Stu Mackenzie learned guitar at a young age—and he did so upside-down. The Australian musician, who currently fronts the wickedly eclectic outfit King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizzard, first started playing guitar by picking up his father’s instruments, which were all left-handed.
“It makes you think about guitar a little differently,” says Mackenzie, who flipped the guitars over to suit his righthandedness. “Even something super familiar, like a set of open chords or something, it sounds different. It’s a different feel.”
Creating different feels is now central to Mackenzie’s work as a musician. The guitarist/singer is the primary songwriter for King Gizzard, a seven-piece band who has had a fascinating and utterly unique career. In their first four years they released eight records. This February they released their ninth, Flying Microtonal Banana, an album that rethinks the entire tonal foundations of rock music.
Originally conceived as a record to be played on a baglama (a Turkish stringed instrument with movable frets), Flying Microtonal Banana is exactly what it sounds like: a soaring take on microtonal music. Named after a guitar Mackenzie had built which loosely resembles a banana, the album was created on a number of instruments that were modified to include quarter tones—notes between those in a standard Western scale.
“It’s kind of a Dorian mode with a half flat sixth and a half flat second, because that was the way my baglama was fretted,” Mackenzie says of his mutant instrument. “The main thing that I said was, ‘I want it to be really loud.’ We ended up modifying two other guitars, harmonica, did some keyboard mods and stuff so we had enough instruments for everyone. It was a lot of different processes that all came together in the end.”
The result is one of the most exciting guitar records of the past few years. Flying Microtonal Banana starts at 10 and retains its frenetic pace until the very end. What might sound unfamiliar at first begins to make sense to the ear partway through the first listen, and then quickly becomes infectious.
“Once you hear it, it’s hard to unhear,” Mackenzie says, speaking about microtones. The same could be said of the entire album, essential listening for any fan of weirdo rock.