Beat And The Pulse

Austra will in likelihood be musically condemned to the esoteric outskirts of the abyss, but before succumbing to this gross misapprehension give Feel It Break a spin, don’t be intimidated by the ominous banshee sounds of Katie Stelmanis and co. you may just find it a highly rewarding experience.

Interview by Era Trieman

You guys are much less scary in person than on record.

K: Haha you think so?!

 

Would you be able to give us a brief overview of your various members in the piecing together of Austra?

K: Maya Postepski, the drummer, and I have been playing together for, I don’t even know, like seven years or something. We played with another band called Galaxy together, a girly affair, but when that broke up I started playing solo and asked her to be my drummer, and we toured worldwide as a duo. Eventually it became more of a collaborative project and we decided to come up with a band name, rather than just being billed under Katie Stelmanis, because it wasn’t really a solo project any more. I guess around that time we had so many different people play with us in so many incarnations, we’d met a guitarist, she then introduced us to Dorian Wolf, who is now our bass player and adds a whole lot to the live show…

 

And you feel able to fend without a guitarist?

K: We didn’t really like having a guitar player, it was okay, but we are always trying to find this balance in our band between maintaining the electronic feel of the music whilst also creating a dynamic live performance and… and we don’t want to sound like a rock band. So that was scrapped.

 

What would you say are the most significant differences between Austra and your own earlier solo record, Join Us?

K: Whereas all the other stuff I used to write was experimental synth-bass, very classically infused, ‘head-music’ if you will… That didn’t really translate well onto the stage. To have a live performance that people can really feel physically you need the drums and bass section.

 

Both the backing vocalists and yourself manifest this distinctive undulating movement throughout the performance. How integral a part is this to the overall aura?

K: I’d say that none of us are naturally that comfortable on a stage, especially when it comes to dance, but we really exerted ourselves and slowly but surely we’re pushing those boundaries farther and farther. Our early shows had an austere vibe, kinda straight-faced and a little bit nervous, probably coming across as snobby or offhand, which made the music less accessible. But we’ve worked our way through that!! I like that collectively there has been a strong effort to reach out more.

Austra’s music varies substantially depending on the listener’s context: it strikes me as cathartic but elsewhere dancey…

K: That’s kinda the intention, that is how I enjoy music. Previously I’d always listen to music on my headphones, beautiful music that you become entirely engrossed within, so that was what I wanted to make. Bringing in the live instrumentation furthered it into something other people could connect with at the same time.

Lose It

 

How was your headline show at the Scala and what is it you like about London?

K: It was awesome. I’ve just always had so much fun in London, spending quite some time off and on, I’ve got a lot of friends in that city, I like whiling away the day in the parks, I just love the vibe and the pace and the energy.

 

What have you been doing since the release of Feel It Break and how has it impacted your lives?

K: Pretty much we’ve been touring constantly. Since the record came out I’ve been home for only ten days, otherwise just been on the road, which I enjoy in itself, over here in Europe especially, being able to hang out in all these cities.

 

Are mentions of your operatic upbringing overstated or do you feel this plays a big part in your current occupation?

K: I definitely wouldn’t be where I am today if I hadn’t been trained as an opera singer. I don’t in any way sing opera, I could not sing opera at all if anybody tried to make me, but there are just certain techniques that stick with you forever like riding a bike. How to breathe, how the shape of your mouth is going to affect the sound you’re producing, just little things that are ingrained

 

You’ve in the past described the Canadian music scene as being ‘quite insular’.

K: There are lots of musicians who have entire careers just based around Canada, they only tour Canada, that’s all they do. Back home in Toronto there are those for whom the highest point imaginable is being on the CBC, then you’ve made it, you’re a success.

 

Did you always aspire to break out internationally?

K: Basically I tried to go the CBC route, and realized really soon that it wasn’t going to happen for me. The music I was making was too weird and it didn’t really happen for me anywhere, but in my mind I thought, “I need to go to Europe!” So Maya and I ended up touring Europe a bunch of times. Though we didn’t get anywhere with that solo material, we created so many friendships and connections that by the time this project happened there were a lot of ties already in place ready to support this.

 

Do you still feel in touch with the Toronto scene?

K: I feel like it’s evolving a lot, a few years ago it was folk-pop based but now it has changed, there’s a lot more electronic stuff coming through, I’ve come across many artists that I’d no idea even existed until pretty recently: Diamond Rings, Azari and III… a lot of bands in this similar vein.

 

And as far as Austra is concerned, being likened to Zola Jesus and Fever Ray you’re in good company, though the question looms of where to go next? Is there pressure to evolve the sound or to stay true to the initial concept?

K: I wouldn’t call it pressure so much as expectation. I’ve seen the potential to do something different and rise above the comparisons we’ve been receiving, and I suppose people will wait to see whether you can further yourself or are just a one trick pony.

 

On the subject of Florence’s commercial success, you suggested her recognition makes your own sound more palatable to the general public. Would you still agree with that assessment?

K: Prior to Florence I couldn’t recognize any contemporary female vocalists with a big big voice like that, outside of the Beyonce RnB mould. At the time Florence & The Machine arose from the indie scene, she has crossed over a lot to major pop culture… But people, particularly in Canada were terrified of my voice. I was like a banshee to them, this shrill loud intense voice. Much in the same way as opera is an acquired taste, so consider it like nails on a chalkboard whilst others consider it sublime. In that sense having artists like Florence on mainstream radio accustoms the listener to this bold voice, and they’re increasingly ready to listen to that.

 

How did you meet Kool Thing and how has it been touring together?

K: I have so much respect for what they do. Jane is a tech genius, she knows all the computer programming stuff, she understands how electronic music works whereas my band know how to do what we do but don’t really know anything about what’s going on!! She’s a pro. We met at some show in Paris and subsequently they opened for us in Berlin and we really connected, I love them as people and their vibe fits, I wish we could just tour with them forever.

 

You’ve described a means of writing that involves finding the right lyrics that fit into a given vocal line or melody. does this suggest the music itself conveys meaning as much as words might?

K: First and foremost meaning is conveyed through sound, mostly because that’s how I listen to music, lyrics become secondary and that’s how I really understand songs. With the solo stuff I literally couldn’t be bothered with the lyricism, I was just spouting gibberish on stage, but I forced myself to put more time into it and the more you do it the better you get. I don’t expect I will ever be a brilliant lyricist, but I like to lay emphasis on strong words or phrases that are resonant with what I’m trying to convey.

What would you say would be the ideal setting for an Austra performance?

K: mmm… it would have to be somewhere where we could have a crazy light-show because all I ever wanted were crazy crazy light-shows. Maybe in space.