Welcome to Take Me Out, a semi-regular series wherein Kate Robertson, music critic and dating blogger, finally combines her expertise by going on a date with a musician and then sharing it with you. First up, Kate takes Kane Strang for coffee ahead of his appearance at The Others Way festival.
Dating is one of my favourite things. I like it because it’s a structured way of meeting new people who don’t normally move in your circle. I’m aware you’re not gonna win them all, but after a particularly scarring string of disappointing Tinder finds, I found myself craving the new people, but none of the romantic expectation. That’s the short version of how I found myself pulling on my nicest turtleneck while sheathed in a clammy, nervous sweat, getting ready to head out on a date with one of my favourite local musicians, Kane Strang.
“Have you been to America?” Kane asks while I stare intensely into a cup of filter coffee.
“No, but I want to. Did you rate it?”
“Yeah. I miss the shitty filter coffee you can get in a cup the size of a bucket for like, one dollar. It’s insane, you’d love it.”
In case you weren’t aware, Kang Strang is a cool dude. The kind of cool that knows that filter is the new long black and who has mastered the art of making non-intimidating indie guitar music (he’s also nice, charming and witty, but I’ll get to that later). His debut album Blue Cheese quickly earned him a following among student radio types, and things have now snowballed to a point where his sophomore release Two Hearts and No Brain has allowed him and his band to tour the US, Europe, and rack up a bunch of streams in all of the places that matter. His dreamy hooks are hazed in an innocence that feels inclusive, endearing and relatable all at once, and his songs are a goddamn delight to listen to. So delightful that it seemed rude not to take the man himself on a date to the equally understated and hip Bestie in St Kevin’s Arcade.
You did SXSW while you were in the US, is it really as full on as people say?
It was absolutely insane. We were there with Aldous Harding and my then-manager Liv, who used to manage both of us, and ended up staying in a drug den or something. I remember standing outside one night and there was so much noise coming from this one room next to us. It sounded like there were about 20 people in there. It was weird, and every time we left the room we were stared down by those 20 people on the balcony. Even our Uber driver was like “what the hell are you guys doing here?”
Well congrats on making it back to Dunedin in one piece! Speaking of Otago, would you ever jump ship to Auckland or Wellington?
Yeah, I think I could. My girlfriend works at a Chinese law firm up here so I wouldn’t be surprised if I end up in Auckland eventually. I’ve met a lot of people around here through gigs so I don’t think I’d feel super alone. That being said, I do have a really good group of friends at home.
Why did you move up here?
For a job. I worked at a business newspaper but didn’t like the role that much so I left. I still like Auckland though. I work for a TV show now which is much more fun.
Yo – I’ve been between flats so spent a bit of time at my parents’ house and watching TV has been the weirdest thing. I don’t have to find a dodgy stream for shows which is great, but man I find being confronted with the news again weird. I try to keep up to date, but being bombarded with it every night at 6pm can be so hard if you’ve had a rough day.
What’s your take on the current political climate then?
God, I don’t know. We went to America where it was a fucking political mess. We then went to Europe and it was the same. Now we’re back here and it’s all go again. I feel like I’ve seen it all.
You’re on a world tour of elections.
Pretty much! It’s a disastrous tour. We were in the states when Donald Trump had just been inaugurated and it was so depressing in some places. That being said, there are a lot of states, even in red states, where people seem to be taking even more of a stand. In the Deep South some of the venues we played would have gender neutral bathrooms, whereas you wouldn’t even see that in a lot of blue states.
It’s been a total mind fuck to be honest. I’ve met so many people this year from so many walks of life and I never thought I was a people person, but I’ve realised I like meeting people and learning about how they live. It sounds so fucking cheesy to say that out loud.
How did your music career even reach a point where you’re able to tour those places?
I’ve been playing for quite a while, since I was 14 or 15. I was in some shitty high school bands and initially never wanted to sing, but then I started writing my own songs and stuff. It’s been a very slow grind, but it’s a great way to spend a life.
It’s a hard industry to crack.
Totally. I started making very shitty lo-fi music and eventually made something that someone with a bit of power in the industry liked. It was probably a bit of skill, a bit of luck and good timing. I pretty much just got an email one day from Secretly Group and it’s been all go since then.
How long ago was that?
It would’ve been about two years ago, just after Flying Nun had re-released something I’d put out on Bandcamp. When the US label got involved it got really intense and I couldn’t really work a normal job. I’m a full-time musician now, but I’m not making any money off of it. I mean, I’m getting there.
I actually went full time once I got fired from my cafe job for being too distracted with music. I think I had an interview with Hussein right after. I pretty much didn’t have a choice, which was cool.
Have you noticed more attention following the release of this album versus the last one? It’s been racking up numbers online.
I’ve noticed me and my music have been getting a lot more attention very recently, but it wasn’t so much straight after the album came out. I didn’t think I’d become a megastar overnight, but I thought there’d be a noticeable jump either when I announced I had this deal, or the day the album came out. I thought that’s when my life might change a little, but it’s actually continued along the same path it always has. It’s been a slow build, but one of the videos I made with a guy called Julian has started getting some traction recently which is cool.
Is that the glitter one?
How long did you have glitter on your clothes for!?
A long time, a very long time. That was a crazy day. I was so stressed because it was three days before we went to Europe and only a few weeks after we’d gotten back from the States.
I drove to Christchurch by myself, sat in my car practicing playing the song [‘My Smile Is Extinct’] at a higher speed for the video, and then we filmed the whole thing in about six hours. I was covered in glitter for days.
They could hold you up at customs for that.
Totally! Like, “you must have a lot of cocaine in your bag because you’re covered in glitter and you look very tired.”
In the song there’s reference to a pretty boy, is the pretty boy you or is he someone else?
I don’t know. That song’s weird because, usually, I think about my lyrics a lot, but that one in particular just fell out. It’s also a very old song. I wrote it in Germany in 2013. It’s the one I thought about the least.
When did you meet your girlfriend?
Holy shit. It was about three years ago. She was a student at Otago University studying law and we met through gigs then wound up having a couple of classes together.
That old chestnut!
Pretty much! How many people must’ve met like that?
I mostly met terrible dudes in tutorials so congrats on that.
We didn’t have tutorials together, so maybe that was the key. We were both studying visual culture, which I eventually dropped out of to do this old thing. She went away to China on an exchange right after we met, but we kept in touch and after she got back and it went from there.
If she’s in Auckland and you’re touring the world how do you stay in touch?
It’s quite hard if I’m honest. The time zones are always changing and I’m often in a van for eight hours with no internet, but there’s always a way. We Skype when we can, even if it’s just between soundcheck and the show. We just keep trying to make it work until we wind up in the same place again. Hopefully sometime soon we’ll be able to do some travelling together though.
It’s kind of the dream though, finding someone who can handle your lifestyle without clinging on 24/7. So many people can’t handle the other person doing their own thing.
And that’s the thing, it’s worked out well that we both got really busy at the same time. She got this new job and I started touring. It could’ve been a lot worse.
Here’s a weird thing I’m curious about, have you ever seen drunk people at your gigs making out and stuff like that?
Yeah, I did play a gig where two people were just going for it in the front row.
No! The front row!?
I always look at the floor so it was more in my peripheral vision, but it was still slightly distracting. If that’s what they wanna do I’m chill with it as long as it’s not making everyone around them extremely uncomfortable. I’m kind of lucky because I’m separate. It’s probably worse if you’re in the crowd.
Who are the dudes in your band sharing said stage with you?
They’re just my friends. They’re people I met through gigs and they’ve been there from the start, they’re really great guys. I would’ve found this whole thing a lot more difficult if I didn’t have a band of friends. A lot of people just get session musicians, but I just wanted people I knew and trusted. It’s also been very weird because it wasn’t like this in the start. We were just a band, and now it’s like I’ve gone into business with them. As soon as money gets in between you and a friendship it definitely changes that relationship. It’s also weird because they put all this time and effort into something called Kane Strang.
So Strang’s your real last name?
Yeah, so I’m very aware that I need to make sure they feel a part of it.
Well, one of my friends has a huge crush on your guitarist, so people definitely notice they’re a part of it.
Oh really!? I’m meeting him after this so I’m gonna tell him that, Handsome Peter.
Tell me, what does it mean to have Two Hearts and No Brain?
I don’t know. Maybe it’s just a nice sounding thing? Not that I understand much about relationships, but I guess it’s about a relationship where one person is super logical and the other is more emotional. I don’t know, I’m so bad at talking about my songs.
I feel like people don’t know which way is up, down, left or right when it comes to relationships and love, so we fish for meaning in places where we think others might be able to explain it better.
That’s totally it. After Saturday’s gig a couple of people said the songs really fit with where they’re at right now. For me it doesn’t matter what I originally thought the song was about, it’s just cool that other people are finding their own meaning in it. I guess that’s the point of it all, to be a part of someone’s day and hopefully make them feel less alone.
Kane Strang plays The Others Way tonight, Friday 1 September at 8:45pm at Neck Of The Woods.
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