On Their Debut LP, Office Dog Plug In, and Pluck Up

What do you do if you’re nursing a particularly bad breakup and feeling extra burnt out on your solo career? If you’re New Zealand indie scene vet Kane Strang, you move across the country, make like a mid-life crisis dad buying a Ferrari, and start from scratch with a new band to help rock away the pain.

The band in question is Office Dog, and thankfully, Strang’s heartfelt and hard-hitting songs remain at the forefront on the trio’s debut album, Spiel. The project arrives tomorrow (Jan. 26) through New West worldwide after its Antipodean release last September on revered New Zealand indie rock mecca Flying Nun. Whereas Strang slaved over much of his three solo albums with what he calls an “unhealthy” level of obsession and tinkering, Spiel is rough, rugged and immediate, with shades of Wire, Built to Spill, Pinback and Flying Nun lo-fi pioneers the Clean deftly coloring its 12 tracks.

“I really can’t imagine these as Kane Strang solo songs, because Office Dog feels so much more organic to me and less forced,” the ever-youthful Strang tells SPIN over Zoom from Dunedin. “Spiel was just us live in a room, playing together. All the instrumentation was done over two days. I was so shocked that we made something so quickly when before, I would layer things forever and make sure it was all this little perfect package. It was a real eye-opening experience for me.”

Strang is joined in Office Dog by drummer Mitchell Innes and bassist Rassani Tolovaa, both of whom had played in prior incarnations of his solo group. Together, they spent a year writing either at their houses or in the basement of a church, with Strang adapting his serpentine guitar parts to cover for the lack of a lead player. “We didn’t even think about shows because it was during COVID, so we couldn’t really play live even if we wanted to,” he says.

On highlights such as the chiming “Tightropes,” the garrulous “Gleam” and the alternate universe ‘90s underground anthem “Big Air,” the let-it-rip/guitar-bass-drums-only style of songwriting and production serves as the ideal backdrop for Strang’s current state of mind. Since Office Dog have a “no demo” policy, many of the lyrics were worked out during multiple-day solo trips from Dunedin in New Zealand’s northernmost corner to Auckland in the far south (“I had these shitty ass Voice Memos blasting the whole way down the country,” Strang jokes).

“When I was writing, it was during one of the craziest times in my life,” he continues. “I was also approaching 30, and that’s a classic thing that plays on your mind. I was really trying to use the songs to process it all. That’s why there’s so many mentions of light and dark on the record. I realized, these are the themes and metaphors that are just falling out of me, so why fight it? I think that’s when the record really started to come together and make sense. It’s about change and accepting change and trying to get into a more hopeful spot — like, out of the dark and into the light, as clichéd as that sounds.”

Office Dog’s allegiance with Flying Nun is now all the sweeter for Strang, who initially felt pigeonholed by frequent comparisons to key label artists with whom he was largely unfamiliar. That began to change after the Clean’s David Kilgour randomly reached out to him on Facebook and asked him to open some 2014 shows at the now-closed Dunedin-area venue Chick’s Hotel, which required Strang to do some speedy cramming.

“I was like, shit! I need to figure out what these guys have done and who all these people are,” he recalls. “I realized there’s definitely worse things to be compared to, because that whole movement was really special. It was just one of those times and places where people were bouncing ideas off each other and making amazing, unique things. The Flying Nun team is just amazing. We’d be pretty lost without them.”

For now, Office Dog is itching to hit the road in support of Spiel this year, particularly to locales outside of Australia and New Zealand. “We’ve got great momentum at the moment and I’m almost scared to stop, because last time I stopped, I didn’t play for like two years,” Strang says, before gesturing to the beautiful blue sky behind him. “I love being here and I feel very comfortable here, but I think I’m ready to not be comfortable again for the first time in a while and actually get out there, meet people and take Spiel all over the place.”

To see our running list of the top 100 greatest rock stars of all time, click here.