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02 July 2021

Artists featured in this article

In March this year ex-Dunedinite Kane Strang surprised everyone by quietly dropping an album, his first in four years, without any of the extended industry machinations which usually go with an album release from an established artist.

Titled Happy to Perform, it also happens to be an absolute gem, probably my favorite local release of 2021 so far, presenting a sound which feels moody, raw, and altogether unique. It’s a satisfying development upon his previous two full-lengths, which were both great, but are dwarfed in maturity by this latest release.

It also marks his first release since parting ways with the American based label Dead Oceans, for whom the overwhelmingly positive reviews of his previous album Two Hearts and No Brain were apparently not enough.

I caught up with him ahead of his return to Dunedin.

What made you decide to release your album in that way?

Long story short I just really felt like releasing something again, and yeah the idea of doing that traditional thing where you kind of hype it up for up to six months sometimes, or something, it was just really off putting for me. Yeah, to be honest I got a bit burnt out doing that for the last record, it almost put me on the backfoot going into all the touring and stuff if that makes sense. So yeah, I just thought why not like, I feel like putting it out, I’m just going to do it and see what happens like if it’s a big flop that’s fine, I’ll make more records.

Do you think the whole lockdown situation influenced your decision to do that?

It very well could of, like everything’s just so up in the air at the moment, it feels like there aren’t as many rules in some ways I guess? So yeah, that definitely could have played a part in it for sure, I definitely had a lot more time to sit around and think about it, and that was where I wound up.

Now that it’s been a few months are you happy with how that’s gone?

Yeah, it’s been really nice, it’s just felt really organic I guess which is what I wanted. I guess the other thing is I had this quite romantic idea that it would just spread and find the people that need it if that makes sense too? And it seems like it’s slowly sort of getting around, just by word of mouth and things like that, and friends sharing it with each other… So yeah I am really happy with how it’s gone, it’s exactly how I wanted it.

Makes sense. When I think of most of the music I like, I usually found it like 10 years after it came out… People will find music eventually

Yeah that’s it, and I dunno, I get kind of bored of the same, everyone doing the same sort of process you know? Like the video, and then you know there’s another video coming, and there it is and this time it’s a bit higher budget, and then two weeks later the album comes out… I don’t know, I just wanted to go against the grain a tiny bit this time I guess, almost as an experiment for myself, just to see what happened.

The mood is very different from your previous stuff, and the instrumentation as well. Where did that sound come from?

Well I guess I’ve worked with Stephen Marr quite a bit now, well he did the second record, and once again it was kind of a case of wanting to do what we didn’t get to last time. Like last time I think we even had talked about brass here and there and things like that, I don’t know if it would actually fit that record, but there were lots of things we talked about. Percussion was a big one that like, because I was with a label then and working to a deadline, we kind of ran out of time and money to do little things like that so… I dunno, this time maybe we went a bit crazy and tried to make up for lost time or something. But yeah, it was just fun, it was fun working with all those new sounds and stuff like, and yeah pretty much I just realized that this album was kind of just a big experiment from like the structure to the sounds to how I even released it, it was just kind of like I wanted to try do a bunch of things I’ve never done before. So yeah, that’s what we did.

So recording with Stephen John Marr again, obviously you’ve worked with him for a long time, but not since he moved to Roundhead right?

So actually what happened was we were halfway through recording these songs and he got the job at roundhead, so we started recording it at Radio 1 in Dunedin in the Live to Air room there, where he was working at the time. Yeah, I’m based in Auckland now, so I was up here and one day just got a message from him saying he was potentially getting this job at Roundhead which was pretty exciting, because I was having to work out how I was going to get back down to Dunedin and make that work around other things… So all of a sudden it was like oh man, Stephen’s going to be here at the same time as me, that’s amazing. Yeah, it was a slight upgrade from the Radio1 Live to Air room to say the least, so that’s how that happened.

And then, the first thing we did was just kind of started sending a lot of things we recorded at Radio1 back through the gear at Roundhead, like all their nice compressors and just the crazy sorto of things they have there. And that’s when the album really started to take on like a whole different vibe. It went from sounding like, you know, my older stuff, to sounding a bit more crazy.

Did you do any recording at Roundhead as well?

Yeah, lots of recordings, after we did that we kind of went on with working out what we needed to re-record because obviously it was like, just the gear they have at Roundhead is amazing and we knew there was things we could make sound better. And you know, it was kind of dumb because at the time I had no money and no label advance or anything but I was just like yeah yeah, we can do re-do all that, that’s fine, I’ll make it work somehow, just like hoping it would all work out one way or another. Um yeah, so we re-did a couple of drum tracks, and a lot of the guitars were done at Roundhead, and all the vocals too I think. So yeah, I spent a bit of time there. The other thing was Stephen, he actually moved in with me, and because we were in the same bubble, so when the first lockdown came round, or maybe it was the second one I can’t remember, we were actually able to keep working together. So I felt really lucky in that regard

This is your first tour in many years. Why the break?

I guess I was just a little bit burnt out after the last album and I really wanted to just sort of take a step back and try figure out what I wanted to do musically, and just in general you know? It was quite an intense time for me, just having to go through that whole process of releasing an album on a bigger label, like an American label on top of that. And yeah, I dunno, lots of things kind of happened like I moved up here during that time as well so it was kind of settling in up here, and yeah I guess you know the songs weren’t exactly flowing at first too, like it took me a little bit just to get back into songwriting after playing so many shows. So yeah, I dunno, I dunno if I really ever figured out what I want to do with music or in general, but I think I just needed a wee break and got a tiny bit sick of myself really, and sick of like playing the same songs, sick of talking about the songs, like yeah. I just needed to take a step back.

It’s quite weird like sort of all of a sudden your music becomes, especially once it’s picked up by a bigger label, like you kind of become a product which is a strange thing to experience, like you’re really having to market yourself which I’m like horrible at, so I think that was the main thing that got to me in the end.

So are you excited to be back on the road?

Yeah, I’m really excited. As soon as I had that first practice with the band up here I was like yeah, this is going to be fun. You know, music doesn’t have to be this big stressful thing you know? It can just be fun and like this lighthearted thing you know? So yeah I’m really excited to get back out there again, and yeah we’re kind of going all out with the bigger band and trying to do as much of the experimentation and all that as we can pull off.

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