By Stephen Smysnuik
Anyone paying attention to Ambrose Kenny-Smith, vocalist and multi-instrumentalist for The Murlocs and King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard, this past month is probably wondering the same thing: what’s the deal with snot rocket, man?
The question catches Kenny-Smith—known affectionately by the Reddit hordes as “Amby”—off guard. He laughs a phlegmy laugh, a vestige of whatever malady had coursed through him at the Red Rocks show in question back in October.
“What can I say? The Denver altitude really got me congested,” he says from a tour stop in Boston, where he’ll be playing with The Murlocs later that night.
This modest example of punk rock showmanship got King Gizzard’s fervent Reddit community all riled up, with post after post shaping the incident—and Kenny-Smith himself—into a meme.
“I feel like I've always been a meme,” he says. “I go out of my way to be ostracized, to be taken the piss out of. I like that. I like taking the piss out of myself. Yeah. I get to bring this all back down to earth.”
Earth must be a nice stopover for him and fellow Murloc/Gizzard Cook Craig, given the month they had just had. In October, King Gizzard released three studio albums (of five total in 2022) while on an exhaustive North American tour that found them playing to larger audiences than ever. King Gizzard, in other words, had blown right up.
“It's just constantly climbing. Every tour is another level up,” Kenny-Smith says, sounding a little exasperated. “It's nice to come back and do the Murlocs stuff. It's humbling. It's cool playing more intimate shows for these mutual fans, giving them something a bit different.”
This hasn’t really stopped him from embarking on another exhaustive North American tour, which is in support of The Murlocs latest album, Rapscallion, as well as 2021’s Bittersweet Demons. There’s a simplicity to the Murlocs, a product of five guys—including fellow Aussies Callum Shortal on guitar, Matt Blanch on drums and Tim Karmouche on keys—just trying to keep it honest with some good ol’ rock music. Add some psychedelic fuzz here, a dash of boogie-woogie there, with Kenny-Smith’s otherworldy tenor floating overtop of it all and presto! The Murlocs. It’s a vibe all its own, one often missing from Gizzard, with its weird time signatures and restless genre hopping. It’s impossible not to compare the two, given the mutual members, though we really probably shouldn’t.
“I think a lot of times Murlocs might just suit people better,” Kenny-Smith says. “It doesn't have all the frills and extra flares that Gizzard does, I guess.”
Rapscallion was recorded in the height of Melbourne’s COVID-19 lockdowns. Both Kenny-Smith and Craig were both tied up recording with Gizzard (who recorded four albums during that time), so they did what any true Gizzard would do: record two more albums. They finished up Rapscallion and Kenny-Smith says they have another “in the bank,” with ideas for a “heavier, harder rock” follow-up.
He says the lower stakes of the Murlocs—the smaller shows, the reduced fanfare—helps him keep a level head when coming off the intensity of his other band.
“I feel like Murlocs has been bobbing along,” he says. “It just keeps me in a good head space. I feel like it doesn't blow up the ego or anything too much. It just gives me the best of both worlds.”
The Murlocs play Rickshaw Theatre on November 23. Tickets are available here.