The surprisingly down-to-earth psych-rockers in King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard have somehow crammed themselves into Brooklyn’s cluttered Daptone Studios. It’s possibly the only place on earth where the seven Aussies, known for squeezing two drum kits, a flute stand and a theremin onto minuscule stages in past years, can look small.
In the cramped recording room, about half of the members are working on a short snippet they’ve dubbed “Motörhead Ending,” a segue to follow a tune they’ve named after the grizzly hard-rock band. It’s part of a larger concept for a “super heavy” prog-metal album they’ve been conceiving for the better part of a year (“It’s not really metal, but it’s inspired by stuff like that,” singer Stu Mackenzie says) that will play out as an infinite loop. That said, the frontman acknowledges it’s a fool’s errand. “I’m sure no one’s going to put it on repeat and loop the album,” he contends with a laugh.
Since the Melbourne septet formed in 2010, it has become one of the most compelling collectives of art-rock experimentalists in recent years, exploring a mix of high-concept musical odysseys that range from AM bubblegum to kaleidoscopic acid tests. Their adventurousness on recent album Quarters! earned them the equivalent to a jazz Grammy nomination in Australia, and their eclecticism has allowed them to bring their colorful projections and out-rock jams on the road with buzzy singer-songwriter Mac DeMarco, global-rock fusionists Goat and garage-rockers the Drones, the last of whom they played with at the Sydney Opera House. In recent years, they’ve channeled their creativity into concept records (2014’s I’m in Your Mind Fuzz tackled mind control, Quarters! found them working within 10-minute time constraints), but their recently released seventh LP, the acoustic, folky Paper Mâché Dream Balloon, is notable for being what Mackenzie calls an “anti-concept record” (perhaps a concept of its own).
“It was maybe the most enjoyable record we’ve ever made,” he says, taking a break from recording and likening the LP to an amuse-bouche before the album they’re currently crafting. The effervescent, long-haired singer and somewhat reserved, bearded drummer Eric Moore have squeezed themselves into the corner booth of a local, bustling bar. They opt for beers over the establishment’s ornate alcoholic milkshakes. “Paper Mâché is like a nice afternoon siesta before going to work a night shift.”
“The initial plan was to make the album we’re recording now, but we realized the songs weren’t anywhere near ready,” Moore says, noting that they included six of the new tunes variously in sets on their recent U.S. tour. “We needed to play them live in order to make a live-sounding album. So that’s why we decided to completely shift to Paper Mâché.”
Mackenzie used his Paper Mâché respite to let his mind wander, taking inspiration from the post-apocalyptic novel The Day of the Triffids while penning the flute-filled standout “Cold Cadaver,” and trying to teach himself clarinet and violin. “My clarinet playing is still awful, and to a degree so is my flute playing,” he says, unashamedly. “I spent a day trying to nut out these 10-second clarinet parts, sitting there with a microphone in my ear like ‘doo, doo, doo, BAHHH.‘ I got it, but if I had to go back and recite that clarinet playing I probably couldn’t do it, which is kind of ridiculous.”
King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard have yet to play songs from Paper Mâché live, but they’ve test-driven the tunes for their looping LP enough times to be studio-ready.
Back at Daptone, Mackenzie leads the group in a tight, Krautrock-influenced segue connecting songs with tentative titles “Mr. Beat” and “High School.” The tape whirs, and when they stop, the engineer pulls out a razor to splice it.
It’s a testament to their collective ambition, something they’re still trying to parse themselves. “We couldn’t play the album in one take,” Mackenzie says of the current project. “If we were in the studio for six months, and we practice it every day, we could probably do it. That’d be fucked, though.” He laughs.