23 albums, 500+ shows, 12 years: King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard on how they do it

Interview by Tyler Boudreaux, written by Marion Hodges

King Gizzard + the Lizard Wizard come alive during a multi-night run of shows at The Caverns in Tennessee as part of their June 2023 US Residency tour. Photo by Maclay Heriot.

Australian psych-rockers King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard are among the most prolific bands in the game. Since their 2010 debut, the group has released upwards of 20 studio albums, 15 live albums, and over 50 singles. They’ve recently announced another full length record due later this year — promised to be their thrashiest and most metal album in quite some time. Set for release on June 16, it has been bestowed with an epically metal title — Petrodragonic Apocalypse; or, Dawn of Eternal Night: An Annihilation of Planet Earth and the Beginning of Merciless Damnation — and a couple of equally metal lead singles, “Gila Monster” and “Dragon.”

“This is our job,” bassist Lucas Harwood says. “And we’re so lucky and grateful for that. We have our own studio in Melbourne, and we show up every day and try to treat it like a nine-to-five.” 

Every day, that is, when the band isn’t touring extensively. Consider live shows a twin pillar to their journeymen’s approach of crafting new material and reinterpreting their extensive catalog to fit the vibe of whichever set they find themselves preparing for next.

KGLW is in the midst of what they’re calling a “US Residency tour,” including a recent four-night run at the storied Caverns in Tennessee. Multi-night shows at Colorado’s Red Rocks, The Salt Shed in Chicago, and Remlinger Farms in Washington State are up next in the touring order, capping off with a three hour “marathon” show at The Hollywood Bowl on Wednesday, June 21

This show’s gonna be an extra special one on a number of fronts, not least of which being that it’s KGLW’s first time playing the iconic LA venue. Don’t let the FOMO get ya down: We have five pairs of tickets to give away

Get prepped for all the action by diving into a rare King Gizz interview between Harwood and KCRW DJ and contributor Tyler Boudreaux. Read on for Harwood’s breakdown of their marathon shows, surviving the elements at Red Rocks, and the robust bootleg community that has grown around the band — with the help of some tacit encouragement.

Get in the running right here to win those tickets to the band’s self-described “Tour Of Every Type Of Rock Music In Existence.” 

The following has been edited and condensed for clarity.

KCRW: You were on tour for most of 2022, during which you also released six albums, with three in the month of October alone. What motivates you to be on the road so much, and put out so much music?

Lucas Harwood: I think with each record, we create a concept, and we create boundaries and limits for ourselves. And I think when you focus on something like that, you're less prone to chasing infinite rabbit holes. There's a more focused goal of when a song or a record is finished. And I honestly think that's what allows us to finish records … maybe, quicker than most people? We're not huge perfectionists, as well. We'd just rather finish something and put it out.

In regards to touring, there's a perception that we’re touring all the time…. [but] we kind of do three overseas trips a year, and we don't go away for longer than four weeks. And that kind of framework is what has allowed us to balance being musicians who record albums at home in the studio, but also people who have normal lives with families. … Because if you're away for six months of the year, I don't think you have a normal life. 

We don't subscribe to the typical album and touring cycle as well, [where] you have to make a record every two or three years, and you can only tour when you have record out. I would find it so difficult to not tour for three years, and then when you put a record out, tour for two years straight. It’s just two extremes that I think would be really jolting. 

But we always have music out that's pretty new. So I think that justifies touring every few months, and I think it works well for us, in terms of balancing and just staying out there and people knowing about us, because there's always a show that's not too far away.

Do you find that sometimes you create songs or come up with some of these concepts while you're on the road on tour, or do you get inspired by the tour, or is it mainly you come back to your studio in Melbourne, you kind of catch your breath after tour and then dive into the record making process.

I guess the former, like, it's usually loosely planned and you know, has a framework. We'll definitely come up with a concept for record. And yeah, that can definitely be inspired from touring, you know, we have pretty long sound checks these days, which is really good. Because usually we'll have to run a few things. Like if there's a song we haven't played in, like, 6-12 months, there's always a handful of songs that we need to run that we haven't played in a while. But, you know, sometimes we just jam, and someone will come up with a riff and, you know, we'll just, record a quick voice memo and kind of put that in the bank. And so kind of just before this tour, we were coming up with the framework for, for the next two albums that we're recording, coming up with the concepts, writing some lyrics ahead of time. And yeah, just starting to think about them conceptually, but also writing bits and pieces. So that when we do come home, where, you know, we're kind of, there's a framework there, and we don't just walk into the studio and start twiddling our thumbs, you know, or just, like, start jamming endlessly with no purpose.

Do you often do that these days? Just jam and see what comes out of it?

[One of our 2022 albums] Ice, Death [Planets, Lungs, Mushrooms, and Lava] was kind of created in that way. We would go in each day, have groove and tempo, a scale, and kind of a feel. And we would just jam all day, and then swap instruments every half hour or something. That album was kind of written by [frontman] Stu [Mackenzie], filtering through all that material and finding the best bits and editing it down. Because when you jam for six hours, there's definitely stuff in there that you'd never want to hear again. So I guess that was literally jamming for hours on end, but not aimlessly. 

The writing was done in the editing stage … I really feel for Stu there, because that would have just been such a long, arduous process. We like to jam a lot on stage, but even within songs, that has a bit of a framework. Sometimes — very rarely — we can get carried away. And someone might try to pull it back. But I guess that's what the studio is for, you know? To let loose in it. With that record, especially, we didn't have to feel like, “We've got to rein this in here.” Because we knew that this was being edited later, and we just had free reign to kind of go nuts for a few hours, which is liberating.

When you talk about that feeling that you have on stage and you're jamming, it's easy to see it as an audience member. You all play together with a natural synergy, and it reminds me of other legendary jam bands like the Allman Brothers and the Grateful Dead. How long have you all been jamming together?

First of all, thank you. It's very, very humbling to be included in such fine company. Allman Brothers and Grateful Dead, especially, we absolutely idolize them. We've been a band for I think 11 years now. And some of us have been in other bands together that kind of predate that. [Multi-instrumentalist] Ambrose [Kenny-Smith] and I have known each other for the longest… like probably over 15 years, playing in other bands that predate Gizzard. And then I met Stu probably a couple years after meeting Ambrose. 

In the last few years, just the records we've made, and having the confidence to jam a lot more on stage, the production is bigger and better. We're using in-ear [monitors], so we can really hear each other and hear the nuances of what everyone is doing. We switched to in-ears in 2019, and that was revolutionary to what we were doing on stage because … with such good clarity, you just play better together. 

Previous to that, we had the floor wedges — the monitors on stage — and we were just battling each other for volume. It was literally volume wars on stage. One person would get something in their speaker turned up, and that would cause everyone else to get something in their speaker turned up, and then it just makes it really hard for our front of house tech, as well, to battle with that. But the thing is, we've actually gotten progressively quieter on stage over the last few years, because it means you have more control and more clarity over everything. And that was a huge turning point for us, just being able to hear each other and those nuances and idiosyncrasies.

Old theaters were made to be reverberant, because they kind of predate amplified music. But that doesn't really gel with amplified music. Playing in a venue like that, how we used to with live wedges, was just so bad sound-wise for us on stage. Our front of house tech probably did an okay job of making it sound okay out front, but now we can walk into a room like that and be confident that we're still going to be able to hear each other with clarity. And I guess that confidence is just built over the years. And now we’re just having loads of fun up there just jamming with each other, honestly. … We're all best friends as well, so that makes a difference.

How does the environment of the venue and the audience inform what you decide to play? The setlist, how does that come together? And how does the environment of the venue and audience inform how you perform that song?

Good question. When we go to a city, we actually try to not repeat any songs that we played the last time we were in that city. So if it's a city we haven't played before, it's kind of like a blank canvas. … And then each city is different. In America, especially, every state is so different, because every state has different laws. And I feel like that really influences culture in different ways. Just the built environment of every city is different, informs culture and the space itself.

Rarely, we might even change the set while we're up there, because we're feeling a really moshy rock energy. Or we've got songs that can lend themselves to being jammed out at length quietly, but then they can definitely be jammed out on the complete opposite side of the coin and get really loud and high energy. So we definitely feed off the crowd a lot.

[For a venue] like Red Rocks, there's no real mosh pit, but because it's such a steep incline, you're just kind of enveloped by the crowd. A lot of people travel to go to that venue, it's a bit of a destination, and the crowd feels like a festival crowd. Like, if you're playing a weeknight, regular, indoor venue, people might just be coming in to watch the show, leave as soon as it's finished, and have an early night because they've got work tomorrow. But, if you're playing Red Rocks and a lot of people have flown out for the weekend to come to two shows, it's like a mini-holiday. And a lot of those people are really, really excited. [At our] shows at Red Rocks in October … there was no mosh, but there was just this palpable sense of energy. Especially with those shows, most fans have been holding on to those tickets for two-and-a-half years.

Speaking of Red Rocks, there was a moment during your November 2022 show while you were playing “Static Electricity” where a huge gust of wind blew down from the audience onto the stage.

Yeah, that was wild. I was really scared for a bit because that LED wall was really, really moving. But they're prepared for pretty bad weather there. So I don't know, it just looks scary. 

How did you decide to finish out what you’re describing as your “US residency tour” with a three-hour marathon set at the Hollywood Bowl?

I think it just made sense. Our agent put forward the idea of the Hollywood Bowl, and said “I think we can do this, I think you guys are big enough.” And we're like, “Yeah, let's let's go for it.” We just love playing the marathon shows. We definitely can't do it every night, but we always try to pull it out at a big or special venue. So we absolutely can't wait for that show. The venue is historic, and I've never been to a show there. I would love just to go to a show there, so playing there is going to be surreal.

One notable way in which you engage with your highly dedicated fanbase (The Gizz-verse) is through the bootleg submissions you encourage. Why is this deep engagement with your fans important to you as a band?

I think we started to identify over the years that our fans were different. It’s a really diverse age group, so it feels like we’re not a trend that only 18-to-25 year olds get into, but when they grow up we don't have fans anymore. I think we're really lucky to have people of all ages and from all walks of life come to our shows. 

With the bootlegging thing, it’s part of us trying to be anti-capitalist. We feel like we have to offset the fact that we essentially are capitalists. We sell tickets, we sell records, and we sell merch and so the bootlegging is a way of giving back to the fans. We do ask so much of them because we sell a lot of records. For a lot of bands it might feel wrong to give away so much music. But it does allow our fans to really interact with it, and I think it turns them into super fans.

This is a funny question for you: Do you hate, like, or love dancing?

I would say I like dancing. I'm not someone who can just start dancing with abandon whenever the music comes on. I do feel like I can get to the point where I love dancing, but it requires specific conditions. So I would say I like dancing… I definitely don't hate it.

You're grooving in the “Hate Dancin’” video.

[Laughs] We were having lots of fun with that. We created the specific conditions that allowed us all to get there, to love dancing.