Interview with vocalist/guitarist Stu Mackenzie | By Douglas Menagh
After releasing 14 albums since forming in 2010, King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard are set to drop their most metallic album yet. Out Aug. 16 through ATO Records in the U.S. and Flightless Records in Australia, Infest the Rats’ Nest is a straight-up thrash metal album.
Vocalist and guitarist Stu Mackenzie shares a bit about the new release, the Melbourne-based band’s touring plans, and more.
Infest the Rats’ Nest is your heaviest album to date, wouldn’t you say? How was recording that, especially after [releasing] Fishing for Fishies [a few months ago in April]?
Definitely the heaviest record to date. I don’t think we would have made this album, or would have been able to make this album, any other time up until now. A few of us, including myself, very, very much grew up on heavy metal. That completely altered the way that we thought about music, because it was so much of the music we listened to from when we were teenagers and that sort of thing. I think we always tried to make a heavy metal record. I think there’s a succession of records of ours that have gotten heavy or more influenced by metal, but I think it wasn’t until this one where it was, “This is heavy metal now.”
But yeah, it’s been one thing at a time and getting more comfortable on our instruments in terms of drumming, playing guitar, and playing music like that, a bit faster, more precise, and jamming a lot of ideas into short amount of time. In a lot of ways, it was our pushback against Fishies in some way, because Fishies was so low-key and so chill. It’s often the way for us, where we feel like doing the opposite thing. It’s just, like, a push-pull, but yeah, I think that’s the genesis of it.
You’re into Rammstein, Metallica, Slayer, but there’s also something cinematic and psychedelic about the album, instrumentally, like in “Mars for the Rich.” Can you elaborate on that?
I think from where we come from and the kind of music we made in the past, that’s crept in for sure. We weren’t trying to make a psychedelic record, but I think it always ends up being a bit like that. It just ends up that way. We always make a record—every time we make a record, we think we’re making something [specific]. We go into it thinking, “This is what this is going to be like. This is what this is going to feel like. It’s going to feel like this or sound like this.” It doesn’t have to be musical, but there’s always some kind of overarching, conceptual ideas. This one, it was like, “We’re going to make the fastest, heaviest, loudest album we ever made.” It wasn’t necessarily, “Let’s make a thrash metal album.” It was actually, “Let’s be faster, louder, and heavier than we have before, and let’s see where that takes us.”
The psychedelic thing, I guess it just—happened? But it’s just unintentional. It’s just because we always play together. I don’t know. We have a few tropes I suppose that make their way in.
How did you approach singing with this heavy and metallic instrumentation?
It kind of just happened naturally, I suppose. I’ve always been—you hear people talking about finding your voice and your voice is your inner true instrument and stuff. I don’t approach singing like that. I approach singing like you’re just another part of the music, just like a guitar. If you play guitar, it’s normal and fine to have all sorts of sounds and approaches and playing and tones. I’ve always approached it like that, like you just sing in the tone of voice that suits the music. Hopefully I can sing this live and not lose my voice in five minutes, but we’ll see!
This new album has this story behind it. How did that come about?
If we’re talking lyrically, I think it’s just a broad critique of human nature or where we’re at at the moment generally. We split it in half. The first half of the record, or the A-side, is kind of all happening now to a degree. It’s all stuff—all those first four songs on the record are all things, maybe not happening now [but] about to happen or feeling [like a] near-future soon possibility. We’re kind of fucked with the way we’re going on a number of levels.
The B-side is more of a story. It’s kind of about a handful of rogue earthlings, I guess you would call them, who are trying to escape from this planet that is dying—or this planet that is being killed, I suppose—and they can’t go to Mars, because they don’t have enough money to get in, so they go rogue and build a spaceship and send it to Venus and try to colonize and they’re not very successful there either. Earth is dead, Venus is shit and everyone dies there, and Mars is full of the wealthy, and then, the story ends. That’s just our broad critique of what is happening, maybe trying to take it to a way more epic, broad scope, but I think that’s kind of the vibe going on Earth right now.
You spend a lot of time thinking about humanity and the future of planet Earth. When you say, “Goddamn, it’s hot,” it’s painful, but there is that slightly comedic element—but also the horror fiction. Can you talk about the horror aspect?
My approach with anything scary is that is has to feel like it actually is kind of real, otherwise it’s funny. I think that’s just, at least, the way I look at scary stuff or horror or whatever, but I think kind of funny or campy sort of horror is also really dope. But if it kind of feels real, it’s legit scary, and I think this album is mostly kind of legit scary. It’s less, like, monsters and creatures and fucked-up spirits and shit like that [like] we’ve had in past records. This one is like, “We are fucked. You are fucked. You are going to hell, and hell is on the surface of Venus, and it’s not fun.”
What inspired the music video for “Self-Immolate”?
That video was made by a friend of ours, John [Angus] Stewart, who’s a filmmaker. That was kind of his interpretation of what we were getting at. The film clip for “Planet B” and the film clip for “Self-Immolate,” and we’re going to do another one as well, they all sort of tie in to this theme that we, as a species, are killing ourselves, essentially. We’re digging our own graves, but we’re actually going down laughing, and it’s a disturbing combination. Generally, we are all like, “This is scary, the permafrost is melting,” but we’re actually not scared. Everyone is kind of happy and going about living their lives. Maybe that’s embedded in our nature to be like that, but it’s kind of an interesting observation. I think that’s the kind of lynchpin behind all those videos.
What are your influences outside of music?
I think it’s been more and more—in the last, maybe, three or four records, it’s been more and more drawn from real-life stuff rather than fiction. There was a period in the band where I was reading a lot of books and watching a lot of films. Now, I’m probably listening to a lot podcasts, like, about the philosophy of consumerism, or I’m probably listening to a lot more news as well. I think that’s probably what’s influenced the last few records more than fiction, but maybe that’s cyclical. I’ll probably change. I’m not sure.
Is metal something you’d stick with?
Yeah. I still spend heaps of time listening to heavy metal. It’s not something we’ll move away from, but we will definitely deviate and do other stuff. As I said, I don’t think we [could’ve] made this record any other time until now. I actually don’t think we’d be able to play those guitar parts and drum parts and stuff until now, which I guess is because we’ve been thinking about heaps of other kinds of music and dabbling in this sorta thing. This was probably the most fun record to make that we’ve ever made. It felt so visceral and energetic. As dark as it is to make a real heavy and dark [record]—heavy as in content, heavy as in this record—and also enjoy it, it’s also ironic and potent with the idea that we’re going down laughing. It’s kind of like, “We’re all the same, aren’t we?” We’re just as bad.
You’re set to tour. How do you feel about that with the new album?
I’m feeling good. We’ve just had the longest break that we’ve had in five years, which was, like, six months off show. We’re actually getting back into it next week, and from that point on, pretty much the whole rest of the year is fairly consistently with shows, but I’m excited. I feel really good. I feel like it’s been ages since we played, but I guess it’s really only been since early January. I’m excited to play all this new stuff, and even the stuff from Fishing for Fishies and some other deep, weirder, rare cuts we’ve never played before.
We’ve been spending a fair amount of time actually rehearsing, which is actually not something we usually spend a lot of time doing. Like, everyone together in the room, “We should probably practice this, because we are shit at this,” we don’t really do that. It’s more like, “We’re shit at it. Let’s not play that,” or “Let’s do some other, different version of it.” [We’re] being a bit more disciplined with it. I think we’re going to vary the sets up a lot more and have different shows every night, which is something I’d like to work toward a bit more.
Are you even thinking about another record? There’s so much work you put out.
Sometimes, when we’re at this point, about to put out a record, we do have a pretty clear idea of what we’ll do next. I think, at the moment, we’ve been spending a fair amount of time thinking about the second half of this year and all of the shows and stuff and probably less time thinking about the next record. We have a handful of some things that all don’t really fit together at the moment. So, I don’t know. I think we’ll keep on making music and see what rises to the surface or what stands out, but we’re not there yet.