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Forget the MCU, psychedelic rockers King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard created the ‘Gizzverse’

Six men sitting on rocks in a field.
King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard
(Jason Galea)
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If rock is dead, nobody told King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard.

Since 2011, the six-piece Aussie posse from Melbourne and surrounding areas has steadily amassed one of the largest and most diverse discographies in modern rock while cultivating an endearingly obsessed corner of Reddit with almost zero radio play. What started as psych-inflected surf rock on a pair of debut EPs has evolved into 20 full-length albums and bootlegs that span decades of sounds — garage, spaghetti-western, thrash metal, synth-pop, jam, krautrock, hip-hop — with a wailing harmonica and the occasional flute solo. Sometimes all on the same project.

For the record:

3:13 p.m. Sept. 29, 2022

An earlier version of this post gave incorrect release dates for two albums. “Ice Death” comes out Oct. 7, not [Oct. 8 ]. “Changes” comes out Oct. 28, not [Oct. 23].

They’re known for linking multiple songs in labyrinthine ways (start with “I’m in Your Mind Fuzz,” then graduate to “Murder of the Universe”). They’ve linked their albums too, creating a nebulous realm called the Gizzverse — a place filled with people vultures, rattlesnakes, tetrachromats, trapdoors, gators, fishies, garden goblins and various other strange creatures and out-of-body experiences.

This Friday, the band will headline the opening night of the 10th Desert Daze at Moreno Beach in Lake Perris alongside Tame Impala and Beach House (a last-minute replacement for Iggy Pop, who had to bow out of the festival due to visa-related issues with his band). It marks King Gizzard’s fourth time playing and second time headlining the boutique festival, which started as an 11-day showcase of mostly local bands at a Desert Hot Springs roadhouse and has evolved into a three-day, mind-altering playground with a very eclectic, high-profile lineup.

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Desert Daze 2022 will kick off King Gizzard’s biggest headline run in North America yet, featuring several three-hour “marathon” sets — including Berkeley’s Greek Theatre and three nights at the famed Red Rocks Amphitheatre in Colorado.

The band released five albums in 2017 — a staggering feat they’ll repeat this year by the end of October when albums 21, 22 and 23 will have arrived. The Times recently spoke with vocalist and multi-instrumentalist Ambrose Kenny-Smith (a.k.a. Doctor Shrimp) about everything King Gizzard is up to right now.

This year has seen King Gizzard play its biggest shows yet: Opposite Harry Styles on Coachella’s Outdoor Theater; a thunderous stand in Bonnaroo’s “That Tent”; and a three-hour marathon set in Mexico City.

It is quite mad, isn’t it?

How do you view the rise of the band outside of your home country, and in context of the performances that propelled you over time?

By the time we left Australia to go overseas back in 2014, we were definitely ready. I think we kind of reached a threshold in Australia fairly quickly with our music. There wasn’t really much of a place or market for it. We’re a rock band, essentially, but at the end of the day we definitely kind of do what we want — whatever that is. We’re definitely not commercial in any sense, or play by anyone else’s rules.

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By the time we were touring overseas we were all just grateful and relieved that we were well received and that people had a place in their hearts for us.

… Our first show in the States, at Levitation [in Austin, Texas], playing “Mind Fuzz” and “Robot Stop” — we hadn’t even recorded it yet. … That was the joy of being a smaller band. A lot of the time people didn’t know who you are or what your songs were so it really didn’t matter. You kind of just got away with testing out songs and seeing what people liked and what didn’t get much of a reaction.

Why do you think no band before has created multiple genres in their catalog to the degree that you guys have? Was it a conscious decision or did it evolve naturally?

The reality is that we’ve never been signed to a major label, so there’s nothing too crazy that’s told us what to do in any shape or form. I think having the benefit of the doubt in that sense, being able to control what we wanted to create. … Now we’re at a state where we can pull off — or I’d like to think we can pull off — most genres and do it in our way.

… We’re super lucky to be able to call the shots and put ourselves out there. Everything is trial and error, but, even when we’re unsure about something, we always try to push it to its very best until it’s not feeling right. But at the end of the day we have a good instinct about trusting our gut.

A six-person band poses in a black-and-white photo.
“Now we’re at a state where we can pull off — or I’d like to think we can pull off — most genres and do it in our way,” says King Gizzard singer and multi-instrumentalist Ambrose Kenny-Smith.
(Maclay Heriot)

What is your work process like to be able to create and record at this speed? You did “Butterly 3000,” “K.G.” and “L.W.” in quarantine, and then picked up in person with four new albums. How was it getting through the pandemic?

The pandemic kicked me into gear to start contributing more in the recording sense and songwriting. Being more of a part of the band in a sense, really. I always just considered myself more of a performer rather than a musician. All this time at home recording and creating has pushed me into another realm, to feeling like I am a musician. But I think we just all kind of know what we’re good at, what our tools are best used for.

I would just come to the studio everyday and me and Stu would sit down and he would show me something that he and Cavs [drummer Michael Cavanagh] jammed on the day before and then he would talk about how it should be arranged. A lot of times I would be a soundboard for him. I’ll hear him out, or I’d run into — I call this the Shrimp Dungeon, where the magic happens — and start squealing until all this comes out. It comes in all different shapes and sizes. You can’t always polish a turd, but you can make it pretty nice.

What I like about the process is that it seems very collaborative, and open to — maybe criticism isn’t the right word … contribution?

Yeah, that’s just because we’ve known each other so long and we know how to put it lightly if we’re not meeting eye to eye on something. A lot of times we’re all on the same wavelength. We have a good sense of knowing what the music should be and what we like as well.

[Warning: Video contains profanity.]

I don’t know how much you’ll reveal about the new albums, but was the first one (“Ice, Death, Planets, Lungs, Mushrooms and Lava” due Oct. 7) just jams recorded and then pieced together?

We would go in for four or five hours a day, pick a key and a mode and, yeah … just jamming. And then Stu would take the four or so hours, and cut it up and condense it into a song with all the best bits, which I think drove him a bit insane as well. Because of all the time he’s cutting things up and then it would just be a two-track layout of stuff. Which was hard because you could never go back.

The end product was great. By the time all the music was getting formed into these songs, everyone wrote lyrics collaboratively, it was like this is the most collaborative record we’ve done, so why don’t we all just try to write lyrics together? Stu was very into that, so we all just started putting our two cents in about what each concept was. So he came up with the titles and what each song was gonna be about, and then we all just researched it, and threw in our perspective on it.

… There’s definitely some slight rockier moments, but it’s still pretty funky really, actually. Just jammy as it sounds, pretty pro. They’re all decently long songs as well. “Ice V” is pretty dancey, so I think that’s why we were all set on that to be a single, the first single. But, yeah, there’s a few different, funny worlds thrown in there as well.

Next there’s “Laminated Denim,” an anagram of and the spiritual precursor to King Gizzard’s 19th album, “Made in Timeland” (due Oct. 12). Is it a further deep dive into the different sub-genres of electronic music like the album that inspired it?

‘‘Laminated Denim” is just two 15-minute songs of us jamming together — like doing “The Dripping Tap” (the 18-minute face-melter that opens “Omnium Gatherum”) — and being able to go around again in the studio. They’re just these rock things. And we had so much fun doing that so it was like, let’s do a whole ‘nother album in that same sort of vein, but … not just two 15-minute songs.

And that’s the third upcoming album, “‘Changes” (due Oct. 28)?

No, that’s “Ice, Death, Planets.” … “Changes” is [an album that’s] taken ages, all based around this one song which is done in F sharp. “Changes” is, again, sort of funky, but a bit more mellow for sure. More keys based and guitar heavy, I reckon.

Will you be playing a good amount of these new songs on this tour?

Yeah, I hope so. We’re going to L.A. a few days before Desert Daze — before the tour starts — to try and learn a bunch of songs … and then we’ll just take it from there.

[Warning: Video contains profanity.]

What does it feel like for you to be on the top line at Desert Daze with Tame Impala?

I can’t wait to play. It’s always such a sick festival. It’s wild that it’s going to be our fourth time coming back there. There’s obviously a lot of great Aussie bands on the lineup, which is sick to see.

You have Desert Daze, more marathon sets and festival appearances coming up. Has anything changed with the live show since your Spring World Tour?

We’ve changed our stage setup. … It’s a bit more of a symmetrically mirrored look on stage, and then (Jason Galea, the band’s longtime collaborator and visual artist) is doing projections. We’ve also got a lighting person I’m super excited about. I think it’s something we always lacked a bit, having a lighting person to complement the visuals. … It will be next level, hopefully.

How do you guys play these marathon shows, including opening with your other band the Murlocs at Red Rocks?

I’m really scared about that one, to be honest. The three-hour things are obviously very turbo. We have a 15-minute (intermission) which is good because you just need to go to the toilet, drink some water and stuff. The two at Red Rocks, that’ll be tricky because I imagine we’ll be changing the sets. … Muscle memory’s a pretty crazy thing. You surprise yourself when things come back in a natural way without you even having to think about it. I’m sure we’ll pull it off. It’s just that the stamina gets harder the older and fatter you get. The less amount of rockin’ you can do for a long period of time.

With the upcoming albums, the shows and the continued rise of King Gizzard, what’s your favorite part of being in the band?

I just get to play music with my best friends everyday. Pretty much, I’ve got the best job in the world.

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