King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard are as prolific as they are diverse – in just over a decade, the Aussie rockers have managed to amass a comprehensive discography that runs the gamut of rock and pop.
As part of our comprehensive interview with leader Stu Mackenzie, we quizzed him on 10 of the band's best tracks so far. Here's what he had to say...
1. Head on/Pill
Album: Float Along - Fill Your Lungs (2013)
Though not the first of the band’s studio albums, Float Along - Fill Your Lungs was the release that helped cement The Gizz’ reputation in the UK as an exciting new force in the world of garage rock.
16-minute opener Head On/Pill finds the band effortlessly combining Indian-influenced '60s psychedelia with drone-y shoegaze and Oh Sees-style guitar freakouts over a repetitive, hypnotic beat.
“That was actually the first time we used two drum kits in a recording. Cav [Michael Cavanagh] has always drummed, but when Eric [Moore] joined Gizz, he was playing percussion and theremin and sh*t. We were always like, ‘We can’t have two drummers, that’s insane’, but eventually it was like, ‘F*ck it, we can have two drummers, who cares?’
"So Head On/Pill was the first song we recorded like that. It just came out of a lot of jams. I think that it will always be one of my favorite things that we’ve done. There was just a spark.
"I feel like songs are these little gift packages that just drop into your body and then exit and belong to the world. At that point in the band’s career, we’d been playing shows, but I feel like we’d just learnt to play together. We’re one piece now, and that was the moment we learnt to do that.”
Album: I’m In Your Mind Fuzz (2014)
The third part of a seamless four- song suite, this track from 2014’s swampy I’m In Your Mind Fuzz finds Stu frantically riffing on top of a propulsive, krautrock-inspired beat. From a guitarist’s perspective, Cellophane remains one of the most memorable songs in the band’s catalogue to date.
“Of the four tracks of that suite, this was the last one to come together. The I’m In Your Mind thing was first, and it did really feel like it needed to go to some other place. The song just needed to go somewhere else and then come back.
"When we were piecing together that record, there was this one jam we recorded, and it had Cookie [Cook Craig, guitar] playing bass, and it was his riff. It was Cook, Cavs and myself, playing this loose guitar solo/riff thing.
"I had recorded five or 10 minutes of it with one mic when we were rehearsing, and it happened to be in the same key as [the Mind Fuzz songs]. At the time, it was quite a lot slower, but I just used this jam as a launch point to write a song around it - and it was written really easily.
"Cellophane is a segue - a section - and it’s awesome that people have latched onto it, because we didn’t really think of it as a song. It’s always surprising to us the things that people dig!”
3. The River
Album: Quarters (2015)
On their first of two releases in 2015, Quarters found the band dipping their collective toes into the realm of jazz-rock, with each of its four tracks clocking in at precisely 10 minutes and 10 seconds.
The most distinctive guitar work of the album comes from opener The River, with its slinky 5/4-time riffs dictating the ebb and flow of the track.
“We were just beginning to be open to changing our sound a little more, feeling more free to be quiet and lean less on yelling constantly. That song was written in the middle of summer, when we were renting a ski lodge in Hunter Mountain in upstate New York, where we recorded most of I’m In Your Mind Fuzz, but we wrote a handful of other songs there that ended up on different records, and this was one of them.
"The earliest jams of The River were from there. It’s another one of my favorite songs that we’ve put together, because I think we were in a free headspace in that time, trying something that we hadn’t done before. We recorded that in Daptone Studios in Brooklyn, and it was pretty loose - we recorded the whole record in a day, save for a handful of overdubs, and it was pretty improv-y.
"Sometimes things just fall into place, and that was one of those things.”
Album: Paper Mâché Dream Balloon (2015)
The Flute-heavy Paper Mâché Dream Balloon saw the band recording almost exclusively with acoustic instruments. Here, the guitarists offer up pastoral, mellow psychedelia, led by broken chords and folky fingerstyle picking.
Time=Fate’s counter-melodies keep the acoustic front and centre, perfectly demonstrating that the instrument’s use far exceeds simply playing a chord sequence.
“There’s a lot of flute on this album, and I was just learning to play at the time. It took a lot of takes just to get a very simple line. I really can’t play very well, but I can play well enough: ‘Roll tape, roll tape, roll tape, roll tape... Okay, got it’.
"This song is a Cookie Craig-penned song. We recorded it out in the country in rural Victoria, where we converted a shipping container into a studio. I’m not sure if other people can hear it as a shipping container, but when I listen to that record, I just [hear] the specific reverberation in the room.
"The main acoustic on this record is a nylon-stringed guitar that was one of my dad’s - it’s a left-handed guitar strung right-handed. I wanted it to be in our little shipping container studio for a couple of weeks and so that when anyone came over they could play it.”
5. Robot Stop
Album: Nonagon Infinity (2016)
For their eighth album, The Gizz pulled off an impressive feat - Nonagon Infinity can be played as one endless loop, finishing perfectly in time to where it starts, with no gaps between songs.
This opening track combines classic Gizzard elements (harmonizing guitars, riffs doubling the vocal melody, Eastern scales) with a lengthy solo that employs a number of different guitar styles.
“I think we were ready to do another rock record - to get in there and make something loud and fast. I think we were listening to a lot of Krautrock. I know we were listening to Hawkwind a lot at the time.
"In our heads, this was our space rock album, but when you listen back to it that it maybe doesn’t sound like that. Robot Stop was maybe the fourth song that came together, and it felt like, ‘Oh, that’s the vibe of the album’.
"We tried to record it as live as possible. For us at the time, it was a lot more high-tech than anything we’d ever done, and a lot more progressive. It was recorded in lots of chunks, but we had to know the sequence. We didn’t do a lot of tempo-matching; there was no click-track.
"We mostly worked it out in the rehearsal room, and it was quadruple the amount of practice we’d ever done for a record. It was so much harder than any record we’d ever made.”
Album: Flying Microtonal Banana (2017)
Kicking off an ambitious five-albums-in-one-year run, 2017’s Flying Microtonal Banana found the group dabbling in microtonal tunings thanks to Stu’s custom-built ‘Flying Banana’ guitar, with additional frets added across the neck to allow for clear notes to be played between semitones.
“I had been to Turkey, and I brought home a bağlama, which is a Turkish stringed instrument. I wrote a handful of songs on it and I really thought we were gonna make this bağlama record, but it just didn’t work.
"The logical conclusion was to work out how to tune an electric guitar like that. It was a coincidence that this guy Zac Eccles approached me about making a guitar, and I said, ‘Lets add some crazy frets to it’.
"We wrote all new songs, which was cool, because the guitar was so inspiring and it had this sound all of its own. I thought we’d write a song but we wrote a whole record.
"Flying Microtonal Banana felt low-stakes because we were doing something weird on purpose. I like quarter-tone music because it’s the exact middle of the 12-tone. It feels like the exact furthest away you can get from the notes that you’re familiar with. It’s dissonant in this beautiful way.”
7. Crumbling Castle
Album: Polygondwanaland (2017)
This monster of a track from the otherwise synth-heavy (yet folky) Polygondwanaland showcases a number of melodic King Crimson-style riffs, played with absolute dexterity, before finally sinking into a sludgy doom metal outro.
Despite clocking in at nearly 11 minutes, the boys’ guitar work never takes an unnecessary detour, playing only to propel the song itself forward.
“This was the hardest song that we’d ever made. It came about when we were making Murder Of The Universe , and it started off as this more metal-ish, heavy track, but it just felt like it had this rhythmic depth to it.
"We were doing this polyrhythm thing where the bass and drums are in one groove and the guitars and vocals are sitting in another pocket, and it just kept pulling away from that record and saying ‘I don’t belong here, I’ve got this other vibe going on’.
"So that song was left off that record, and it kept developing, morphing. I think we recorded four or five different versions of it before it felt done. It was a super challenging song, and we were still learning how to mess around with these types of music.
"It was really scary [laughs]. I wish I could remember what we were trying to do with the ending!”
8. The Great Chain of Being
Album: Gumboot Soup (2017)
To some, the band’s fifth album of 2017 plays more like a b-sides collection for what has come before it, but a closer listen reveals some of the band’s most memorable guitar work to date.
Freed from any concept album continuity, the band range from Sleep-esque stoner metal (The Great Chain of Being) to the group’s funkiest riffs yet (Down The Sink).
“That type of music [stoner rock] is something we listen to a lot on tour, especially whilst driving. It definitely started to seep into our subconsciousness.
"[The Great Chain Of Being] is like a road song to me. We were trying to finish the five albums in a year, trying to make things varied and trying to experiment with recording as well. I think the recording is slowed down on the tape machine.
"We were messing around a lot at this point, and it was the fifth record of the five. We thought, ‘Let’s just try everything’. I think it allowed us to be super free and be open. In a lot of ways, each song just felt lower-stakes, therefore you can take more risks - which was the point of the five records, just to see how many risks we could take.
"Obviously not everything is going to pay off, but some of my favorite songs I’ve ever written came out of that year.”
9. Boogieman Sam
Album: Fishing For Fishies (2019)
After going an entire year without releasing a new album, King Gizz delivered two in 2019, starting with the boogie woogie-influenced Fishing For Fishies.
The album’s perky, upbeat style is none more apparent than on Boogieman Sam, which showcases a staccato fingerstyle riff at the heart of the song and a fingerpicked solo to boot.
“We wanted to do a whole record that had a swing feel, and I think that’s where the boogie thing came from. They’re kind of the same but they are different, and it went into this blues realm. It’s in drop D which is pretty rare for us, though it’s not in [the key of] D.
"The tuning just allows us to do that riff. Maybe if you had really long fingers you could do it [in E standard], but I need to be in drop D to play that one. It was one of the middle songs to come together for that record, and it’s just a really fun jam and a fun live song that gets a bit loose and stands out a bit. I’m not a fingerpicker, it’s not the way I learnt to play.
"I just use clawhammer - my thumb and my first finger - and I think it’s just because I’m bad at it [laughs]. That solo is just played on a single string. I don’t even know how it came together, it was just like, ‘This sounds funny, let’s do this!’”
10. Planet B
Album: Infest The Rats Nest (2019)
On Infest The Rats Nest, the boys dive headfirst into thrash metal, complete with tapping solos, double-bass drum patterns and palm-muted chugging riffs. Mackenzie uses every trick in the book to create as thrilling a metal album as you’ll hear.
“This is my bread and butter - what I grew up with but never felt like I was gonna play. When I was learning guitar, I’d bring Master Of Puppets or Reign In Blood to a lesson, and the teacher would be like, ‘You can’t play that, you’re just learning. Here’s some Jack Johnson.’
"Cavs and Joe and I grew up on a fair amount of heavy metal, and so the three of us just started jamming this heavy stuff which just turned into the record. It was very natural. People come into it like, ‘Oh, they made a thrash metal record’, but that record feels more ‘us’ than a lot of records that we’ve made.
"I got the Gibson Explorer around the same time, and during a jam it was like, ‘I think we should make the heaviest record we’ve ever made.’ That guitar came up at the right time, where I was open to playing an Explorer [laughs].
"Every single guitar track on that record is the Explorer - Joe and I did all the overdubs with that guitar. We’d never done that before, where one guitar plays all guitars!”