Skip to content

King Gizzard Crown New Label With Jay Watson/Ambrose Kenny-Smith LP

(p)doom records will release King Gizzard's music moving forward, as well as that of their individual members and friends
GUM's Jay Watson and King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard's Ambrose Kenny-Smith (photo: Jamie Terry)

Australian sextet King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard are folding their own KGLW label into a new entity, (p)doom records, which will not only put out their new and archival music moving forward but also that of their individual band members, friends and collaborators. First out of the gate on July 19 will be Ill Times, the debut pairing of Tame Impala/Pond/GUM principal Jay Watson and Gizzard multi-instrumentalist Ambrose Kenny-Smith. The title track is available now.

King Gizzard and Tame Impala may now be household names, but when Kenny-Smith and Watson met for the first time in October 2009 at a Tame Impala show in the Melbourne suburb of Geelong, they were all mere novices gigging locally. In fact, Watson has no memory of that initial encounter, a lapse he chalks up to his excessive pot smoking habit at the time. Luckily, Gizzard’s music — and Kenny-Smith’s role therein — stood out to him from the beginning. “I loved it when I first heard it, but it was more just the vibe — the energy, the enthusiasm, the whole thing,” Watson tells SPIN by Zoom from the gym of a Comfort Inn in Asheville, N.C.. “They had an album out every six months, which was really exciting. I was like, I want to meet these guys!”

However, it took more than a decade before Watson reached out to Kenny-Smith to work together on an instrumental he’d long failed to find a home for on a Pond or GUM album. In fact, he’d even sent it to Australian group the Avalanches to use as a potential sample on one of their albums, but despite complimenting its Bootsy Collins vibe, they opted not to do so. “Jay sent me that demo of just the music and I was hearing a bit of ‘Magic Mountain’/Eric Burdon vibes,” Kenny-Smith tells SPIN by Zoom of the song, which was eventually renamed “Old Transistor Radio.” “That’s what immediately sold me on getting involved.”

From there, the duo began trading ideas at a quicker pace until they had eight additional songs dabbling in a woozy, layered blend of psychedelia, funk, shoegaze and soul. Ill Times also includes a raved-up version of “Fool for You,” first popularized by Curtis Mayfield and the Impressions, and an amusing nod to the musicians’ Antipodean roots with a song titled “Emu Rock.”

“There’s lots of types of music on it, or lots of sounds and bits of songwriting, that I haven’t really done before, even though I’ve listened to that sort of music and composed stuff like that for years,” Watson says of the album. “I can’t really sing more garage rock-y stuff. I can’t sing more soul stuff. I can’t sing funkier stuff. That’s why my own records veer towards a certain thing, because it suits my voice. My favorite musician when I was a kid was Stevie Wonder, so heaps of that way of writing and producing came out in this, which is really fun. I got to do a bunch of things I’ve never done because it wouldn’t work in the other projects. It was great having Ambrose optimize all the arrangements.”

For Kenny-Smith, Ill Times also offered a creative lifeline after the sudden April 2023 death of his father, fellow musician and occasional Gizzard collaborator Broderick Smith. The lyrics on the album’s opening song, “Dud,” were largely written by Broderick before his death, and Kenny-Smith came up with the moving line “father, father, I bid you adieu” days later while on a trans-Australian flight from Perth. In an eerie twist, Kenny-Smith had been en route to a photo shoot with Watson when he got the phone call from his sister informing him that their father had died.

“It was so therapeutic,” Kenny-Smith says of working on the album with Watson. “‘Dud’ sets the tone and ‘Ill Times’ is the aftermath of how people can react to different events of trauma. At the time, I was firing back so hard because I was desperate for a project. It was a time when I needed distraction and also fulfillment, like the satisfaction of achieving something when my mind was just running wild. It kept me grounded to work on this record at the time. I’m very grateful for that.”

As a further example of his commitment to Ill Times, Kenny-Smith will make multiple four-hour roundtrips from the Melbourne area to a farm where an upcoming video for “Dud” will be filmed, which will involve him learning to ride an old racehorse named Charlie. “Hopefully, he’s fine with some weird city kid dancing on his back while singing a song,” he says. “Luckily, they’ve got a crash [helmet] for me.”

Both Watson and Kenny-Smith are hoping they might be able to present the Ill Times music live at some point when their main gigs would allow, and acknowledge the breath of fresh air their nascent collaboration has afforded them. “The intersection of rock and soul is something we talked about, but I still wanted to make it modern, so there’s samples and synthesizers and sequencers,” Watson says of the music. “Without having to try to force it too hard, it was cool to find a little pocket of inspirational influence that we both hadn’t gone too far into before.”

Speaking of those main gigs, Pond is presently on tour in the U.S. through May 18 in Santa Ana, Ca., ahead of the June 21 release of their next album, Stung! Watson is also working on the next GUM effort, which he describes as being influenced by jazz — sort of. “Because I’m not a jazz musician, it doesn’t actually sound like jazz, but it’s like my version of it,” he laughs. “It’s just me doing the dishes every day while listening to Roy Ayers.”

As for King Gizzard, the group’s 26th (!?!) studio album is complete and should be released sooner than later, although details are still under wraps at the moment. “I’ve put up some stories on Instagram of us mixing it and mucking around,” Kenny-Smith says of the follow-up to 2023’s twin albums PetroDragonic Apocalypse and The Silver Cord. “It’s pretty rock / blues-rock — sort of like a classic ‘70s-sounding album. Lots of energy. Lots of big vibes going on. We’re in the stages of shooting video clips and finishing off the artwork.”

Asked if any of the forthcoming music was teased in live jams, as has been Gizzard’s practice with recent releases, Kenny-Smith promises, “No, not at all. This is all completely fresh.”

King Gizzard begin a European tour on May 15 in Brussels and return to North America on Aug. 15 in Washington, D.C., for visits to the largest venues they’ve played in the country to date, including Los Angeles’ 18,000-capacity Kia Forum and the 21,600-capacity Gorge Amphitheatre in Washington state.