King Gizzard – The Greatest Band You’ve Never Heard Of

Australian Rockers Gaining Popularity With Prolific Output.

I used to say I have three bands I liked above everything else: The Grateful Dead, Pink Floyd, and Peter Gabriel-era Genesis. Now I’ve added a fourth band to that list – King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard. This sextet out of Melbourne Australia has put out an incredible amount of music beginning with their 2012 debut album, 12 Bar Bruise. Since then, they have released two dozen studio albums, fifteen live albums, and three collections of demos and early recordings.

The band’s prolific nature stems from their boundless style and willingness to explore several genres, ranging from psychedelic rock to heavy metal to prog to synth pop to Anatolian microtonal music to jazz and beyond. Each member of the group has a wide variety of influences. Band leader Stu Mackenzie sings lead and plays guitar, bass, keys, flute, sax, and just about any other instrument he can get his hands on. Stu is joined on guitar by Joey Walker and Cook Craig, each of whom are also prone to record keys, vocals, and bass guitar on certain studio tracks. Ambrose Kenny-Smith sings and plays harmonica, keys, sax, and percussion. Lucas Harwood plays bass and keys. Michael Cavanagh plays drums and percussion.

King Gizzard: photo credit – Jason Galea

Mackenzie is the principal songwriter and creative director of the band. He chooses the concepts for each album and is responsible for the final mix. Joey, Ambrose, and Cook bring their own songs to the band. Similar to the way Genesis created their album material in Gabriel”s heyday, Harwood explained King Gizzard’s process of jamming and choosing songs in a Relix interview.  “Stu (Mackenzie) listened to hours of those jams, and he found the best fits. Reinterpreting those songs live has been really cool. We are not recreating them note for note onstage because they’re so jammy. And that’s what really brought us into this new phase of Gizzard being jamband. We just don’t know where we’re going to end up when we play these songs live.”

Most of the future members of King Gizzard were playing in various bands around Melbourne. As Kenny-Smith, the last to officially join the band explained in an interview, “Lucas and I were in a band together, Stu and Lucas were in a band together and Cook and Stu were in another band together,” he says. “When Stu started King Gizz, and I saw them play for the first time, that was it. I knew it was going to take off quickly. Stu asked me to come play at one of their shows the following week or so and I just kept rocking up there with them after that.”

Additionally, some songs are written in a jam process whereby the band collectively improvises together and they pick out the best snippets and weave them together into a complete song. Not unlike the Grateful Dead, the songs are not replicated note for note, and can vary each time it’s played live.

King Gizzard is in the middle of a historic US “Residency Tour”. They have scheduled four sets of shows at venues across the country. They played four nights at the Caverns in Pellham, TN, and three shows over two nights at Red Rocks in Morrison, CO. They play three shows at Chicago next week and three more at Remlinger Farms outside Seattle, WA, with the grand finale slated for the Hollywood Bowl. The band has promised to not repeat any songs at shows within the same venue this tour.

“Spending a lot of time in the States opened us up to playing different, unique shows every night and improvising a lot more. I feel so bad for these people. They’re coming to watch the exact same show every night.”

-Stu Mackenzie, as told to Relix
Stu Mackenzie

With twenty-four albums and counting, the Gizzard discography may appear daunting to newcomers. To that end, we have put together a short playlist that samples from many of their albums. If a particular song catches your ear, go and jump to that album and listen to it top to bottom. King Gizzard is first and foremost an album-oriented band. 2014’s I’m In Your Mind Fuzz explores Kraut Rock as well as relaxed, soulful jams. Nonagon Infinity (2016) is an infinitely looping psyche rock party freakout. Flying Microtonal Banana (2017) is an exploration into Non-Western tuning. 2019’s Infest the Rat’s Nest brought in an influx of heavy metal fans with its thrashy hooks and sci-fi enviro-disaster story, while Fishing for Fishies of the same year delves into bluesy boogie rock reminiscent of T.Rex. 2022’s Ice, Death, Planets, Lungs Mushrooms, and Lava is a jam band experiment on the modes of the Major Scale.

The video for “Iron Lung” from Ice, Death, Planets, Lungs Mushrooms, and Lava is visually and musically stunning. Check it out.

Eric Leventhal also contributed to this article.