Kane Strang Interview: “It was a really eerie, claustrophobic place.”

kane strang

Strang’s new album Two Hearts No Brain is out now via the Dead Oceans label.

Dunedin, New Zealand singer / songwriter Kane Strang has just released his second album, Two Hearts no Brain on the Dead Oceans label, also home to Slowdive, Mitski, and Julianna Barwick. The new record is riddled with lyrical double meanings, hypnotic melodies with a cold, sharp undercurrent throughout.

He has quickly built a reputation as being one of the most exciting songwriters in New Zealand. I caught up with Kane Strang before his Auckland show this month at the alternative hangout, Whammy Bar and we spoke about the latest record, signing with Dead Oceans and WWII bomb shelters.

Overblown: Before we get into the new latest album (which is brilliant). I want to ask about your demo album Pebble and A Paper Crane, can you tell us about the recording of the record? Is it true that you recorded the album in a WWII bomb shelter in Germany? How did this come about and what was that experience like?

Kane Strang: I was in Europe with Rass (who’s now my bass player) seeing a friend of ours after high school. He was from a German town called Krefeld and knew some people who rented a rehearsal space for their band in a bunker. Once I’d spent all my money and couldn’t travel around so much I decided to ask if I could borrow some gear to quickly finish recording a few songs before I went home. It was a really eerie, claustrophobic place.

O: Two Hearts and No Brain is the first album released by the esteemed American label, Dead Oceans. How have you found the process? Being based in New Zealand, how did this all come about and did you feel more pressure regarding timelines etc. when releasing the record through Dead Oceans?

KS: Around the time that my first album was re-released through Ba Da Bing/Flying Nun I got an email with the subject “hi from secretly group” or something. I actually thought it wasn’t real at first but, after googling the email address, I realised that it was and that this guy Jon Coombs was the real deal. He eventually put me in touch with Phil from Dead Oceans who signed us after he saw us play when he was in NZ for an industry thing.
There’s definitely been a lot more pressure on me lately than when I was just self-releasing my stuff on Bandcamp. I think it’s good for me though, now that I’m a bit more used to it.

O: Listening to the new album, it is an album about relationships. But they’re not always romantic connections. Personally, I find the album very humourous, in an almost over-exaggerated way. How would you describe the record and how have you found the feedback of the album?

KS: The feedback has mostly been super positive. I mean, there’s always going to be the odd person who listens to it once and declares that I’m nothing more than a big sadboy, but more and more people seem to be realising that there’s more to it than that.

O: When comparing Blue Cheese to Two Hearts and No Brain, you mentioned the debut album was “very straight indie-rock music”. Do you feel that your writing style has changed along with the artists you have been listening to since Blue Cheese?

KS: I think I just grew up a bit in between my two albums and hopefully made something more unique and mature with Two Hearts. I’ve definitely been listening to a bigger variety of music lately too.

O: During the recording of the latest record, you joined forces with Dunedin producer and musician Steven Marr. Normally working alone, how did this come about and can you tell us the difference when collaborating with Steven? What did he bring to the record?

KS: Steven and I have known each other for ages, I’ve opened for his old band Doprah a lot and he’s also done heaps of mastering work for me in the past. I was originally planning on recording the whole thing myself again but it just wasn’t sounding how I wanted it to. He offered to do it and we used what I’d done as demos, it worked out really well.

O: You recorded the record at Dunedin’s Chick’s Hotel, with this being your first studio produced record (if I’m correct), how did you find the overall process of producing the record in a studio and how does this differ to the others?

KS: It was just more fun. I loved having people to bounce ideas off and Chick’s Hotel is far from your conventional, sterile studio. I don’t think I could ever record in a place like that.

O: One of my favourite tracks from the record is ‘Silence Overgrown’. It feels like a natural progression from Blue Cheese in many aspects. Is this something you agree with and do you feel the new album is a more cohesive and complete record?

KS: I think it’s definitely a more complete sounding record because of the fact that I’d already recorded a lot of the songs once and worked out the subtle layers of the tracks. ‘Silence Overgrown’ is a good example of this… there are so many melodies and stuff going on that no one will ever really hear but they all help the song sound more whole in some way.

O: ‘My Smile Is Extinct’ is the second single from Two Hearts And No Brain. I’m interested to find out if the line “Yes, she is the best I’ve ever had. I’ll say it to her face and I’ll say it to her dad” is from a personal experience and if so, how did that conversation go?

KS: Haha, nah it just rhymed. Dads are scary.

O: The video for ‘Smile Is Extinct’ is a fairly simple concept, can you tell us how the video nicely ties in with the song?

KS: My original plan had been to have the camera slowly zoom out from the photo shoot and reveal the bodies of two photographers, as if something supernatural had happened when I smiled for the camera. Things were so hectic though and in the end we decided to just spend a few hours trying different shots and techniques and do a simple performance video. I’m really happy with how it turned out.

O: Being from Scotland, I’m always interested to find out how musicians feel when touring both the States and Europe. With both parts of the world in some turmoil at present (terrorism attacks and Mr. Donald J Trump being in power), how would you describe the vibe and feeling of the two places? Having lived in Germany for a period, do you feel Europe is a home from home in many ways?

KS: Germany definitely feels like another home for me. I have a whole other group of friends there and know all their families really well. As far as the US goes… it’s pretty hard to sum it up in a sentence. We went to some really unsettling places but also met a lot of inspiring people doing super positive things.

O: Looking at your European gigs, you were supported by Delany Davidson (another New Zealand band). How highly do you rate the New Zealand music scene at present and do you feel that people from home are appreciating home-grown bands more these days?

KS: I think the NZ music scene is next level. There seems to be an endless amount of good bands here at the moment.

O: I am producing an Introducing New Zealand series for our readers back in the UK. Which New Zealand bands should we be looking out for at present?

KS: Beverly Dingus, Fran, Fruit Juice Parade, Mermaidens, Fazerdaze, Eyes No Eyes.

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