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Dunedin musician Kane Strang released his self-recorded debut album Blue Cheese on Flying Nun in 2015. It’s pretty straightforward indie rock, but underpinned with some excellent pop songwriting and Kane’s particular knack for writing dismally sad but incredibly catchy lyrics. Kane had also released a very good album (since removed from the internet) A Pebble and a Paper Crane, recorded while on a trip to Germany in 2013. This album is rough, with a slightly shambolic recording lending it a woozy, psychedelic feel that won Kane a bit of a cult following early on. His latest album Oh So You’re Off I See is due out on Dead Oceans later this year. Before heading off to the US, Kane played three shows in New Zealand, and gave Salient an exclusive interview:
Salient: How was the first show of the tour in Dunedin?
Kane: It was really good and it was kind of intense. It’s always strange playing to your family and stuff. Especially when you’re about to go to America for a month. The opening acts were great. Elan vital who are an electronic act and Die In Space who are a jazz band. It was quite a mixed bag but really good. We played at Nun Gallery.
Salient: How’s the Dunedin music scene looking now Chicks has gone?
Kane: It feels pretty dormant, for me at least. I haven’t been playing anywhere near as much since Chicks closed, or been going to as many gigs. I know they’re still happening out there but it was definitely a big blow for the city, or the music scene. I’m hoping something’s gonna take its place, that’s run by good people and has good sound and shit.
Salient: “Oh So You’re Off I See” is the first single we’ve heard off the album, did you pick that out or was that the label’s decision?
Kane: It was the label’s decision, but I’m happy with it. It’s one I wrote with the band, which is cool. There are about three on the new album that we collaborated on.
Salient: You recorded the last two by yourself right. Did the band play all their own parts on this next record?
Kane: Ben my drummer did all the drums. My guitarist Peter played the three lead guitar parts he’d written. I did pretty much all the bass and the other guitars. I was collaborating but I was still a bit of a control freak at the same time.
Salient: I read you programmed all the drums on Blue Cheese, is that true?
Kane: Yeah it’s all programmed. This time I wrote them in the same way but then my drummer learned them. I’m glad to be finally recording with these guys.
Salient: I wanted to ask about your somewhat unofficial first record. You released A Pebble And A Paper Crane before Blue Cheese but took it off the internet, why was that?
Kane: I just found it a bit embarrassing, I don’t know why. It was a weird one. I guess I just wasn’t happy with it and Blue Cheese was a fresh start for me. Every time I saw it had a play on Bandcamp I started cringing a bit, and I realised I could take it down and maybe be happier. Maybe its because I know how roughly it was recorded and I can’t unhear that.
Salient: I felt people were kind of into that though?
Kane: Yeah that’s the thing, I know people like that and a lot of the time — well, not a lot of the time — people have asked me to send it to them, and I’ve happily sent it. It’s not really what I want to sound like anymore, so I took it down.
Salient: You still play some of the tracks live right? I’ve seen you play “My Smile Is Extinct” a couple of times.
Kane: Yep, that’s mainly because I know people like those songs in particular and I want people to have fun at gigs. I’m not saying they don’t mean anything to me, they definitely do. I’ve actually re-recorded a couple of old songs too for this album.
Salient: Did you have more of a time limit on this record due to signing to Dead Oceans?
Kane: There was definitely a time limit, but they were pretty flexible. They weren’t sending thugs over to break my kneecaps or something. Once I went a month or so over and they were super chill and just left me to it. They had a lot of trust in me, since they were just giving this random guy on the other side of the world some money to make an album.
Salient: So you recorded with Stephen Marr of Doprah; whereabouts did you record?
Kane: Yeah I did, I recorded at Chicks Hotel. When they shut down the venue, Tom Bell turned it into a studio, and it’s just the best place to hang out in. There’s so much crazy gear in there now and it was the best studio experience I’ve had by a mile.
Salient: That’s nice the venue is still being used in some capacity.
Kane: All my favourite gigs were there, and that’s the thing, it’s still benefitting the Dunedin music scene, just in a different way. And perhaps an even more important way. Obviously gigs and playing live are super important, but recordings are immortal. If you want to capture a period in time, that’s the way to do it.
Salient: Have your influences changed at all between Blue Cheese and this new record?
Kane: I think with Blue Cheese I was kind of like “oh this is what indie rock should sound like” and I think this album’s a blend of that and my earlier stuff. It’s a bit more singer-songwriter-y. I was listening to heaps of Elliot Smith and there was literally no acoustic guitar on Blue Cheese, it was all just short chuggy songs. On this one there are acoustic guitars and heaps of different sounds.
Salient: One thing I was wondering about Blue Cheese, what did you do for the synthesizer parts? Were you using real synths?
Kane: It was a mix. My uncle had a Juno 106 and I really wanted to use that! But it was buried in a garage somewhere so I wound up programming more of them than I wanted to. I finally got my Juno experience with the new record because they had one down at Chicks. Stephen had a Tempest as well which we used quite a bit. He’d used that quite a lot with Doprah.
Salient: What is your songwriting process? I think a lot of people really admire your lyricism, does that come first or do you write the music and fit the lyrics later?
Kane: I do things in reverse to a lot of singer-songwriters, I think. I’ll often start by writing the drum beat and the bassline. So pretty much the rhythm section. Obviously it’s different every time, but it does seem to happen that way quite a bit. I enjoy it, it’s almost my favourite part, writing the actual groove of the song.
I have quite a short attention span so there’s a lot of luck involved. I just pick up my guitar and if I don’t come up with anything I like very quickly I put it down and leave it for a day. Lyrics wise, I’ll just get one line that I like and, rather than that being the first line and then trying to come up with the second, I’ll make the song around that. More often than not it will become the chorus or the theme and I’ll go from there. I don’t have a routine, it’s all very random for me.
Salient: Does that ever stress you out if you pick up your guitar and can’t think of anything?
Kane: It seems to work out just in time. It’s definitely stressful and frustrating. It’s never the nicest feeling when you think you’re particularly inspired and you sit down and you’re not able to express that.
Salient: Could you tell us a little bit about your new record label Dead Oceans?
Kane: It’s a part of Secretly Group which contains four different labels — Secretly Canadian, Jagjaguwar, Dead Oceans, and The Numero Group. It’s based in Austin but collaborates with these other labels.
Salient: Are you still appearing on Flying Nun in New Zealand?
Kane: It was an international deal so I’m on Dead Oceans for everywhere now.
Salient: Did they just approach you on the internet?
Kane: Yeah pretty much, it’s actually been in the works for a lot longer than most people would probably think. I’ve known this might be happening since even before Blue Cheese was out on Flying Nun. They contacted me around the same time, but things were already in motion with Flying Nun and Ba Da Bing, and I loved working with those labels. If you’d told me a couple years ago I’d be out on Flying Nun I wouldn’t have believed it. I definitely like a lot of bands that have been released by them, and Ba Da Bing too.
Salient: I saw Slowdive was on Dead Oceans.
Kane: Yeah! I’m actually just getting into them. That song “When The Sun Hits” is my song of the week.
Salient: So what’s the plan for the upcoming tour?
Kane: We are playing Dunedin, Auckland, Wellington, then a couple days back in Auckland, and then Tuesday we fly to New York which I can’t really comprehend. I was pouring milk for my cereal this morning and thought that when this milk expires I’ll be playing a show in New York — it was just the weirdest what-the-fuck moment.
Salient: Have you been to the states before?
Kane: No, never. I went through Europe with my bass player when I was a bit younger and was recording Pebble and a Paper Crane. It’s gonna be crazy. Some of the venues look amazing and I’ve heard good things about them from some of my friends who are musicians.
Salient: Have you heard much about ticket sales or how the reception will be in the US?
Kane: I actually don’t know; I don’t know what to expect at all! I’m sure I could find that stuff out if I wanted to, but a lot of it happens without me. I just get told “you need to be here at this time.” But I’ve had heaps of really nice messages from people over there saying they can’t wait to see us. That’s cool, I don’t mind playing to just three people as long as they’re really into it. I’d rather that than playing to a packed room of people who were just there for the sake of it.
Salient: Have you got anything planned while you’re over there?
Kane: I feel like we’re not going have a lot of spare time. Our schedule’s pretty crazy. We have a few days in New York to get over our jetlag but after that it’s pretty much a gig in a new city each night.
Salient: How many shows are you playing?
Kane: I don’t know the exact number, but I think we’re playing more shows than there are days that we’re there. I think that’s mostly because of South By South West where we are playing a couple shows a day. We have the odd day off, but we might just sleep.
Salient: Are you excited or nervous?
Kane: I’m pretty much split down the middle. I’m excited to see what it does to us as a band. How much better we are by the end of it. Not just better at playing live but touring and travelling together.
Salient: You’ll have to play some shows when you’re back so we can check you guys out.
Kane: I’d love to do that. I’d really like to do a small run once we’re back. But maybe we’ll be skeletons, and will need to go home and get a nice fattening meal first.
Salient: When you come back from your tour are you planning on staying in Dunedin?
Kane: Everything’s a bit up in the air for me at the moment. My girlfriend lives in Auckland so that’s always an option. Living here’s just cheap and it allows me to have a flat and have a practice space and also go away and not be freaking out about paying two hundred dollars a week while I’m not even there. It’s just a cheap place to live and I think that’s why so many creative people wind up here.
Salient: Were you at university in Dunedin?
Kane: I was. I left university halfway through a degree to do this. It worked well when I wasn’t getting drowned in assignments — in combination with music I mean. As soon as I got an assessment and had gigs at the same time it became near impossible to do well. And I am a bit of a perfectionist and I started to write shitty essays and it was just frustrating. So now I’m living the pretty typical musician life. Working at a café and recording.
Salient: What were you studying before you left?
Kane: I was studying visual culture. You could take any history paper or art history paper or film paper and it would all count towards it. I liked it, because I never could make up my mind about what I wanted to study. I didn’t want to do music because I did that enough already.
Salient: Is your aim to to end up working as a musician full time?
Kane: Yeah it’s definitely the end goal for me and everyone I’ve been working with the last year. We all want to get to that point and I’m sure the label want to get us to that point. It’s a bit scary as well because that involves a lot of touring and stuff. A lot of being away. But it’s what I love to do.
Salient: Any local bands you would recommend people to check out?
Kane: My friend Adrian has a project called Tongue Flower, and I really like the new Street Chant record too. I’ve been listening to that a lot — the song “Melbourne”, such a good song. We’re playing with Emily (of Street Chant) in LA at the bootleg theatre which is really cool. She’s living there and I just messaged her like please play with us.