Back in the parking lot of the Cannery Ballroom, band and crew members set up inside while Mackenzie chats with Uncut in the bus. As Mackenzie sits cross-legged on the black vinyl sofa, a grinning Elton John looms over his shoulder, a poster for Wonderful Crazy Night having become a Gizzard fixation. (“He looks like he’s having the best time.”) Like his mates, Mackenzie is the epitome of chill when not thrashing around onstage. At the same time, he exudes a certain clarity of purpose. He got serious about music at the age of 16 in the wake of a serious knee injury playing Aussie rules football. “I was home from school and couldn’t walk for weeks,” he says. “Basically all I did was play guitar – I really hadn’t practiced before at all. But that was it for me.”
At high school in Geelong, he connected with other youngsters who shared his interests. Indeed, the social opportunities created by music have long been a major motivator. “Even for a lot of the more introverted musicians, it’s still a way for them to communicate with other people,” he says. “When I’m making music by myself for days, I’m always thinking, ‘I can’t wait to show someone this.’”
Though King Gizzard became his primary creative outlet, it’s been just as valuable as a means for hanging with pals and travelling overseas. Their eagerness to roam led to a growing roster of new friends outside Melbourne, including the Oh Sees’ John Dwyer, who released I’m In Your Mind Fuzz and Quarters on his Castle Face label. In 2015, they co-headlined an Australian tour with mask-wearing Swedish band Goat, who became another ally in this global wave of boundary-busting psych acts. One Goat member (identity withheld as per the band’s preference for anonymity) tells Uncut they weren’t familiar with their hosts before arriving on their turf. “The first night in Melbourne, they started the show and blew my mind,” he says. “I was so impressed I started to regret we’d gone all the way to Australia!”
Since 2015, King Gizzard have also helped galvanise a new generation of psych- and fuzz-loving Australian bands with an annual festival, Gizzfest. That said, Mackenzie was wary of getting tagged with the p-word. “In the past, I was like, ‘Ah, that’s annoying,’ since we’re not necessarily a psych band,” he says. “But I guess when you have made music that’s pretty psychedelic, that’s fair. And we’re a band that’s hard to label.”
Even that rather elastic category seems too confining for King Gizzard. Variously likening his young charges to the Allmans, Frank Zappa and Captain Beefheart, ATO’s Jon Salter hears the blues in there, too. “There’s not a lot of guys who are doing that sound with such a blues strain in it,” he says. “It feels like such an infusion.”
They venture further than many peers in conceptual terms as well. With its stories of an entity that shoots lightning from its fingertips and a cyborg who longs for the ability to vomit, Murder Of The Universe belongs in a whole other dimension. Mackenzie considers the album to be a full expression of his “inner sci-fi geek”, with lyrics that reflect his taste for the macabre and love for fantasy, horror and sci-fi lit (he’s currently working through Stephen King’s The Stand). “I’ve never been super-interested in writing songs that I feel already exist,” he explains. “It’s tempting to write songs about your own experiences as it’s always to a degree unique. But I’m not going to write heaps of love songs because I just feel like: a) someone could probably do ’em better, and b) no-one cares about my own shit.”
And as these sinister images and characters recur on different albums (along with various musical motifs), there’s a growing impression what the band is creating its own multi-verse. Judging by the loonier Reddit threads, many fans regard the Gizzard oeuvre as a prog-psych equivalent to Game Of Thrones already. “There’s a bit of that going on but it’s looser than what George RR Martin does,” says a bemused Mackenzie. He’s chuffed to see fans hash out theories about the interconnecting narrative threads, though to him, “the number one thing is making sure I’m super happy with the music”.
He’s also happier just trying to keep his mob together. Mackenzie calls himself the “band director” – the one who finds a way to fuse together his mates’ various ideas into a workable whole. Thankfully, they’re a remarkably amiable and affable crew. Though the music’s gonzo excess may cause one to expect a tribe of grizzled acidheads, they come off more like mild-mannered Dungeons & Dragons players, what with their lack of evident enthusiasm for the usual vices of a band on the road. Mackenzie says it didn’t used to be like that. “It was like every single night was a party,” he says of the earlier Gizzard jaunts, “but you also have more stamina for that when you’re 21.”