Photo: Jason Galea
From Mushrooms To Mixolydian: King Gizzard And The Lizard Wizard's Joey Walker Guides Us Through Their Next Chapter
The Aussie rock explorationists recently dropped 'Ice, Death, Planets, Lungs, Mushrooms and Lava,' and have two more releases planned within a month. What binds them beyond mere prolificacy is King Gizzard's infectious curiosity and creativity.
Merzbow, Ty Segall, Guided by Voices — these are inarguably multifaceted rock acts, with rich and complex histories. But for the purposes of the press, they often get boiled down to a single trait: they churn out a lot of music. This is unfair to those three, as well as many others who shatter the conventional model of the two- or three-year cycle.
This includes King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard, who are releasing three albums in Oct. 2022. (Just Google "King Gizzard prolific," and more than 166,000 results show up.)
Because if you have a taste for proggy, teeming, multitudinous music, each of these offerings is absolutely worth enjoying on its own merits — not as mere reminders of that aspect pinned on them by critics.
Each of those three LPs (Ice, Death, Planets, Lungs, Mushrooms and Lava; Laminated Denim; and Changes) possesses a particular character and vibe worth absorbing over multiple listens. Their individual characteristics blossom despite a shared central conceit, which governs the first two albums in particular.
The title of Ice, Death… spells out a mnemonic for the seven modes of the major scale: Ionian, Dorian, Phrygian, Lydian, Mixolydian, Aeolian, and Locrian. This points to the animating idea behind that album and Laminated Denim — hung on a musical concept dating back in ancient times.
As guitarist and multi-instrumentalist Joey Walker explains, the guys showed up to the studio sans songs or even riffs. For each tune, they simply selected a tempo and a mode, and began playing. From there, the band sliced and diced the jams into succinct songs, and added further elements, including vocals.
This wasn't simply to show off their theory chops; Walker doesn't even see himself and his bandmates as nerds in that respect. Instead, they wanted to introduce listeners to the psychological hues within each mode.
"That's what's great with the album — all of the identities and personalities of those scales within them," Walker tells GRAMMY.com on the road from Ashland, Oregon. "That's the best way of trying to convey theory, I think — to identify some emotional tone with them."
Laminated Denim, which dropped Oct. 12, is another manifestation of Ice, Death…'s freewheeling approach; Changes, which drops Oct. 28 and has been gestating for years, is a mode-toggling twist with elements of R&B, fusion and hyperpop. This underlines a simple fact about King Gizzard, and perhaps their similarly prolific counterparts — they don't just make lots of music, but an impressively wide range of it.
Once they're off the road, the band plans to revisit their heavier side, a la 2019's tribute to '80s and '90s hesher metal, Infest the Rat's Nest. But whatever their next three (or three dozen) albums will be like, King Gizzard are worth investigating on a record-by-record basis, not just due to there being a lot of them. Sometimes you get quality and quantity.
Read on for an interview with Walker about King Gizzard's triad of albums, their relationship with improvisational and modal music, and where his unpredictable band might — maybe — veer next.
How would you contextualize Ice, Death, Planets, Lungs, Mushrooms and Lava within King Gizzard's voluminous output? Have you guys ever worked with a pre-ordained conceit like this?
Not really. Not in such a conceptual way, in terms of setting a conceptual limitation for what an album or project would be. This is probably the most binary in terms of exploring the concept of an album in a theory sense. That being said, it's ultra-loose. None of us are hugely accomplished musicians, or know all the theory. So, yeah, it was kind of novel.
The other album that comes out this month, Changes, kind of taps in on having theory as one of the pillars or tenets of the album as well, where it wasn't based on a scale or anything. It's kind of a thing where we would choose a couple of chords — really simple chord progressions, like three or four chords per song.
Traditionally, a pop song will have a musical key, and then any chord that exists within that will kind of be rooted around whatever that key is. Whereas, for Changes, we took a bit of a jazz kind of thing, whereby every time the chord changes… let's say you moved from a C major to a D major. Instead of it being rooted in C, we'll change the key as well. So, the key changes every two bars or so.
It's a massive John Coltrane thing. He did that on "Giant Steps" a lot more proficiently. Ours is hugely, hugely rudimentary. But that was a really fun kind of exercise — having to think like that, and having to learn a bit more to play. That's what changes us as well.
I'm sure, as a band, your listening habits are all over the place. But what's your relationship to modal music, whether it be Coltrane or Indian music or anything else? Is that a big part of your musical diet?
Definitely, definitely. I'm fairly deeply into jazz, and have been for a while — as is Stu [Mackenzie], the singer. I'd say the other guys dabble in it — as does [multi-instrumentalist, singer and songwriter] Cookie [or "Cook" Craig] as well. Once again, our relationship is primarily as listeners moreso than practitioners of jazz.
It's definitely out of our skill set. We can touch on making jazzy things, but we don't pretend to be proficient at it in any way. It's just kind of a fun exercise.
Jazz is one of my beats — and primary interests in life — as well. Before we continue, what are your jazz desert-island discs?
In terms of releases, I always come back to that John Coltrane album, [1961's] Olé. And specifically that song [the title track] — the first time I heard it, it just destroys me.
I do love when those jazz greats get into that "when disco hit" kind of thing. So, I love that jazz fusion with funk — like, '70s stuff. I love Donald Byrd; I love Idris Muhammad; all that '70s Blue Note-y kind of stuff is also huge for me. I love Pharoah Sanders as well; that was a sad, sad week after his passing.
But, yeah, I'd say "Olé" is the one; it's so important to me that I don't even listen to it that much, because it has so much significance to me. I don't want to kind of diminish its impact, if you know what I mean.
I feel you. And for readers who may not know Mixolydian from Aeolian — instead of explaining these modes in the sense of where the one relates to the two or the five, or whatever — how would you explain them emotionally?
That's a great way to do it, I think.
So, if you think of the Ionian scale — the track we use off that ["Mycelium"] is the first on the album — that's just the modal word for the major scale. So, that's really, really ultra-happy. It has a tropical, almost highlife, African kind of vibe. It sounds like we're trying to get a song on The Lion King or something.
And then, "Ice V" — that's the Dorian scale. That's probably the most widely-used modal scale, I'd say; it's got kind of a minor-y feel. You can play it in rock music, or you can play it in jazz.
Mixolydian is teetering on major, so it has that optimistic feel. But then, it has the flat seven, so you can use it a lot in rock. It has a kind of Jerry Garcia-type feel.
I always think of Lydian as the film-score mode. Danny Elfman always uses it when he does his film scores, and that's the mode that "The Simpsons" theme is in.
Aeolian's just the minor scale, isn't it? The natural minor? I'm pretty sure it is. That's just a classic, kind of semi-melancholic-sounding thing. And then there's the Locrian, which is a lot more dissonant- and metal-sounding.
That's what's great with the album — all of the identities and personalities of those scales within them. That's the best way of trying to convey theory, I think — to identify some emotional tone with them.
I'm interested in how you applied the lyrics to these particular moods, and these extemporaneous jams that sprung from them. Can you talk about the lyric-writing process?
Stu has the lion's share of the songwriting. Myself, [vocalist and multi-instrumentalist] Ambrose [Kenny Smith] and Cook contribute as well in terms of songs. But this was the first type of egalitarian attempt.
Sometimes, it would just be the title of the song, and it could be the concept. So, "Mycelium" was mushroom-based, or whatever. Or it could be lava. It's as simple as writing whatever you feel represents that song title. We just had a big Google Doc going, and we'd all write our verse. And then when it came to Stu recording the vocals, he would just chop and change and create. If there was any linear narrative, or whatever it would be, he would formulate and distill it into what would work for the song.
It was a really fun way to write. It almost felt like the stakes were lowered a lot more because you didn't have to take into consideration what [the other members wrote]; you could just write whatever you felt about the song.
That meant that the songs took on a slightly different compositional kind of feel that you would never [engender yourself]. Because six of us had contributed lyrics, it became its own kind of beast. We work quickly anyway, but it meant that it happened extra-fast.
Once readers and listeners absorb Ice, Death, Planets, Lungs, what can they expect from Laminated Denim and Changes?
Laminated Denim is the same process in terms of long-form jams; they were kind of whittled down into these two 15-minute songs. It might be my favorite of the two — a proggy, kraut-y and extremely melodic-sounding album.
Changes is completely different. That album had kind of existed since 2017 — a lot of those songs were kicking around in various iterations for a while. We'd done session recording at the studio, but it just wasn't quite there yet.
So, it was put in the background for five or six years. We took that time away from it, and maybe we've become slightly more proficient as musicians. It did require that little bit of extra theoretical understanding, on a musical level.
We essentially just opened up the sessions, and while we were on the road, we just kind of overdubbed and contributed to it. It didn't need much to get it done, but it did need this extra gestational time to mature, or something like that.
Changes is really proggy, and it taps into some art-house moments. It has R&B; it taps into some jazzy, fusion, Afro vibes; it has some hyperpop electronic things going on. The lynchpin it has is that oscillating, modal kind of thing we're doing. It carries through the whole album.
A really strong sense of melodic motif infiltrates most of the album. It has a really strong melodic identity, I think.
It's been a decade since your debut album, 2012's 12 Bar Bruise. How would you summarize how the band's matured since then? How's the mood in the camp?
The mood is amazing. I think it's probably the greatest it's ever been, which is amazing.
After the pandemic, having not played for so long, we had a member leave the band, and started our own label thing… The pandemic is crap in so many ways, but it did facilitate this downtime for everyone to sort out a lot of stuff.
We had been working constantly for the last eight years prior to the pandemic. And then, coming back out this year, we've had a bunch of time on the road. The whole dynamic was so great, and leading up to us being away this year, I was like, "This year's going to be amazing. It's going to translate onto the road."
Yeah, this year's been so good for us. We're playing amazingly well together. Every show is kind of different. Often, the touring side of things is bittersweet sometimes — having to be away from home for so long. But this year, we just can't get enough. The shows are just great, and we can foresee further evolution and development with all of us moving forward.
So, it's been an exciting time — and we're all just best friends hanging out, really.
Before I let you go, I've got to ask you about the King Gizzard album that hit me the hardest — 2019's Infest the Rat's Nest. It was such a beautiful, loving, cheeky tribute to '80s thrash metal — and so accurate. What was it like making that one?
As you say, it was an homage to heavy music. Me, Stu and Michael made that one. Cookie and Ambrose were overseas with their other band, touring. So, that was a little self-indulgent experiment that was made really quickly, but so deeply fun to make.
If we were ever going to do a heavy album, I don't think we would try to make a modern-sounding heavy album. It would feel like we were posing too much, or something. We tried to explore it in a way that felt the most natural to us — drawing from our influences.
When we get back at the end of this tour, we might dip a toe back in the heavy wells again, and maybe explore it a way that we had done with the Ice, Death and Laminated Denim albums — those kinds of long-form jams, and whittle them down into more concise songs.
What did you learn about the musical components of what we might think of as hesher metal — Judas Priest, Metallica, Pantera, et all? What did you learn about how these longhairs in garages wrote songs?
I guess it's like with anything; you can apply it to painting, or something. But I feel like a lot of it is groove, and not necessarily technicality. Because those guys can f—ing shred. We can keep up on a wrist level, but we can't do crazy finger-tapping, Dimebag Darrell-solo hings.
So, I think we have to just work out what our strong suit is, and it comes down to the riff, really. If you have a riff that can carry something and it's groovy, you just know it when you hear it.
I think at their core, I think all of those songs — even though they're quite long-form — are pop-centric. There's always a hook; there's always some strong melody. That'll be the binding element in all of those classic '80s, '90s thrashy metal songs.
As we always do, we had so many voice memos or little riffs that we had lying around, and we would sometimes open that up just to see what happened. Then, a lot of the album just came from being idiots and trying to jam and be big dumba—es and s—, and playing stuff that was pure nothing.
But then, all of a sudden, we would just play something: "Oh, wait, that's something!" And then just try to extrapolate as much as you can from that — or extract it.
Photo: Courtesy of Judy Whitmore
ReImagined: Judy Whitmore Dazzles With A Classic Interpretation Of Frank Sinatra And Count Basie's "The Best Is Yet To Come"
Judy Whitmore introduces fans to the music she grew up with in this jazzy full-orchestra performance of "The Best is Yet to Come" — a song that was made famous by Frank Sinatra and Count Basie, and won a GRAMMY thanks to Ella Fitzgerald.
An American standard originally composed in 1959, "The Best is Yet to Come" has been recorded by an array of vocal greats, including Tony Bennett, Michael Bublé, Bob Dylan, and Ella Fitzgerald — the latter of whom won a GRAMMY for her rendition in 1984. But it's most closely associated with Frank Sinatra, who recorded it with jazz pianist Count Basie for their 1964 album, It Might As Well Be Swing. In fact, the song was so important to Sinatra that its titular lyric is carved into his tombstone.
In this episode of ReImagined, vocalist and cabaret-style performer Judy Whitmore delivers a faithful, buoyant rendition of "The Best is Yet to Come." A full orchestra performs behind her, including horns, jazzy drums, a sweeping string section, and a grand piano — creating a swinging performance that does Sinatra proud.
Whitmore's cover choice is no coincidence, as the singer has been inspired by American classics literally since birth — her namesake is legendary actor and musical performer Judy Garland. Like Garland before her, Whitmore has taken on a diverse and multifaceted career. She's a bonafide Renaissance woman, whose resume includes accomplishments as a theater producer, best-selling author and pilot, who also happens to have a Master's degree in clinical psychology.
Singing has been a lifelong passion for Whitmore, and she has several albums to show for it, including 2020's Can't We Be Friends. That project, which includes her spin on standards like "'s Wonderful," "It Had to Be You" and "Love is Here to Stay," is Whitmore's "love letter to The Great American Songbook," her website explains.
"This is the music I grew up with, and I don't want people to forget it," she details. "I think it's one of the most extraordinary bodies of work ever created."
Press play on the video above to watch Whitmore bring her love of American classics to her version of "The Best is Yet to Come," and keep checking back to GRAMMY.com for more episodes of ReImagined.
Photo: Rich Fury/Getty Images for The Recording Academy
5 Takeaways From RM's New Solo Album 'Indigo'
BTS leader RM makes his official solo debut with his first studio album, 'Indigo,' which showcases a new level of artistry from the rapper.
Like many of his BTS cohorts, RM has shown off his solo musical talents long before this year. His first mixtape RM came out in 2015, capturing the rapper's raw hip-hop roots. His second mixtape Mono was released to critical acclaim in 2018, when BTS were just scratching the surface of their worldwide domination. But this year took RM's solo efforts to the next level with his first-ever studio album, Indigo.
Across 10 tracks, RM's official solo debut documents the multilingual rapper, producer and singer/songwriter's journey through his twenties. Meshing Korean and English, his reflections about life under the public eye weave through genres and moods organically. And with diverse collaborations — from R&B legend Erykah Badu to fellow South Korean star parkjiyoon — to boot, RM uses Indigo to bring fans deeper into his expansive musical universe.
Now that the highly anticipated project has finally arrived, take a look at five key takeaways from RM's debut studio album, Indigo.
It's Connected To The Art He Loves
RM is known for being a lover of nature and fine art, and that is reflected within Indigo. Promotional photos for the album featured Yun Hyong-Keun's painting "Blue"; RM is known to be a supporter of the late South Korean artist, so the rapper's inclusion of the work shows the intentionality behind his debut — musically and beyond.
He isn't afraid to mesh artistic mediums, and the sonic and stylistic choices made reflect this. From then sampling Korean Hyong-Keun's reflection on Plato's humanity in the opening track "Yun" to even titling a song "Still Life," the inspiration is present. RM may have refined taste, but he makes it easily digestible through his music.
It's A Reflection Of His Life Up To Now
According to RM himself, Indigo serves as a diary of the last three years of his life. Even so, the album's messages can be a blueprint for anyone going through a transitional period in life, thanks to RM's honest, open-minded and unfiltered lyrics.
On "Lonely," he candidly exudes his frustrations over a tropical beat. "I'm f—king lonely/ I'm alone on this island," he raps. He later sings, "So many memories are on the floor/ And now I hate the cities I don't belong/ Just wanna go back home."
The contrast between the song's upbeat melody and longing lyrics provide a dichotomy that perfectly captures the highs and lows of fame. That's a theme that carries throughout the album, further showcasing why RM has become so admired by his fans and peers alike.
The Features Tell A Lot About His Artistry
Eight of the 10 tracks on Indigo are collaborations, all of which display RM's love of diverse genres and musical eras. They also reflect the caliber of artistry RM has reached — he got Erykah Badu! — as well as his ability to bridge the gap across borders. Along with Badu, he teamed up with two other R&B stars, Anderson .Paak and Mahalia, along with several Korean artists: Paul Blanco, Tablo, Kim Sawol, Colde, youjeen, and parkjiyoon.
There's A Song For Everyone
Many praise RM for his ability to touch people with his leadership qualities and words, and this album may just be the strongest example of that. The project is noticeably more upbeat than Mono, but RM still takes time to break his emotions down lyrically.
His first verse on the opening track "Yun" declares "F-k the trendsetter, I'ma turn back the time," setting the tone for how RM feels artistically. Then, the high-energy track "Still Life" with Anderson .Paak expresses joy and resilience, proving that one can still stand tall despite difficulty. As he says to .Paak on the track, "S— happens in life, but what happens is what happens."
Overall, Indigo shows off RM's versatility in a much more impactful way than his previous mixtapes. This album is about the art of music, not breaking records or following trends. It feels like an exploratory culmination of various emotions, moods, and experiences, which helps each track feel relatable in a different way.
There's A Lot To Look Forward To
RM displayed an immense maturity in his artistic expression through Indigo. He explores emotions both good and bad, but what remains throughout the entire project is a lingering feeling of hope for a better future.
RM has always been a symbol of hope and grace as he has served as the spokesperson for his fellow members, both musically and in the public eye. But now, RM is getting to express himself for himself — and if Indigo is any indication, this is just the beginning of his journey inspiring the masses as a soloist.
Photo: Mahaneela Choudhury-Reid
Herbal Tea & White Sofas: Juls' Must-Have Tour Item Is An African Instrument That Doubles As A Stress Reliever
The producer and DJ introduces fans to his kosh kash — a pocket-sized, egg-shaped instrument that is so versatile, he carries it with him everywhere when he's on the road.
Juls — also known as Juls Baby, and born Julian Nicco-Annan — is perhaps known best for his work as a producer, helping create hits for acts like Burna Boy, Mr. Eazi and GoldLink. But the Ghanian-British producer and DJ is also a touring act who plays sets around the world — and he makes sure he has his trusty kosh kash with him.
In this episode of Herbal Tea & White Sofas, Juls introduces viewers to the egg-shaped African percussion instrument, which is also known as a Kashaka. The pocket-sized instrument is made up of two small gourds bound together by a string, and makes a rhythmic, rattling noise when shaken. It serves a lot of purposes, Juls explains.
"It's kind of like a shaker. It's kind of like a stress reliever when I'm preparing tours. It also helps me to make music," he says. "So any time I have an idea, I just record it on my phone in Voice Memos. I carry this everywhere I go when I travel."
Another mainstay of Juls' tour rider is "one of the best drinks in the world: Supermalt," the artist continues. "It's like a malt drink, made of wheat, with other things like added sugar and starch."
The non-alcoholic and caffeine-free malt beverage first originated in the early 1970s and served as a cheap energy source for the Nigerian Army. To this day, it's still an Afro-Caribbean staple — and now, a road necessity for Juls. "Definitely need to have that on the rider," he adds.
Press play on the video above to learn more about Juls' road essentials — plus how he prepares for his shows every night — and keep checking back to GRAMMY.com for more new episodes of Herbal Tea & White Sofas.
Photo: Josh Chapmon
Positive Vibes Only: NewSpring Worship Share A Sweeping Message Of Faith With "Desde El Principio"
Led by Venezuela-born vocalist Charlee Buitrago, NewSpring Worship shares their message of hope, faith and community in this sparkling live performance of "Desde El Principio."
Since its inception more than two decades ago, NewSpring Worship has grown into a multicultural, multigenerational, musical expression of faith. Their name is a tribute to their beloved home base, the NewSpring Church, which has 14 different locations across South Carolina.
In this episode of Positive Vibes Only, NewSpring Worship deliver a soaring performance of their song, "Desde El Principio." Helmed by vocalist Charlee Buitrago — who also co-wrote the track — the bandmates take viewers through a simple, but powerful, rendition of the song.
The clip begins with Buitrago singing in front of a simple white backdrop, and as the first verse progresses, the camera pans back to reveal two more musicians — one strumming an acoustic guitar, the other on the bench of a Rhodes electric piano.
With just those three artists in the frame, NewSpring Worship deliver a moving rendition of their song, which represents the faith collective's passion for putting out worship music that represents their own cultural diversity.
According to his website, Buitrago originally hails from Venezuela, but emigrated to the U.S. at age 17 after meeting an American missionary who helped him find his faith. Since then, Buitrago has continued to pursue both music and worship, with both himself and his native Spanish language becoming mainstays in the NewSpring Worship collective.
Press play on the video above to watch this performance of "Desde El Principio," and keep checking back to GRAMMY.com for more new episodes of Positive Vibes Only.