in New York?
MACKENZIE: Yeah. We’re in Manhattan at the moment, sort of waiting to play a show. We played two yesterday, one in Brooklyn and then one in Boston last night. Now we’re back in CMJ. I think we’re doing one tomorrow too, and one tonight as well.
SIRISUK: I’ve never asked a band where their name comes from but King Gizzzard and the Lizard Wizard is very unique. I’m wondering how you came up with that.
MACKENZIE: I guess when the band first started it was kind of party band–almost like a joke band–and we were all sort of playing in other bands and this was the band that didn’t really matter. We just did whatever we wanted and we hardly ever played. We just had fun with it so we had a silly name that we never thought would stick, and now the joke’s on us.SIRISUK: How would you say the recording process on this album differed from previous ones?
MACKENZIE: With the last couple of records, they’ve all sort of been self-produced, mostly recorded at home. Most of the songs are just a couple of us in different combinations, so whoever was around just played drums or whatever. The last few records have been very loose in that way, more of a collective thing than a traditional band style. With this record we decided to do things in the traditional way–write songs, get together, rehearse, go to a studio, record them as a band and then mix them in the normal way that most bands make a record. That was the oddity for us, but it’s normal for everyone else.
SIRISUK: How do all seven of you write together?
MACKENZIE: It’s varying. I probably write the majority of the basic ideas and most of the lyrics, but it’s very collaborative as well, and it can be very different. Our last record focused on one or two people per song, or a couple of people would get together and write a song, whereas with this record most of the songs came out of jams. It’s more collaborative in that sense–everybody has a part in all of these songs. In the past we recorded it and then we’d have to learn the recording, and often there wasn’t even a part for someone to do, so they’d end up playing the keyboard line on the guitar or something like that.
SIRISUK: Where did you complete most of the recording? In both Australia and New York?
MACKENZIE: We probably recorded a third of it before we left [Australia] and then we came to the States. Amongst touring, we recorded at Daptone in Brooklyn, which is maybe another third of it. Then maybe the other third was at Hunter Mountain, which is in upstate New York. We rented a house for a few weeks, wrote new stuff, finished this record, and did mixing and writing and jamming and that kind of thing.
SIRISUK: I saw the video for “Cellophone” and it’s super trippy. Did you have a say in the concept?
MACKENZIE: Our guy Jason Galea did that. He does pretty much all of our art now–he does all of our covers and pretty much all of our video clips. He’s actually touring with us in America at the moment, building stuff and doing lights and projections and whatever he feels like. He’s the eighth member of the band in lots of ways. We collaborate with him super hard. Everything we do, we all talk about, and everything we ever record, I always send to him first and he knows exactly where we’re at and what we’re doing. We have a good relationship in that way. So when we made that clip, we got together and brainstormed. That song kind of references 3D movies and it’s sort of a silly song, it’s light-hearted, so we thought we’d do something that suited it. It’s mostly his idea–he’s done some 3D stuff in the past, but it’s a total collaboration and he’s the brain. He’s the talented one. [laughs]
SIRISUK: I saw that video early in the morning and thought someone had put acid in my coffee [laughs]. What feeds your imagination?
MACKENZIE: With the latest record, a lot of the themes are about the modern world. The songs are about climate change and mind control and stuff like that. The modern world is inspiring. In terms of other stuff, I’ve always been fascinated by ’60s music and culture and that time in history.
SIRISUK: Did you listen to a lot of ’60s music while you were growing up?
MACKENZIE: Yeah, absolutely. That’s what my house was filled with. Mostly classic music, you know–The Rolling Stones, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Bo Diddly, Little Richard, and even more country type stuff like Neil Young. That’s what my parents were really into, so I think that bleeds into what we do for sure. A lot of the other guys had a pretty similar musical upbringing. Everyone came from very musical households, which I think influences you—that music you grew up with. My dad used to sing Neil Young songs to help me go to sleep every night. I hated Neil Young until I was about 16 or 17, until I realized that it wasn’t actually lullabies. It is beautiful music, you know.
SIRISUK: Do you have a favorite Neil Young song?
MACKENZIE: I’m a big fan of Everybody Knows this is Nowhere, the record. I guess that’s kind of like his early classic, but I love all the phases of Neil Young. I think that Psychedelic Pill record he put out a couple years ago is amazing as well. I think he’s a genius.
SIRISUK: I really like the title of your album as well. Can you tell me about mind fuzz?
MACKENZIE: It’s a weird imagination thing. It doesn’t really mean anything specific. It’s tongue-in-cheek,a reference to all the reptilian and alien conspiracy shit that people talk about, and how people shouldn’t put fluoride in their water and all this mind control crap. It’s meant to be, “I’m in your mind.” But your mind can get fuzzy. I guess it was meant to mean that “I’m in your mind fuzz, I’m somewhere in there, and I’m controlling your brain.” It’s sort of silly. [laughs]
SIRISUK: How do you feel when you go back and listen to the album after the recording process?
MACKENZIE: It’s a weird process because we spend so much time writing it and rehearsing it and then recording it, which is different again. I did a lot of the mixing on this record as well, so by the end you sort of feel detached from it because you stop thinking about it emotionally and you start thinking about it technically. It’s bizarre. I haven’t listened to it in a long time. Now if I listen to it, maybe it would be good, but I remember finishing up with the mixing and thinking, “Holy shit. I can’t wait to not have to listen to this anymore.” But I think most people would say that about a record at least for a while. [laughs]
I’M IN YOUR MIND FUZZ IS OUT NOW VIA CASTLE FACE RECORDS. FOR MORE INFORMATION ON THE BAND, VISIT THEIR WEBSITE.