In prog rock, no one can match King Gizzard’s record pace

Australian rock band King Gizzard and Lizard Wizard plays a sold-out show at Royale in Boston on Thursday.
Jason Galea
Australian rock band King Gizzard and Lizard Wizard plays a sold-out show at Royale in Boston on Thursday.

Each of the albums by the Australian rock band King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard — and there’s a slew of them, a dozen since its 2012 debut — has its own personality. There’s the psychedelic garage-rock early stuff, the jazz-fusion and prog-folk middle period, the microtonal experiment, the album inspired by Miles Davis’s “Sketches of Spain.”

“I like having a jumping-off point to start a record,” explains Stu Mackenzie, the seven-piece band’s frontman and spokesman, on the phone two weeks before the group’s return to Boston for Thursday’s sold-out show at Royale.

“It’s a framework. The way I look at it, trying to make music can be, um, arresting. You can get stifled by choice. Making a song, it can be hard to know what direction to take. You have too many options.” Instead of thinking “inside or outside the box,” he continues, “it can be easier to place the box and then try to look into every corner of it. You can be more inventive in that sense, maybe.”


There is no shortage of inventiveness in this young band, which has already made more music, and explored more psychic territory, than many musicians achieve in a lifetime. Its latest album, “Gumboot Soup,” released on the last day of December, capped a delirious run of five albums unleashed in the calendar year. By the band’s impossible standards, the group has been relatively lazy so far in 2018, though it’s currently on a long tour that takes it to Moscow and Europe after its US dates.

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Though he grew up in a family that lived on a farm and in a surfing village, Mackenzie says he’s had to relearn the benefits of downtime.

“I need to clear my head every now and then,” he says. “It helps to be more creative and productive. Trying to fully switch off is a good thing to do, but it’s kind of hard for me.”

Astonishingly, a couple of his band members are so prolific they’re in other bands as well. Multi-instrumentalist Ambrose Kenny Smith, for instance, leads an energetic band called the Murlocs.

Like King Giz’s records, each member of the band brings a distinct personality, Mackenzie says.


“Amby brings the blues. Cookie [rhythm guitarist Cook Craig] is the mellow one, the chill guy, the big dog.”

Main drummer Michael Cavanaugh is the band’s heartbeat (“He’s driving the train. He’s the one we’re all playing to”). Eric Moore, the second percussionist, doubles as the band’s manager: “He’s kind of the boss. He’s always got his glasses on, on his laptop, a walletful of cash — he’s that guy.”

Mackenzie, who has vowed to teach himself a new instrument every year for the rest of his life — his arsenal so far includes guitar, clarinet, Mellotron, sitar, and a Turkish horn called a zurna — considers himself the band’s creative director and peacekeeper.

“I’m trying to make sure everyone’s being heard, getting what they want out of the band.” Juggling the two roles, creative director and moderator, “is my jam,” he says.

For a band whose productivity has so far proved mind-blowing, jamming doesn’t quite explain it. The group’s improvisations in rehearsal and in the songwriting process somehow result in exacting, determined-sounding recordings, whether they’re the minute-long romps of the metal-fantasy concept album “Murder of the Universe” or the four 10-minute, 10-second jazz-rock songs that make up the band’s sixth album, “Quarters!”


“I’m the math nerd,” Mackenzie says. “I liked the assuredness of it, the black-and-white, the wrong and right. I like the patterns. I think it’s cool how it corresponds with music, with things fitting together like a puzzle.

“You want to make things feel deliberate, but not so precise that it feels lifeless or formulaic,” he says. “It’s a tricky thing to straddle.”

Mackenzie, 27, thinks the Internet age has created a certain kind of music fan who is comfortable with a wide range of styles. On the other hand, he knows his band is a throwback to an earlier time, when rock groups sought to make 40-minute albums that hung together as comprehensive listening experiences.

Pre-Internet, he says, “I think people were more divided about what kind of music they liked. They were a metalhead or a punk guy, or goth, a folkie, whatever. They had their style, and it aligned with everything in their life.”

But digital music has put all of recorded music at a listener’s fingertips. “We’re kids who grew up downloading music on Limewire and Napster, all of that,” Mackenzie says. “I’ll wake up in the morning and listen to a jazz record or Megadeth. I listen to all sorts of stuff. It always felt natural to do that.”

Unlike many of his peers, however, he doesn’t think so much about individual songs as complete albums. A good album, he says, puts you in a certain frame of mind — “a vibe, a headspace.” It’s mood-altering, or mood-enhancing, take your pick. And a band with a name like this one is bound to do both.

James Sullivan can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @sullivanjames.