Kane Strang: Thoughtfully Going with the Flow
Written by Caroline Berg
Photographs by Ighor Melo
Kane Strang didn’t think a career in music was an option, especially since his dad was in a band.
“His career was starting to go well, and then he had me,” Strang told me over the phone. He laughed, presumably out of guilt. “I guess I thought most the time that sort of thing happens, you know?” the 24-year-old New Zealand native said. “The real world just caught up [to him].”
Either Strang is temporarily eluding the hard knocks of adulthood or he is achieving what once seemed impossible, as he now finds himself on a 26-day music tour making 19 stops across the US.
“I never thought I’d come to America, let alone touring with my band,” Strang said the morning of his first overseas show, amidst a slight hitch in renting a van in New York City. “It’s unreal.”
Only two years ago, Strang released his first album, Blue Cheese, which he wrote alone in his bedroom over two months while housesitting for his parents.
“I was kind of driving myself insane,” the guitarist-vocalist said about his experience reminiscent of The Shining.
As a result, Strang formed a band of four upon emerging from his cocoon.
“I think I’m becoming less and less of a control freak everyday because I think that was actually starting to damage my music,” Strang said. “I just always thought that I knew best when in reality I have heaps of friends that even know a lot more than me.”
The Internet also proved helpful. On the heels of releasing Blue Cheese, Strang struck up a long-distance relationship with a respected record label in the US.
“I just put some promos up, and they somehow found them,” Strang said. “I got this email one day from Dead Oceans and I thought I was getting, like, spammed or something. But then I Googled the email address and I was like, ‘Holy shit’.”
Finally, after two years of digital pen palling, Strang will finally meet in-person the people who have helped make this overseas tour a reality and also supported the development of his second album.
“They’ve had a lot of faith in me, you know?” he said about Dead Oceans, which is based in Austin, TX, and Bloomington, IN. “They gave some random guy in New Zealand, who most of them have never met, [a chance] and want me to make an album.” He laughed. “It’s kind of crazy.”
Whereas Blue Cheese was a “short and snappy” indie rock collection, Strang said his band’s forthcoming album is more “songwriter-y” with longer songs that have more meat to digest. The single, “Oh So You’re Off I See,” is an appetizer of what’s to come.
“I didn’t want it to be just a love song,” Strang said. “Obviously, [the single is] about someone leaving, but I wanted to make it so it could be about, like, someone you’re in a romantic relationship with, or just a friend, or a family member.”
Or even one’s own self, I would add.
“I’ve got no dreams/No guts/Just inner me,” are some of the lyrics Strang wrote. “Are you in, in control?/I think so./Well maybe no.”
Strang admits he’s taking one day at a time and continues to write everyday to both help process everything and to keep on top of himself, since he deems music has become his job.
“I don’t know how everything’s gonna go,” he said humbly. “I’m just going to keep making music and trying to get better and, yeah, just see what happens.”
The current tour will include a stop at one of the largest and most influential global music events, the SXSW festival in Austin, TX. Coming from a country with a population half the size of New York City’s, Strang said it’s typical for him to perform with an audience of which three-quarters of the crowd he has seen on multiple occasions.
“I tend to just, like, withdraw a bit and go into myself,” Strang said with a self-conscious laugh. “I’m trying to break out of that at the moment, but I think that’ll be a lot easier over here [in the US].”
Strang and his band managed to draw a healthy crowd at their first show at Baby’s All Right in Brooklyn on March 3, including a small group of devotees from New Zealand. The guys looked appropriately frumpy for a band from a small town that is doing all this for the sheer pleasure of making and playing music they believe in. Image is clearly not a concern at this point.
They went on at 10:30 on a Friday and the set began like a middle school dance, with both sides – band versus audience – cautiously easing into the night. Strang tested some of the band’s new songs, but seemed more comfortable while playing the more established ones. Eventually, Strang sweetly beckoned the audience to fill in the gap between them and the stage.
“I know we’re from New Zealand,” he leaned into the mic, “but you guys feel free to come closer.”
As though this was all they needed to hear, everyone willingly shuffled forward three to five feet. By the last song, the endearing “Scarlet King Magnolia” from Blue Cheese, Strang had broken out of his steady stance and bounced around the stage while his drummer sang merrily along behind him.
These guys clearly have great potential. The fact that Strang didn’t know what to study at university turned out to be a very good thing. For now, at least. Going through your twenties tends to be a volatile decade plagued with nagging uncertainties. I’m 29, so I can say this with complete confidence.
As I watched this band perform, a maternal sort of love and protectiveness grew inside me. I turned to my friend and shouted over the music, “I just want them to succeed!”
And evidence would show a lot of others want this for the band, too, including Strang himself.