kane strang sitting in front of green bushes, hands clasped casually
Kane Strang (Photo: Loulou Callister-Baker)

How one song saved Kane Strang’s whole album

Kane Strang is back and Strang-er than ever with a new single, ‘Moat’. He talks to Josie Adams about his new music and why he’ll never stop making it.

The last time I saw Kane Strang was at a birthday brunch for his girlfriend, where he was in charge of cooking mushrooms. It was a duty he took very seriously and slowly. The mushrooms were perfect. 

It’s been four years since Kane Strang’s last album and just like with those mushrooms, the hours and effort have paid off. He’s spent years drifting between Ōtepoti and Tāmaki, and between odd jobs and recording studios, but he’s never put music on the back burner.

The first fruit of his four-year labour is ‘Moat’, the NZ on Air-funded first single off his new album, Happy to Perform. Without that funding the album may never have been finished – it arrived just in time to pay for the song’s studio session. Even though ‘Moat’ is brassy and chorusless it’s got that delightful peri-pop nature all Strang’s songs do. You hesitate to define him as easy listening, but I’ll be damned if he isn’t easy to listen to.

We sat down to talk about ‘Moat’ and the journey that led to it.

The Spinoff: So ‘Moat’ is pretty smooth but also a little bizarre. Can we talk about the structure of your songs?

Kane Strang: Structurally all of the songs are quite weird. They don’t even have choruses a lot of the time. They’re almost these linear things with a hook at the end or something.

I can’t remember if it was a conscious decision to play around with structures or if I’m just pretending it is now.

Is the way you make music pretty accidental?

Yeah. It’s very accidental. I don’t have any kind of process that I go back to each time. It’s really a matter of playing guitar until I fluke something, and then just fleshing that thing out.

I don’t know what I’m doing I’m not technically trained or anything. If I have any talent it might just be knowing when something has potential, and being able to picture the whole song quite quickly.

Does accidental mean effortless?

It’s definitely not effortless. It’s a real grind. I need to know I’ve explored every avenue.

We re-did and it’s funny now, because maybe it didn’t matter at all but we probably re-made this album three times. I don’t know if it was worth it or what, but when you’re in so deep you lose perspective.

While you were making this album you worked at Golf Warehouse for a while. Did that help you with perspective?

It was kind of so bad it was funny. The year before I’d been touring and playing music in Europe and America and all of a sudden I was at Golf Warehouse. It was a reality check.

It was just me by myself in a big warehouse, and they’d say “move all these boxes from here to this place over here”, and they’d leave me alone and I could think about music.

The guy I worked with there is where I got the album title from, Happy to Perform. He was really good at stacking pallets, and one day there was this old guy helping us out for the day, and he complimented my workmate on his pallet-stacking skills, and he said “I’m happy to perform!” and I was like, “yoink”.

And then I threw out three grand worth of golf clubs and that was about when it turned to shit.

 

It’s so bizarre that you’ve had all these extremely normie experiences in between doing like, SXSW and everything.

Yeah, [the American tour] was 27 shows in 30 days or something, and we had no tour manager. Ben [Fielding], our drummer, drove 10,000 miles I’m going to have to fact check that.

It was a lot of miles.

Plenty of miles were driven. It almost feels like another life now.

And it also feels impossible now. Times are changing.

Yeah, it already felt like this weird dream and now you literally can’t do that. I feel lucky I got to do it when I did. I know how much work goes into those tours and how much money you’re expected to front. I really feel for people who are having to cancel [tours].

I’m really curious about what labels will be like in a few years. Have you seen Bandcamp is starting to do vinyl? That’s cool.

It feels like the traditional music industry is on its way out.

Yeah, totally. It’s only going to become easier to be an independent artist. At least, I hope so.

For me, dealing with the big team [Strang has previously been signed with Ba Da Bing Records and Dead Oceans] and everything  I found it so full on. And so impersonal, I guess. I like to be the one that presses the button and delivers it to the people. It felt weird waking up one morning and the album was just out, because some guy in America had decided that was when the most people were going to hear it.

I was really nostalgic for when I was releasing my own music and for when I was in control of everything. I was a bit of a control freak. A lot of that was taken out of my hands.

That doesn’t mean you’re a control freak.

It’s more like I care, yeah. I really had to fight to not have the “Dunedin sound” mentioned in my press release.

No-one knows what that means anymore!

It doesn’t mean anything! People just slap it on when they can’t think of what else to say. It’s kind of a cop-out, in my eyes. I don’t mind if people use the phrase “Dunedin sound” if you explain to me how it is the Dunedin sound, because I don’t fucking know.

I’d rather they say the record is shit than slap a label on it because they can’t really be bothered listening to it. To be fair, they did let me not do that.

Kane Strang sits on a log in the woods, sunlight landing on his face and hands

Photo: Loulou Callister-Baker

What are you? Indie?

I don’t know! I hate genres in general.

Every song on Happy to Perform is a different genre.

Yeah! Honestly, that’s probably because I don’t like labels. They put some people off, they can make some people pretend they like it more than they do.

It’s music. Just listen to it, if you like it.

People can have a little strum after dinner, as a hobby, now.

Yeah, music is so much more accessible now. It shouldn’t just be for people who can afford big fancy studios.

Where did you record this album?

Uh, in a big fancy studio.

But my circumstances were pretty odd! I started recording in Radio One in the live-to-air room, where Steven John Marr was running the show. And then he got offered a job at Roundhead when we were halfway through recording, and he couldn’t freelance anymore, so essentially I had to record at Roundhead.

Are you going to be a musician forever?

I think so, yeah. Sometimes I wish I could switch off from it. For a week, just not be a musician. But it’s such a part of me now. I think I’ll probably be writing songs to the bitter end. 

You’ll be on your deathbed.

I’ll be like, “where’s my phone… I’ve got one final lyric”.

I feel like I’m quite lucky to have a purpose. There are lots of other things I want to try, but I’m glad I have that thing.

It’s good to feel committed to something.

I think the next thing I do, I’m going to really challenge myself to do something really live and raw. I’m thinking this might be the last stuff I do under my own name. I’m ready for a fresh start. It would be quite freeing, I guess.

Got any names yet?

One I was thinking was Office Dog. But we’ll see.

This interview has been abridged for clarity. 

‘Moat’ was produced thanks to funding from NZ on Air. Happy to Perform is out now.




The Spinoff is made possible by the generous support of the following organisations.
Please help us by supporting them.