There is a lot behind the name Strange Karma. First, and most obvious, it is the last name of the Australian band’s co-founders – lead vocalist/piano/songwriter Martin and younger brother Paul on lead guitar – who have had a rocky ride, with lots of twists and turns, triumphs and disappointments during their career.
It’s also representative of a band that has taken the best advantage of some of the strange circumstances in their careers, including multiple treks to both the USA and UK, before arriving at the point where they are now, which is releasing their second album, Cold Blooded, on vinyl only, to great acclaim – especially the lead-off single, Devil from the Moon.
To borrow a line from The Beatles, it’s been a long and winding road for the band, which is rounded out by drummer Jason McDonald.
“My brother and I were always around music growing up in Australia, but it wasn’t something I really thought I would be doing as a career early on. I took all the great music we played in the house and the fact that I could play kind of for granted. I am a bit older than Paul and what happened with me was I went to New York when I finished school to just find myself. And I was inspired by the city and the whole scene there – there was just so much music and so much energy and passion for music. When I came back home Paul and I started jamming and then we started gigging around the city and making a name for ourselves,” he said, adding that by the early 2000s, they had put a band together and eventually relocated to the hard rock Mecca of the United Kingdom to learn their craft as musicians and songwriters, and try to soak up the musical muse that had inspired legendary British bands such as Led Zeppelin and Deep Purple.
“We wrote a lot of songs there and gained a lot of experience. We came back to Australia after that, found a great drummer in Jason and then went to America for a while, coming back to Australia before then going back to the UK. We just kept working and pushing hard. So the story of this band is very trying and very long. It certainly didn’t happen overnight to get where we are.
“We really want this, and I think we are cut out for this business based on all the sacrifices we’ve made and the lengths we’re willing to go, literally travelling thousands and thousands of miles, to make this our living. I think as individuals, deep down inside, you really know if you have what it takes or not, and we do. When the first lineup of the band broke up while we were in England, Paul and I stuck around and we would roadie for a lot of huge bands like Iron Maiden, Whitesnake and everything in between. We saw the whole rock and roll circus and the whole lifestyle that goes with being a touring rock band, but also the passion and energy involved and it just appeals to us. It’s been a huge roller coaster ride and an interesting story for sure.”
The main reason Strange Karma have released Cold Blooded on vinyl only for the time being is because of the resurgence in the number of people worldwide who are choosing to purchase their music in this old-school format – particularly younger music fans.
“We’re not against putting it out in any other format in the future, and we’re keeping our ears and eyes open for those opportunities, especially if the record takes off in terms of vinyl sales and airplay and interest from fans. But, look, vinyl is taking off again. It’s doing really well and so many young people are turning to vinyl again. I think it’s a good opportunity for us to put something special out there and it’s a great opportunity for fans to have something in hand, something to look at, something tangible. It’s not a download with that compressed sound you get, so it sounds amazing,” said Strange.
“There are a lot of good reasons to put out vinyl only. We haven’t released the songs in any other forms and we are getting very, very good responses from people for the vinyl release. We’re working to get the record to stores in the United States and other places. Everything is in progress right now. And I know that vinyl is the way to go, just from the feedback we’re getting and from what I am seeing with my own eyes.
“I was in my local record store the other day and I was in line behind a couple of young fellas, university guys, and I asked them how this vinyl thing was going, was it big on their campus? And they said, ‘yeah man, it’s a big thing.’ Absolutely everyone they know is buying vinyl. People are digging it. I think a lot of people are getting fed up with the download thing, the compressed sound in particular. They just want to sit down and really listen and really experience good music, the way it was recorded. These young people and even some older fans are starting to change the way they are listening and making it a real, important experience again.”
Keeping with the theme of how strange (in a good way) the universe can be, it was thanks to some of their appearances on one of their American jaunts that Strange Karma caught the eyes and ears of Grammy-nominated American producer David Ivory (Halestorm, Silvertide, The Roots) who recorded, mixed, mastered and produced Cold Blooded out of his Dylanava Studios in Pennsylvania.
The band was touring in support of their independently produced debut album and Ivory booked them into some shows near his home – and he was obviously impressed as he quickly agreed to work with Strange Karma on what would become Cold Blooded.
“First of all, his personality is awesome and needless to say his work in the studio is really, really good. We wanted to create an album where it’s going to hopefully get some radio airplay. That was the whole thing, we didn’t want to sound too old-school or too inaccessible to modern hard rock fans. We have elements that are very real and raw and we are very much ourselves in terms of our style and sound, so what we want were songs that were just produced really well and captured the essence of who we are. So it’s got that classic rock vibe without sounding outdated or nostalgic. It’s new and it feels fresh,” Strange said.
“If you go totally into the nostalgic route you’re going to lose a lot of people. We’re not in the 1970s or 1980s anymore. We do need to carry the torch for that kind of music, and that vibe, but we want the production and the songs themselves to be fresh and in the moment today, and that’s what David brought to the table. It was awesome working with him and we are so happy with how the record turned out.”
Rolling with the punches and not being afraid to change, pivot and adapt to the changing nature of the music business, the fickle nature of fans, and the circumstances of life – without losing their focus, core musical identity and sound – is seemingly what sets Strange Karma apart from a lot of other bands. And it’s a philosophy that indeed carries over into their creative process.
“A band changes all the time, it has to. And the more we play, the more we will evolve and change and grow closer as a unit. The band is firing on all cylinders and we are prepared to shift to another level. We’ve evolving for sure and nothing about the band or the process of creating music or playing on stage ever stays the same; and that’s a good thing. You have to evolve or die in this business. You have to have experiences and stories to draw on for your new material. You have to sometimes also go outside your comfort zone. If you want to have good songs and if you want to really have something important to say, you have to literally go out there and live it,” Strange opined.
“If you think you’re going to be playing in the local bar for five years and then complain about never making it because nothing’s happening, then you’re a fool. You need to be aggressive. And that’s what we are doing with this record. We are marketing it and pushing it hard, because we want to get out there and play for as many people in as many places as we can. Our job is to reach as many music fans as we can. I know in places like South America they are crazy for our kind of music. If we have placement there and get some good promotion, of course we’re going to go there. And the same goes for Japan and Asia.
“And if we can get things going well in the States we also want to get up to Canada. We have never been there and it’s something that would be awesome to do. Canada is a beautiful place and I know you have good music fans there.”
For more information on Strange Karma, to order Cold Blooded and to keep tabs on any upcoming tour dates, visit www.strangekarma.net.
- Jim Barber is a veteran award-winning journalist and author based in Napanee, ON, who has been writing about music and musicians for a quarter of a century. Besides his journalistic endeavours, he now works as a communications and marketing specialist. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.