It’s not hyperbole to refer to the musical output of Australian band King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard as (Guided by Voices notwithstanding) unparalleled — at least in modern times, at least for a rock band, and a band that’s been together for just over a decade. In October 2022, the experimental-psych sextet released three full-length albums, and that’s after two others in the spring — not counting live releases and remix records. It’s a head-spinning pace of production, really. One that multi-instrumentalist/primary bass guitarist Lucas Harwood credits to the band’s agreed-upon discipline and focus, which actually stimulates creativity.
Since the world got Changes (seven songs clocking in at 40 minutes), Laminated Denim (two 15-minute tracks), and Ice, Death, Planets, Lungs, Mushrooms, and Lava (seven tracks exceeding 60 minutes), King Gizz also wrapped a giant international tour. After some down time Down Under, then travel across Europe, they will head back to the U.S. for a June residency tour including multi-night stops in just five spots. One such spot is 90 minutes from Nashville in Grundy County, Tennessee — concerts in and then outside The Caverns. The two underground shows sold out instantly, as did the first above-ground/natural amphitheater show with a larger capacity on June 3. A fourth show on June 4 has since been added.
Hear Lucas Harwood discuss King Gizzard’s setlist design and rehearsal, given so, so many songs in their catalogue, plus the joy in playing music with your BFFs.
On the Record: A Q&A With Lucas Harwood of King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard
Celia Gregory: Hi, Lucas. I like your black hole avatar [on Zoom], that feels appropriate. Good morning to you.
Lucas Harwood: Good morning to you. It’s Celia, right?
CG: It’s Celia, yeah. It’s early evening here in Nashville, but I know it’s morning for you. Thanks for rising and shining for me.
LH: Of course. I’ve got like an hour of press and I’m driving around doing some errands. I just voted in our state election.
CG: Oh, it’s today, Election Day for you?
LH: Well, I voted early. It’s Tuesday here and the voting day is Saturday.
CG: I love to hear it. We just had our elections, you might have been over here when we had ours, actually. It’s not quite as compulsory in the States as there, so turnout is much lower than in your country. So good on you!
LH: We follow American politics for sure. I think our politicians kind of piggyback on a lot of things from the States. I think it’s pretty important for us and we definitely follow along.
CG: And you know what the hell you’re getting into when you visit the States.
LH: Yeah, exactly. I mean, you know, we inherit a lot of things from the U.S.
CG: I’m connecting across many hours and time zones with Lucas from King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard. Lucas, we are so excited that you’re coming to Middle Tennessee. It’s a little further out of town, but it’s because you’re playing in a freaking cave. Of course, you’ve been touring incessantly as well as making music and having just come back from the States not too long ago. Can you tell me about any special venues you’ve played, anything super memorable for you as you plan to come back and do some more, like in a cave in Tennessee?
LH: Yeah, I mean, honestly, the whole tour was really momentous and memorable for us. Obviously, this year it was our first year back touring internationally since COVID. This tour especially, in the end had been postponed for over two and a half years. So now there’s a really, really palpable sense of anticipation among us and our crew. But of course, the fans. We’re lucky that pretty much everyone had just been holding onto their tickets that whole time. Stu had some health issues a few months before that. And I think everyone thought, “Shit, like maybe these shows aren’t going to happen for different reasons now.” But every show that we did it was like, “Yeah, that’s another one ticked off the list.” And we were just so, so pumped that the shows happened.
CG: Well, they didn’t just happen. They’re big explosions of energy, right? Like you said, that connection with fans after so long, but also so much more music to play.
LH: That as well. We were really, really pushing ourselves to play as many different songs and as many varied sets as possible. With all these new records coming out and starting to play those Ice, Death [Ice, Death, Planets, Lungs, Mushrooms and Lava, released October 7, 2022] songs — we had started to tease them in other jams earlier in the year, but after they had been released and people could get to know them and then to be able to play them live and change them even further because they lend themselves to just being played differently every night. They all have a loose structure to them, you know, we really just marry as much as possible within that.
Honestly, we’re just having tons of fun playing together, especially jamming, connecting with each other and with the crowd. [We played] A lot of momentous venues like Red Rocks, of course — that place is incredible. I didn’t really know about that venue until we booked it in 2019. I guess a lot of people retrospectively will say this, but I’m kind of glad of how everything panned out. With COVID, like there’s a lot of bad but a lot of good, as well. And I think just sitting at home twiddling thumbs for two years really allowed us to take a step back and realize what we’re a part of. This tour and those Red Rock shows were like the apex of that. I just think having some time to ponder about it, we were really able to appreciate that.
CG: I wanted to ask you about designing a setlist. I wouldn’t even know where to start because you’re not a band that just releases one album and then tours that album. It’s like several a year, in some cases, like this year. And also because you can extend songs even if on record they’re shorter. Like you said, you jam up there. Is that a democratic process before you go into each show on a tour to say, “OK, how we’re going to switch it up or any ideas, guys?”
LH: It’s democratic, but also it’s kind of it’s like a puzzle. Like it’s usually Stu, who starts the writing process of a set list, and it’s more planned and exacting than you think. He will basically go on to setlist.fm — do you know that website?
CG: Yes. Just to make sure there’s no repeats?
LH: He’ll look up the last time we played in the particular city we’re playing in, or if it’s a city we haven’t played before, we’ll look up if it’s an hour away from another city that we’ve played in the past. If we’re playing in Philly, for example, we’ll make sure we do not repeat a single song compared to the last time we played in Philly. Gives you a pool of songs that you can’t play. So it’s like, “Alright, we played Nonagon [Infinity] stuff here in 2016, so we’ve got to avoid that.” And that just gives you a starting point basically. And from there it kind of becomes a democratic process.
CG: That’s incredibly thoughtful. That is a lot of work when you’re on an aggressive tour schedule and you do have so many songs to choose from. So how does that affect rehearsal, or are you just in the flow on the road and anybody can pick up and play any song from your catalog?
LH: Yes and no. Like we actually don’t rehearse a lot. I guess we kind of rehearse on the road. If we’re playing, say, a few nights in one city, we’ll definitely try not to repeat everything. And that means that we’ll write the setlist before soundcheck, and there will definitely be a handful of songs that we haven’t played in like six months or 12 months or something like that. Some that require us to practice individually before soundcheck and then we run it all together. During soundcheck if people are unsure about certain songs, then sometimes we’ll be trying to bring new songs in and we’ll have to run them at a few soundchecks before we actually play it. That’s work, but it’s worth it, you know, and it just gets easier as the tour wears on.
I feel like the early shows in the tour for me, personally, I am having to go through most of the set individually in headphones before we play. I think a lot of that is a performance anxiety thing and just preparing to quell my own nerves. But we just work and practice, practice a lot individually, probably more than we rehearse together. And for the tour that just happened, by the end of it, we had played 120-something different songs. So it gets easier because you’ve done all that work.
CG: It’s just bonkers. And it translates. It’s hard to have the opportunity to talk to you and not mention how prolific your band has been because it’s quality stuff, really focused work. And you mentioned being amazed that you’re just part of this thing. Do you mean you all individually being grateful to be able to be in a band together, to play music, period, to be back on the road? Can you say a little more about that, maybe some of the reflection you did when you were sidelined before you could get back out?
LH: I would say “All of the above.” To be in a band like literally with five of my best friends, but also this be our job. We’re just so lucky and grateful to be in this position. We don’t take it for granted. And I think part of that is putting a lot of work into our live show because I think that’s our greatest asset. And then, when we’re home, just putting a lot of work into records. I’m very, very lucky to have our own studio space and as much as possible, we just try to go into work every day. Like you said it, it’s quite focused, and I think that is what allows us to be prolific.
Every record has quite a focused concept or each song. And I think especially these days with technology, that can just be a trap you fall in because there are literally endless possibilities. But I think focusing and giving yourself limitations allows you to just not fall down too many rabbit holes — you say, “This is is the thing, this is what we’re doing, this is what we’re not doing, and that’s it.” And knowing when to say, “Alright, this is finished,” because you can just edit an over at it and mix and over mix for like months on end.
CG: To infinity.
LH: To infinity if you fall down that trap. I think having boundaries and limitations is honestly one of the main things that keeps us focused and prolific but also creative. If you put a box around something, you’re forced to be creative in different ways.
CG: Thank you for going into it so technically with me, I hope you also, in addition to being focused in getting back home for a while, you can rest a little bit before you get back out. Do you have any self-care family time planned over the next little bit?
LH: Oh, definitely. I’m not in the studio as much as the other guys because I’m kind of like a stay-at home dad most of the time when I’m home. I’ve just been hanging out with my family and I try to get into the studio a couple of days a week. Coming towards the end of the year now, there’s a lot of Christmas parties and birthdays coming up. And we’re doing a little New Year’s tour in New Zealand, doing some festivals over there, which is cool because we’ve never really extensively toured New Zealand.
CG: Lucky them! And lucky us, since you’re coming back here next year. We will be excited to see you when it’s our summer. I asked Siri today what the weather was like there [in Sydney] just to really rub salt in the wound, because we’re bundled up here already. But you enjoy your beautiful weather, your family. We’re enjoying the tunes. And maybe when you’re in our state, we can have you up here to the studio at WNXP.
LH: Definitely, we’d love that. We can’t wait to come to the caves. We’ll see you there.