Originally published in Uncut’s December 2017 issue
Seven psychedelic Australians with a manic workrate. An army of fans with alligator tattoos. A rapidly expanding catalogue of albums regarded as a prog-psych Game Of Thrones… Meet KING GIZZARD & THE LIZARD WIZARD! JASON ANDERSON joins up with garage-rock’s biggest new cult in Nashville and asks: will they keep their insane promise of releasing five albums in 2017?
The bandmates only travel about 30 feet from the door of the venue before they’re spotted. Then again, King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard are not the most inconspicuous bunch. Here on a scorching September afternoon in Nashville, it’s hard to miss a mob of lanky, mid-twentysomething, mostly long-haired Aussies in black shorts and Blundstones. They are eight in number – seven musicians plus Jason Galea, the friend responsible for the band’s artwork, videos and trippy live projections.
Two fans call out and come over. “We drove 11 hours to see you!” says one clutching an empty bottle of bleach for reasons unknown. He’s thrilled to show the band a new addition to his pale forearm: a freshly inked illustration of a green gator. The musicians convey their approval without inspecting it too closely. The creature first appeared in Galea’s sleeve and animated video for “The River”, a single off the band’s 2015 LP Quarters. Though it migrated into a few T-shirt designs, no-one in the Gizzard camp gave it much thought until fans started showing off their badges of allegiance at Bonnaroo a few months on. Since then, “there’ve been hundreds,” says Galea in disbelief.
King Gizzard’s 26-year-old singer, guitarist, flautist and ringleader Stu Mackenzie confesses that being the object of such devotion has been “kinda overwhelming”. He remembers the words that came to mind when he saw his first flesh gator: “Damn… you’re gonna regret that.”
Such tributes are just another absurd development in a history studded with them. Gradually, and largely by happenstance, a band formed as an anarchic extracurricular for young friends otherwise busy in other bands in Melbourne in 2010 has become one of the most obsession-worthy groups on the planet. None of that “was supposed to happen”, Mackenzie explains. “This was just the weird experiment, just us fucking around.” The group didn’t even get a decent name. Instead, they got stuck with a last-minute compromise between someone’s Doors-inspired suggestion of King Lizard and Mackenzie’s arguably dafter choice of Gizzard Gizzard.
Yet what started as a joke definitely isn’t one now. Later that night in the sold-out Cannery Ballroom, a sweaty 1,000-strong throng of “Gizzheads” mosh to the sound of Mackenzie’s apocalyptic sci-fi songs about cyborgs and altered beasts. An improbable but reliably thrilling stew of prog, surf, garage, Krautrock and psychedelia – with the occasional detour into folk, jazz and Tropicália, too – the band’s sonic barrage is powered by two drummers and delivered with enough gusto to supply several more bands of comparable girth.
The whirlwind of activity they whip up onstage is matched by their frenzied release schedule. Since 2012, they’ve put out 10 extraordinary (and extraordinarily diverse) albums. Of the five that were promised for 2017, three are already out. Even if they miss the self-imposed deadline for the last two – and time is running short – they’ve already provided a ludicrous overabundance of stoner-motorik magnificence.