These are just a few of the things that happened to the members of Australia’s King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard in 2022: they released five new studio albums (including three in October), they watched helplessly as some of their instruments were crushed by an elevator in Barcelona amid a run of five shows in six nights with no repeated songs, they danced a lot, they jammed even more, they almost got bed bugs, they released two behind-the-scenes films, they substituted a drum machine for drummer Michael “Cavs” Cavanagh while he missed two shows recovering from COVID-19, they hosted record fairs so their hardcore fans could buy and trade both official and bootleg vinyl and merchandise, they got drunk at a New York Rangers hockey game and watched their antics transmitted in real time on the Madison Square Garden jumbotron, and they played the most triumphant American gigs in their 12 years of existence, including selling nearly 30,000 tickets to three marathon, three-hour concerts at Red Rocks outside Denver. And the year’s not even over yet!
The six-piece outfit — multi-instrumentalists Stu Mackenzie, Joey Walker, Cook Craig, and Ambrose Kenny-Smith, in tandem with Cavanagh and bassist Lucas Harwood — will keep the proverbial good vibes going in 2023 with another extensive world tour, including unique U.S. residencies in four cities and Gizzard’s largest American headlining show ever at the 17,000-capacity Hollywood Bowl in Los Angeles on June 21. There will undoubtedly be fresh music as well.
While driving from his home in Geelong to the Gizzard studio in Melbourne, Harwood phoned up SPIN to reflect on the band’s milestone year, the appeal of the residency concept, the pros and cons of life on a tour bus, and the work that’s already underway on two new albums.
King Gizz played a lot of big shows in 2022, but were there any that stand out for other reasons? Maybe an unexpectedly awesome gig in an off-the-beaten-path locale?
Lucas Harwood: The tour we did earlier in the year was interesting. The October tour was postponed a handful of times, but we were then able to tour in the U.S. beforehand. We said yes to everything without stepping on our own toes in the cities we were going to play in the fall. It felt weird to go twice to cities where fans already had tickets, so we hit some spots we hadn’t hit before. We’re always willing to play in smaller towns, but we wouldn’t usually do a whole tour of those, which is kind of what April was like.
Two shows stick out. One was Columbus, Ohio, which I didn’t know anything about. We sold 4,000 tickets, which surprised us. It was a really cool venue next to a big baseball stadium. It rained, which made it even more interesting. Our bus had bedbugs, and at that venue, we had these special dogs come sniff all our possessions to make sure there weren’t any bugs on them. This big truck came up next to the bus and basically turned it into an oven to kill whatever was in there. They were discovered a few days beforehand, and it was fortuitous we had a couple of day drives and that none of us were really sleeping overnight on the bus. Unfortunately, one of our crew members slept on it during the day and they got bitten, which is how we discovered what was going on.
The other one I remember quite distinctly was St. Paul. It had such a cool vibe and an insane record store. It was also one of the smallest shows of the tour, in an old church. In places like that, the fans are so pumped and appreciative that you’re coming through their town.
What about the two shows you had to play in Europe without Cavs when he came down with COVID? Wasn’t it weird to look to your right and not see him in his usual position on stage?
Definitely, but it was also fun. A big part of Gizzard’s ethos, and how we approach making albums, is putting ourselves in a zone that’s uncomfortable. We like having to think on our feet. It makes us better musicians. I think we had a day or two off before those two shows, so we bought a little drum machine and Joey and Stu experimented a bit with it. It was mostly improvised though. We tailored the set to be mostly 4/4 songs, or songs with time signatures that didn’t change. Those would have been impossible to play on the fly. We recorded both of those shows and I think they’d be fun to bootleg one day. There were definitely some really cool moments. This is what COVID does to a band. We’re very fortunate we didn’t have to cancel more than one show. At the start of this year, we’d said that if anyone’s not well enough to play because of COVID, we just won’t play. But we realized sometimes the show must go on, even if it’s not ideal.
Can we run through each of the five Gizz albums from this year and say a few words about them? Made in Timeland was the first one — I think people enjoy how weird and electronic that one sounds.
What I loved about it is how freeform it was. We all made bits of music at 120 BPM, and that was the only limitation. Stu then stitched it all together in tandem with the ticking clock in the background. I don’t know why it ended up sounding like that, but I guess it’s what we were all experimenting with at the time. People hear the electronic bits, but there’s a lot of different stuff on there that I wouldn’t necessarily consider as such. It feels like a cool pastiche of almost all the demos we were working on at that time, turned into something weird and different.
Omnium Gatherum is almost like a fake Gizzard greatest hits, touching on all the different musical styles — and even some rapping.
[Album opener] ‘The Dripping Tap’ was the first time we were able to get back together and jam during the pandemic, which was really fun. We didn’t start out intending to make a double album, but it just kind of fell together. Stu did a really good job of bringing all the pieces together, as he always does. I think some people find Gizzard weird and jarring with the span of genres, even within the context of an album, but when it goes through Stu’s filter, it all make sense within the same world to me. It’s like our White Album, which is incredibly varied. With all of our records, we impose constraints. It challenges us to be creative in other ways, but sometimes it’s fun to flip that and make a record of whatever’s going on at that moment.
Then there are the three distinct albums that came out in October, starting with Ice, Death, Planets, Lungs, Mushrooms and Lava.
Ice, Death is definitely my favorite of the bunch and the one I contributed the most to. I contribute to the albums in varying degrees, because most of time when I’m at home, I’m a stay-at-home parent. On Ice, Death, I contributed more than I usually would. It was also the first time we’d done collaborative lyric writing. I hadn’t written lyrics in a long time, so I really enjoyed doing that. Having writing prompts got me personally out of a bit of a lyric-writing funk. The jamming in the studio had constraints, because every song was in a certain scale, but other than that, it was really freeform. For every song, there’s probably a couple hours of material that we edited down. We’d never made music like that before, with the impetus being ‘The Dripping Tap.’ Live, the songs keep evolving. ‘Ice V’ has been my favorite to play, because I don’t think we’ve ever gotten that funky before. It was such a crazy year. In between the tours, I came home, and I think Amby did too, but most of the other guys stayed overseas. We did two days of rehearsal in L.A. in October and used that time to focus on interpreting the Ice, Death songs and getting them to work live. They were definitely honed and developed by playing them every night. It’s such a good feeling as the tour progresses.
Laminated Denim was made to serve as intermission music during the Red Rocks shows, but one of the songs, “Hypertension,” made it into the live repertoire very quickly.
Yeah. That’s another really fun one to play. Similar to Ice, Death, it’s pretty proggy. We play it pretty close to the recording, but within that, there’s a lot of room for improvisation. On the October tour in particular, and beyond that, we’ve really been enjoying jamming.
When I asked you about Changes in October, you deferred the answer to Joey because you said you were still wrapping your head around it, musically.
I’m definitely starting to understand the theory behind it a lot more. I’m also really keen to start playing those songs live as well. This year’s setup doesn’t work for those songs, but maybe next year we can bring some of them in. They may have to be reinterpreted to be a bit more guitar-y. I practiced all those songs at home and got them ready to play, but we still haven’t done that yet. I really love those songs and hope we can bring them into the fold because I think that record is a real fan favorite.
If nothing else, we need to see you play that crazy funky bass part from ‘Astroturf.’
I have to level with you, man. It was either Stu or Joe that played that bass part. Changes is funny because it has taken years to come together, and there were two or three incarnations of each song. That’s just the part that ended up on the record, and it’s incredible. I’ve learned it, and it’s so fun to play. I don’t feel bitter in any way when that kind of stuff happens. Everyone contributes, and we see what sticks. I mentioned the Gizzard filter before, and we really trust Stu as a producer to pick and choose what ends up on the finished products. I didn’t play or write a good portion of the recorded bass lines, but I love learning and interpreting them. It’s a privilege.
Most of Gizz has been home for about six weeks since the end of the North American tour. Have you made any headway on new music?
I don’t know what I can give away [Laughs]. We’re working on two albums concurrently. They’re both very collaborative in different ways. They’re going to be very different sounding to each other, but we’re going to try to make them complement each other in a yin and yang kind of way. We’re all writing lyrics for both albums again, which has been fun. I think that’s about all I can say.
This is all newly written material?
It’s all really fresh. None of it is stuff we’ve been sitting on for ages, which is exciting.
Looking ahead to the U.S. residency shows in June, it seems like once again Gizz is really thinking about how to create unique experiences for the audience.
We definitely are doing this for the fans, but we’re doing it for ourselves as well, to change everything up as much as possible. A residency tour seems like something fun and different. Part of the impetus was trying to make our touring a bit more family-friendly, so we can bring partners and kids on the road and be in one city for a few nights in a row. We can get comfy in the venue and really get to know it. I think we’ve played as many as four nights in one venue before, and it’s a different feel. You become more willing to take musical risks. For those shows, seeing a lot of similar faces in the audience is really heartening. We’re just trying to keep it fresh, and these venues are really interesting as well. We can’t wait to come back.
Can you relate to the ever-growing levels of Gizzard fandom? Did you ever follow a band around like so many people now seem to be doing with you guys?
I grew up going to music festivals with my parents — things like the Port Fairy Folk Festival and the Queenscliff Music Festival. It was folk and country music, and a lot more adult contemporary stuff. I was at an age where I didn’t have a style that I was into, so I’d just get into the bands that were at the folk festival and buy their CDs. I’d try to chase down artists to get autographs. I really think the whole Gizzhead thing is uniquely American. We definitely grew up doing that kind of stuff, but this level of fandom and mania is a uniquely American cultural thing: tailgating, bootlegging, and traveling around the country to see multiple shows. Stu and a friend drove to Sydney to see Brian Jonestown Massacre when we were teenagers, and at the time I remember thinking it was kind of crazy. I didn’t know anybody else who would do that, because the capital cities are so far apart. If you wanted to follow a national tour, you’d just have to fly everywhere. We notice the difference from America to other countries. We have great fans almost everywhere, which we’re really grateful for, but the kind of fandom we experienced on this last tour is definitely the most extreme, in terms of everything that goes with it. It’s wild.
How do you stay sane while on tour?
Not partying too much! I only do that when we have a day off the next day. When we get to a city, I usually go on a big walk on my own for an hour or two to get coffee and food. I love alone time on tour, especially when you’re on a bus tour. I love the guys, and I love our crew, but that alone time is really important to have some space and take yourself out of the weird existence that is touring. As a stay-at-home parent when I’m not on tour, I really appreciate that time and space to myself on the road.
What can you tell us about your new side project, Heavy Moss?
I’ve previously written my own stuff and I had my own band a long time ago, but I can’t give you an honest answer as to why I stopped. I lost a bit of the zest for it, and maybe the confidence. But with the help and support of the guys from Gizzard, and the guys I’m starting this new band with, I’m writing and recording again. It’s funny starting a band in your 30s. Things are a lot different. I’ve been playing keys a lot, and even getting lessons, so all the songs I’ve been writing are on keys. It’s something different. We’re just chipping away at recordings at the moment. I don’t know if I’ll get an album together next year, but maybe an EP. I definitely work a lot slower than the usual Gizzard pace (laughs). I’m pretty much playing keys exclusively in this band. I’d like to play shows eventually, but that’s a daunting prospect as well — playing keys and singing upfront in a band is pretty different than what I do in Gizzard. I’m hoping we can get a couple of songs out during the first half of next year.