Stu Mackenzie has spent this year keeping up with his own ridiculous plan
“We’ve been busy, but I try to put that into perspective. I don’t feel as if I work as hard as a doctor does.”
To realise why Stu Mackenzie feels the need to contextualise his work ethic, you have to understand how closely to the grindstone he and his bandmates in King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard have held their noses this year. Most bands do well to turn out a new full-length once every three years, but in November of 2016, Mackenzie announced plans for his group to release no fewer than five albums over the course of 2017.
They were hardly lazy before that news broke – in the six years since their formation, they’d already made eight LPs – but this particular endeavour seemed like ascension to another level entirely. Anybody who then glanced over the septet’s live schedule for the year would’ve been forgiven for wondering if they’d crossed the line from ambition to insanity. Mackenzie’s laid-back demeanour belies his prodigious output, and as much as that might seem like it sets him up for mischaracterisation (how many times have we heard the hard-touring Mac DeMarco described as the world’s premier purveyor of slacker rock?), it might just be the band’s serene approach to their work that’s allowed them to be so productive.
“I hope we’re actually going to make it to five records!” laughs Mackenzie over the phone from his native Australia – LP5 is still in the works, roughly scheduled for a Christmas Day release. “We’ve been busy all year, and that’s been cool. I try to write a little bit on tour, but not a lot tends to come off that. Once we’re at home, the studio’s just around the corner from my house, so I’ll go there every day and tinker away at whatever I’ve got going, and just make shit. Plus, you know, we don’t really have much of a filter, either; most bands will write fifty songs, and then whittle them down to twelve for an album. We just put all fifty out.”
There are few details on the fifth record at this point in time, but if it’s going to follow the trend set by the four that have preceded it this calendar year, it’s likely to have an identity all of its own. It’s little wonder that so many ascribe the ‘experimental’ tag to King Gizzard when their 2017 releases to date have all had such different feels to them; the first of them, ‘Flying Microtonal Banana’, was the woozy comedown to 2016’s fierce, complex ‘Nonagaon Infinity’, temperate in terms of both pace and structure. ‘Murder of the Universe’, meanwhile, was quite the opposite – a manic, intense rock and roll workout threaded together with sinister spoken-word exposition that extolled the apocalyptic themes of the record’s lyrics.
‘Sketches of Brunswick East’, released in August, was a collaborative effort with Alex Brettin, the Los Angeles singer-songwriter with a penchant for sunny guitars who records under the name Mild High Club, and perhaps the most compositionally abstract of the bunch in terms of the way the songs came together. Just last month, the fourth King Gizzard effort of 2017 was surprise-released, and the abrupt nature of its arrival wasn’t the only thing about ‘Polygondwanaland’ that raised eyebrows; it’s available as a free download that comes free of any copyright stipulations, which the group have altruistically waived. Already, there’s a Kickstarter campaign well on its way to full funding, run by a fan who intends to press the album to vinyl himself. (On Reddit’s last count, 32 small labels were planning limited runs; at Loud And Quiet we reeled off 50 cassettes in aid of the Refugee Crisis.)
There’s been so many twists and turns for King Gizzard this year that it’s a wonder Mackenzie can actually remember what the reasoning behind the five-album plan was in the first place. “I think there were a few things that led to us coming to that bizarre conclusion,” he says from the band’s tour van, which is headed from Canberra to the airport, to catch a flight to Perth. “Towards the end of 2015, we were finishing up ‘Nonagon Infinity’ and that was kind of a brutal record for us. We were coming straight off of some pretty heavy touring and jumping straight into that one, and because we made it in New York, it just felt like we were living and breathing it the whole time we were there. We were rehearsing the songs a lot, because we wanted to them to be so tight that we could go in and nail them in one take. The whole process was a bit of a head fuck, so by the time it was done, we were ready for a break.”
Around the same time, in early 2016, the band began hiring out a warehouse in their native Melbourne, which quickly became – for all intents and purposes – Gizzard Headquarters. They now had a considerably more relaxed environment to make records in than the one in which ‘Nonagon Infinity’ was cut, but the burnout that album had culminated in meant that nobody was in any mood to do so. When the ideas did start to finally formulate, Mackenzie recalls, they were disparate in nature.
“We toured heaps last year, but ‘Nonagon Infinity’ was the only thing we actually put out. So, instead, we were messing around with all kinds of different stuff; fast, heavy stuff that felt really linked to ‘Nonagon’, and then chilled-out, jazzy ideas that just seemed like they were from a totally different universe to that. Eventually, it felt like we had these four different ideas, to build four distinct albums around, and then somehow, that ended up becoming five. I think I got a little bit over-excited, but the challenge was something that felt really invigorating. It’s been really fun. We’ve maybe toured a little bit more than we’d anticipated, though, which is why this fifth record still isn’t done!”