Interview: The Stranger’s Kalen Austin Talks About New Album ‘Kaleidoscope’

Words/Interview by Tracey Moyle {Music Maven}

Brisbane Progressive Metallers The Stranger are back with their sophomore album ‘Kaleidoscope’.

Following on from the success of their 2017 self-titled debut, the band have dug deep drawing from their influences and their own personal inspiration to release an second album with a level of maturity generally found with bands carrying many more years behind them.

The band has forged a respected name for themselves in the Australian Metal Scene with their eclectic mix of progressive metal, djent & funk. Incorporating influences such as Opeth and Dream Theater, combined with their ability to weave aspects of different genres together, creates a progressive rock/metal energy that is like no one else.

Over the years since their inception, The Stranger have toured with Australian and International Progressive Metal Powerhouses such as Caligula’s Horse, Voyager, Ne Obliviscaris, Monuments and The Ocean. They have played festivals such as ProgFest and took out first place in Brisbane’s Wacken Metal Battle. Recently signing to Octane Records & Wild Thing Records for this highly anticipated second album, a massive amount of momentum has been building behind the band and no doubt they are set to plant solid foundations as a mainstay in the Australian Heavy Music World and beyond!,

Our very own Music Maven and progressive metal lover, Tracey Moyle, jumped at the chance to chat to The Stranger’s guitarist/backing vocalist Kalen Austin about how the band have approached their new album, his hand in it’s production, touring and so much more.

Congratulations on the new album, ‘Kaleidoscope’. It’s been four years since your self-titled debut release, which had a great response from the fans and from within the industry. I imagine you are excited to have it finally out to the eager masses?

“Absolutely. Four years is far too long a wait between albums. We released the first album and we got some good responses and we were really happy with that. We did some touring off the back of that and then, I’m not quite sure what happened, it was a few years ago now, but when we came back from those tours, we kind of got into a little bit of a slump. I think we all just got busy with various other things going on in our lives. The band was always still going but we weren’t really giving it the work ethic that it really deserved for about a solid year there.
It’s like, at this point, with the amount of work that’s gone into this one and how long it’s taken us to do it, it feels like giving birth for us. So, we very relieved to finally be having this thing out.”

Was the album something took a long time to fall gradually into place or was it something you just put your head down and got stuck into?  I can’t imagine any good progressive track is written in the day?

“I suppose the catalyst for getting our teeth sunk into getting this current album finished and written was Linc (Morse) joining the band. Him joining the fold and sort of completing the line-up, lit a fire under our arses to get the rest of these songs finished and move forward from there.

“What you said about a prog track not taking a day to write, that’s, typically speaking, very true. Occasionally, however, if you’re in exactly the right frame of mind, which for me unfortunately usually means I’m horribly upset about something, just distraught, if I’m in that frame of mind sometimes, a whole song will drop into my head. It’s happened two or three times now. On the first album a song called Song For Dad happen that way. That whole song just dropped into my head in a space of two hours. Also, again on this new album with a song called Jester. I was driving down the highway this whole idea just popped into my head and I had to get it out really quickly. But aside from that, it can take even the skeleton, a year to completion.”

Are you the songwriter predominantly or do you share that job?

“Up until this point I have written the majority of material at least from a musical perspective. The way it generally works is that I’ll come up with a skeleton for the whole song and then I’ll give that to Tom (Frayne) and he’ll go away, come back, days or even weeks later, with the broad strokes for the vocals. He and I will sit down and workshop and refine it until we’ve got what we want.
But on this new album, I’m glad to say, there is a little bit more collaboration. There is a song called the The Devil You Don’t, on that one, all the music was written by Andrew (‘Drew’ Taylor) our guitarist and he’s one of those classic over thinkers. He actually had the song, more or less done a while ago and then he sat on it and um’d and ahh’d about it for ages. And it was great the way it was. So, we eventually convinced him to keep his original idea and that was basically that whole song. Then Tom and I worked out the vocal together. There’s another song on the new album call Creatures In The Canopy which Linc actually contributed 70% of it. So I think, moving forward, it’s likely that we’re going to see more and more collaboration from the other guys because everyone wants to write. There’s no one in the band that’s happy to sit back and let everyone else do the writing and them just be a hired gun as it were.
Thus far, most of the musical ideas have come from me, but part of that is because my main job is I’m the music producer and I’ve got a studio set up at my house. There’s a much lower resistance for me to get a song out. The other guys don’t have the same expertise with recording software and all that kind of stuff. When I’ve got an idea I can sit down and then just get the whole thing out and not have any technicalities get in the way of creativity. Whereas, they have some more simple setups and as a result it might take longer, but that’s going to change moving forward as well.”

You mentioned you are a producer. You actually produced this album yourself. How was that in comparison to having someone else do the production?

“The first album I co-engineered with Adam Becker whose has studio on the Northside. He is an absolute legend. Adam is responsible for teaching me what it means to get it right. We recorded an album with him way back in the day in our old band and I remember sitting in the studio with him and he has this catch phrase “do it again but less shit this time”. He really showed me what it looks like to be a perfectionist in the studio. How to not stop until you got the take that’s exactly right and to not settled for ‘good enough’. We engineered the first album with him, but we sent it off to Sweden to be mixed and mastered because I wasn’t really confident in my skills yet.

“When it came to this new one, I’d worked on a whole bunch of bands in the intervening years and I just thought ‘screw it. I really want to take the plunge and sink my teeth into it and see what I can do with this one’. I’m pretty happy with the way it’s come out. Just like with any artistic project, there’s a saying ‘great art is never finished it’s only ever abandoned’, that’s how I feel about this album. There’s always going to be something I can change or tweak or something but overall, I’m really happy with the way the production came together.

“With the mastering we sent that off to Ermin Hamidovic in Melbourne. He’s got a company called Systematic Productions. He’s a pretty big deal in the audio world. It’s amazing what he does, so I was happy to send it off to him to have the final say on the project. I was actually very gratified when we got the master’s back. He had improved it, but he hadn’t really drastically changed his end of it at all. It was like his master stuck very true to my original mix, so that was a really gratifying experience.”

Order Kaleidoscope on Vinyl HERE

the stranger

My take on the album from the first few listens, is that it explores the frustrations of life in the respect of fear for our future from both an environmental and personal perspective. Is that in anyway close to being right?

“Yeah, more or less. We were originally playing around with ideas around change and paradigm shifts. This isn’t a concept album by any means but if there is a theme that links at least most of the songs together, it’s this idea of change. The two main songs that kind of personify that idea would be Eleventh Hour, which is about frustration around the way that the climate situation is being handled. It’s our hippy protest song.

“The other one is Kaleidoscope which Tom wrote the lyrics for when he was in a very dark time in his life. He was thinking a lot about where he was in his life, or more accurately where he wasn’t, and just got an intense feeling of frustration around being the person that you want to be, and you find yourself lacking. But the thing was, instead of making it a song about poor me and everything’s fucked, kind of thing, he turned it into a message of positivity. That feeling of “being where I am right now and I’m not happy about it, so I’m going to do better I’m going be changed”. So ultimately it ended up being quite a positive sort of spin on the idea. Overall, all the songs on the album, in some small way, tie in, giving this idea of changing or at least wanting to change where you are, where we are as a culture, that sort of thing.”

You’ve released three singles from the album, we’ve mentioned two of them, Eleventh Hour and Kaleidoscope. Your latest release is The Gemini. All three songs have been received really well. Great reviews and good traction on streaming services. I have to mention, the video for Eleventh Hour is amazing. Such a good clip. That must have been fun to film?

“Thank you. We played around with ideas and concepts in the planning stages for that one, for ages. We should really give a shout out to Tom, Linc and Adrian (Goleby). Adrian is the guitarist in Caligula’s Horse. Tom, Linc and Adrian, in the end, really got their heads together and brought that one to finish line with set design. Linc really went above and beyond. There are several thrones that Tom is sitting on in the film clip and Linc made them. He just got his hammer and tools and got together and made some fine chairs. *laughs*
I have a huge amount of respect for him because when there’s a job to be done he just goes and does it and that’s what we’ve needed so badly. I’m really good on the music front and that sort of thing, getting music down, but a lot of businesses stuff I sort of struggle to find the will to do it. He just gets up and does it. So, without him, there’s no way that film clip would have come together the way it does. At least in the way that we’re really, really happy with it.

“It was filmed it at Linc’s parent’s house, who actually have this big project shed which is normally full of old muscle cars and stuff and we emptied it out, we blacked it out, did all the filming in there. It came together super well so I’m happy. We never wanted to look like we take ourselves too seriously, but we want to look like we take our music seriously if that makes sense. With Eleventh Hour we came the closest we’ve ever become to walking that line really well.”

Do you have any songs on the album that are a particular stand out for you? Or is that too hard a question to answer?

“That’s pretty difficult to come up when you’re so close to all the songs, but a couple of different, I guess metrics there, as far as one that’s fun to play live, it would definitely have to be Siren, which is one of the super funky ones. Everything about that song is fun. It’s a joy to play but I wouldn’t necessarily say it’s my favourite song on the album. I think if I had to pick a song that I was most proud of…. God this is really hard. *laughs* They all have their own personalities and they all say different things. The one that I sunk the most of myself into is Jester and I actually sung the lead on that one too. There’s a bit of a story around that but Jester took a lot of me to put together like I feel like I almost sacrificed a piece of myself to get that song finished.”

The album dropped today, April 9th. Have you got any plans on touring and  launching the album soon?

“We are the sort of band that unless we’re in the middle of recording an album or taking time away, we’re always planning shows. Right now, we are definitely in the planning stage for an album launch. We had actually had one booked but got a better offer to play with some people that we really look up to, around the same time. So, we decided to push back the launch and go with that instead. So yes, there is an album launch coming up, but we just can’t announce anything just yet.”

The Stranger’s new album ‘Kaleidoscope’ is out now and available on all streaming services.  
Listen to/download HERE.


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With thanks to Overdrive PR

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