austra - the grittier side of love
Austra’s music is frequently described as gothic by both fans and critics. Yes, the Toronto-based electronic band frequently carries a dark bassline and lyrics that reflect the grittier sides of love and loneliness. But at their headlining show in the Phoenix Concert Theatre, you could overhear more than one fan screaming, “She’s an angel!” to lead vocalist Katie Stelmanis.
Formed in 2009, Austra was originally composed of classically-trained Katie Stelmanis as vocalist and keyboard player, Dorian Wolf as bassist, and Maya Postepski on drums. Adding twins Sari and Romy Lightman for their ethereal harmonies and Ryan Wonsiak for keyboards, Austra has found critical acclaim for their debut CD, Feel it Break, as well as their sophomore success Olympia. I was fortunate enough to talk with Katie the night before Austra opened its first headlining Canadian tour.
What do you find to be the biggest difference touring for Feel it Break and Olympia?
It doesn’t feel that different to be honest, the only proper headlining tour we’ve done is in America, and now that we’re back in Canada, things may be different, but in America we aren’t as well known. Canada does a really good job supporting their local music scene.
You said to AfterEllen “I’m a musician first, and gay second. But I think in doing this I’ve sort of discredited the fact that being gay is a huge part of who I am and definitely effects the music I make”. How do you feel that being gay informs the music you write?
Anyone is going to be informed by the community they’re in, and I happen to be a part of the queer art community. It wouldn’t be right to deny that. Half the songs I write are for girls, and it wouldn’t be fair to deny that.
One song that really stuck with me in particular was the barely-a-minute “I don’t care, I’m a man.”
I often find lyrics just come from my subconscious, and for that song, I said “I don’t care, I’m a man.” It stuck with me. It’s very anti-patriarchal, and I collaborated with Sari on this song, and she took it to be an abusive relationship, which make up the verses.
It’s almost brushing off the abuse with the dismissive sound.
You said that writing for Olympia was a collaborative effort. How was it writing collaboratively as opposed to by yourself?
It was a good experience; I was ready for it. I wanted to collaborate. I found it more liberating because they can lend ideas that turn into something different, so when you’re stuck, it’s no longer just you stuck. Usually I’ll start the song at home in my bedroom and bring it to the rest of the band in varying degrees of completion, but every song is different.
I mostly wrote Feel it Break by myself, Maya and Dorian contributed the last few months. We started touring as a six-piece, so for the past two years we’ve been touring as a six-piece band, but now we’re back as a three-piece. We’re an ever-flowing band.
Most of the artists to whom you’re compared, while they may enjoy a gay fan base, are outside of the LGBT community themselves, such as Kate Bush and Florence + the Machine. So being queer may affect your lyrics, but do you find it affects the actual sound?
I can’t pen one influence on the actual sound, delving into 15 years of all the music that we listen to. I try not to let my classical background influence my voice too much.
Olympia rings particularly close to home for gay kids looking for their stories to be told, and it’s been described as “small town queer kids coming into their own.” Do you find that to be accurate?
Sari, one of the backing vocalists, coined the idea of “small town gay kids coming into their own.” It was the central concept behind Olympia. It’s intended to create some sort of feeling of community if people listen to the songs.
The “everflowing band” you describe that started as a three-piece, and has gained and lost members on the way is very Torontonian of you! What are you feeling about starting to tour Canada again?
It feels like a homecoming show! We’ve been gone for a long time, and the live show is an entirely different beast. It feels kinda cool. We’re a band that just did an American tour, we might have 200 people at a show but every single one of them wants to stick around after the show. It’s great, just being able to connect with people so intimately.
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