“We don’t adhere to the template set by the industry in terms of album cycles, sitting on things for ages and all that. We just do whatever makes us feel stimulated.”
This weekend’s 11th edition of the Boston Calling Music Festival is finally happening at the Harvard Athletic Complex after two years of postponements due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
With all that time off, the lineup has changed some, but the case can still be made that this is the most diverse and local-friendly edition of the event in the past few years. Plus there’s a whole lot of other stuff happening too, from openers to headliners.
Industrial rock pioneers Nine Inch Nails will headline Friday, with alternative rock trendsetters the Strokes topping the bill on Saturday and metal icons Metallica closing out on Sunday.
Meanwhile, the Boston scene is getting some love as well with mod-pop act the Chelsea Curve and alt-rockers Born Without Bones as part of Friday’s lineup, then with blues and soul songstresses Julie Rhodes and Ali McGuirk performing on Saturday and hip-hop artists Cliff Notez and Oompa in the fray on Sunday.
One of the many other acts adding to the festival’s artistic range are psychedelic rock dynamos King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard from Melbourne, Australia, who will cause a ruckus this Saturday on the Delta Airlines Blue Stage at 7:35pm.
I recently spoke with multi-instrumentalist Joey Walker from the band about two records they recently put out, having an incredibly prolific discography in a short amount of time, not abiding by industry norms, and his thoughts on returning to Boston.
Over the past couple months, King Gizzard & The Wizard Lizard released two albums in fairly close proximity to each other with Made In Timeland coming out on March 5 and Omnium Gatherum being released on April 22. Made In Timeland only has two tracks each lasting 15 minutes, while Omnium Gatherum consists of 16 tracks with the first song off of it, “The Dripping Tap,” running over the 18-minute mark. What inspired the unique structure of both albums and what made you guys want to release them within a month and a half of each other?
With Made In Timeland, it was kind of an experiment that we did during pre-COVID just when the pandemic was starting to hit. We planned to do these marathon shows at Red Rocks in Colorado and we had this idea to split the set down the middle to two 90-minute sets with a 15 minute break in between with a countdown time that would be displayed on the screen. Made In Timeland would play in between both of our sets with the time ticking on the screen and every bit of music that happens would correspond rhythmically with what the timer was doing. Then when COVID-19 hit, we had to postpone everything and we’re now doing those Red Rocks shows this October so it’s going to be around two-and-a-half years later after the initial date. The early experiment was kind of like us attempting to make some type of elevator muzak and those further explorations resulted in the album Butterfly 3000 that came out last summer.
That was our foray into the electronic side of things, so that was that. Omnium Gatherum was made during the pandemic, which was us navigating the lockdown that we had in Melbourne. We corresponded with each other online and if the lockdown was lifted we’d go, meet up, and put the album together. We had a whole bunch of songs that we’d accrued over a long time and we often would get some sort of concept going to dictate how the album would be.
With Omnium Gatherum, we were set around the concept being based around having a group of songs that have no similarities to each other and once we settled on that, the album materialized really quickly.
There’s a lot of variety within Omnium Gatherum I discovered while listening to the record. Counting the new releases, you guys have released 20 studio albums along with numerous bootlegs, a couple official live albums, and a few extended plays—all within a 12-year period so far. What in your opinion makes the band so prolific with your output and how do you go about releasing new music in such a relatively quick fashion where you’re putting out multiple records nearly every year?
I feel like our leader Stu Mackenzie’s natural disposition is he doesn’t have any pedantic bone in his body in terms of being precious about music. He’s always been like that ever since we met at the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology 15 years ago. The natural way for any musician or artist is to be self-conscious and nothing’s ever finished whereas Stu is a rare bird in that respect. He sets the precedent of us not taking anything too seriously, it’s just a song, let’s get it done and move on to the next thing. That kind of attitude has permeated through how the rest of us operate and we’re lucky enough to be able to do music full-time, we have our own studio space at home and we each have our home studios.
If we’re able to have a life as musicians while doing it full-time without having to work other jobs, we see it as doing it as much as we can. We treat it as a job, on a Monday morning we’ll get to the studio, hang out, and jam. We don’t adhere to the template set by the industry in terms of album cycles, sitting on things for ages and all that. We just do whatever makes us feel stimulated.
Outside of Lucas Harding on bass and keyboards and Michael Cavanaugh on drums and percussion, Cook Craig, Ambrose Kenny-Smith, Stu and yourself each play a wide variety of instruments. When it comes to writing new material, how do you go about getting your respective talents involved without going beyond your artistic limits or without things getting muddled?
That kind of changes album to album. Once again, it’s about going back to the idea of stimulation and we try to do as much as we can to keep the process fresh. If we make an album that’s a certain genre or a certain style of music, the next one will probably be the furthest thing from that because it keeps everything natural. If we’re experimenting in some way that leans towards metal or it’s more jazzy, I feel like we really strive to kind of do stuff to better us as musicians. We do try to test our limits just to improve both as an entity and as individual musicians, we like pushing the boundaries in that respect.
That’s not to say that everything we do is good, we’ll often attempt to do something and it’s crap so we’ll have to rethink things. It’s good to not be comfortable, it’s good to be on your toes, it’s good to set deadlines for things to where it feels like it’s too soon because you have to work on it quickly.
How many custom-built guitars and modified instruments do you guys have at your disposal? Do you customize and modify them yourselves or is there a company that does it for you?
We don’t do anything close to that, our guitars are all bought off the shelf. Stu and I both have mid-’60s bizarre looking Yamaha electric guitars but we haven’t done any modifications to them, they are as they were when they were first built. We do have microtonal guitars, which I think is what you’re alluding to. Stu had a purpose-built electric guitar with the idea of putting these extra frets on it to add extra notes in between notes, it’s a thing in both Middle Eastern and Indian music. That’s definitely the unique thing we have going on but other than those guitars we keep it pretty simple. Lucas on his bass has a purpose-built microtonal guitar as well so that’s kind of cool.
It is pretty cool. What are your thoughts going into this weekend’s Boston Calling Music Festival?
Metallica is playing on Sunday and I think we have to leave for Europe that same day which is shattering, I’ve never seen Metallica before. I’d kill to see them but the festival looks great, we’re excited to come back to Boston and I don’t think we’ve ever done a festival there before. It’s always been club shows and we haven’t really been there for a while so it’ll be good to get amongst it.
Rob Duguay is an arts & entertainment journalist based in Providence, RI who is originally from Shelton, CT. Outside of DigBoston, he also writes for The Providence Journal, The Connecticut Examiner, The Newport Daily News, Worcester Magazine, New Noise Magazine, Northern Transmissions and numerous other publications. While covering mostly music, he has also written about film, TV, comedy, theatre, visual art, food, drink, sports and cannabis.