“We must be moving, working, making dreams to run toward; the poverty of life without dreams is too horrible to imagine” (Sylvia Plath)
There’s a nice picture of a very young Katie Stelmanis at home in front of a laptop and an electronic keyboards on her twitter account, it was the year 2006.
At that time she ‘started making electronic music without actually listening to any electronic music’; many years have passed since those home experiments and recordings that would lead to her astonishingly beautiful debut album ‘Feel It Break’ in 2011 and in the meantime that tiny fragile girl has wonderfully grown up as a person and as an artist driven by a tireless curiosity and hunger for new experiences, new knowledge, new readings, new music, new utopias and new dreams.
The upcoming third Austra album ‘Future Politics’ will be released at the start of the new year via Domino Records, preceded by the current single ‘Utopia’, & ‘Future Politics’.
Let’s talk with a ‘completely terrified (and partially excited)’ Katie Stelmanis about it.
A couple of years have passed since your last record, you said in the past that your creativity needs a period of doing nothing in order to think and get bored…Was it the same way to you again?
For this record I found it important to work on as many things as possible that have nothing to do with music, reading, movies, learning Spanish and French, and even taking ballet classes. I think its hard to write about life if your whole life is working, and so it really helped to spend the first part of the writing process not actually playing any music.
Mexico seems to have been your source of inspiration, your album cover art has been shot there too…It’s also a typical example of work exploitation and modern slavery by the multinationals, please could you talk about your Mexican experience?
I noticed you did enjoy and missed Mexico…
Mexico was a really important time for me. It was partly significant because I was on this hunt for inspiration and found it so strongly there, more so than I actually thought would ever happen. On a basic sensory level I love that mexico is warm, it’s colourful, and it’s tropical. That simple aesthetic difference from where I was living previously in Montreal provided enough inspiration to change the direction of the album I had been working on.
You said: ‘ I started making electronic music without actually listening to any electronic music (the computer was a substitute for other instruments I wasn’t able to access) some of the simplest production techniques have eluded me for a long time. But doing a lot of DJing and just generally fucking around with technology has helped to drastically widen my knowledge of computer based music making’.
How has your new knowledge about analog gears been part of the new album? Could you talk about your DJing experience too?
With this past record I actually used less analog gear than I did on ‘Olympia’. ‘Olympia’ was a super collaborative record and this time around I felt the need to write by myself again, and that meant recording alone at home. So in a sense it was a return to the way I wrote the first record, but with a much better knowledge of production and making computer music in general.
I discovered I really love DJing a few years ago. It’s fun to do something that still feels like a hobby, and to do something that you are completely immune to whether people like what your doing or not. I use DJing as an outlet to play weird dance music that I wouldn’t ever necessarily make myself, but while DJing it at a party it kind of feels like its your own.
Music-wise, did you still follow the collaborative path of ‘Olympia’ or did you come back to your mainly individual days? Which has been the contribution of Maya Postepski (check out her amazing solo project Princess Century) and Dorian Wolf this time?
This was a much more individualist record than Olympia. For the most part the band and I were really focused on our own projects. Maya added some percussion to some of the songs on the record but wasn’t involved with the production as a whole, and Dorian performed some synth parts I wrote.
Listening to the new single ‘Utopia’, it seems a return to a more electronic synth sound of your early period but still with that dancey beat/groove of your last one…Am I wrong?
Ya I do feel like this record is a bit of a return to the first album in the way it was written and recorded, but I think the production is just a little bit more complex and organic sounding.
Please help our readers better understand the origins, the influences and the development of the new album’s sound. Did you, thematically, have an all-encompassing vibe you wanted to portray with this release?
Originally when I set out to write this record I had this idea of wanting to create “background music” – so when I first started I was writing a lot of slow, chill music. But half way through I realized we weren’t going to get very far in the live world playing background music so I tried to write some songs that were poppier cause those kinds of songs are really fun to play live.
I don’t like to speak about gender clichè, but I think that female’s approach it in a more holistic manner. A total mind, body soul thing where ‘their’ music completely drives you in that way…I’m thinking about artists such as Diamanda Galas, Bjork, PJ Harvey, Kate Bush just to name a few. Is it just my male approach that makes me think in this way or is there any true in it?
I mean I think that those particular artists happen to be Auteurs: they are in charge of every aspect of the project from production to the visual. I don’t think I would necessarily attribute that to gender as there are also male auteurs as well like David Bowie, Prince and Michael Jackson. I think the difference is that its difficult for a woman to achieve notoriety unless she is an absolute fucking genius, whereas a lot of the more mediocre artists get forgotten a lot sooner than their male counterparts.
After the early years when the lyrics were considered just an accessory, as time goes on and with an enhanced cultural knowledge and social awareness, they little by little become an assential part of your art. I notice you have read so inspiring science fiction books such as “The Left Hand Of Darkness” by Ursula K. Le Guin, or “Ubik” by Philip K. Dick… I’ve seen a copy of Thomas More’s “Utopia” around your socials too…
Ya this was the first time I really actually tried to write good lyrics. I don’t know if I succeded but I definitely feel a lot more comfortable as a writer now than I did before and part of that had to do with reading constantly. I’ve kept a list of all the books I’ ve read since ‘Olympia’ because I don’t ever want to forget them. Everything from poetry to critical theory to yes, a lot of sci-fi.
You stated “Each person’s fantasy of the future is valid and possible and one should never feel like their imaginations can’t become the truth”.
During the very sad US ‘puppet theatre’ and ‘just two side of the same coin’ presidential campaign I was astonished and baffled to the support by many so called “punk’ or ‘alternative’ bands for an establishment champion of the financial/war corporations like ‘Madam’ Clinton.
I believe it’s time to find a new tolerant and respectful way of living away from the hypocrite, decaying and disastrous ‘single thinking’ capitalistic one, that causes just war, starvation, injustice, useless competition. What do you think about it? Should art be more involved about ‘to make the impossible possible’?
I think that it is a problem that people in the arts community were not more critical of the Clinton campaign. But I think the biggest problem is that our current generation really lacks vision. And with a great of vision for a better way of living, I think Clinton would have appeared more obviously unable to bring that particular vision to life. But I truly believe that our future needs to be drastically different , and that we need to make some huge decisions that change fundamentally how we think of ourselves and our values.
Few weeks ago your friend artist Casey Mecija released your remix of her song ‘Gonna Gun’ in order to fund the water protectors of Standing Rock Sioux Tribe. Please, could you talk about it?
Casey Mecija put out one of my favourtie records this year, and as soon as I heard that song ‘Gonna gun’ I was immediately able to imagine it as a more up beat dance track. I really never do remixes but it felt like a good exercise and it’s something that I would love to do more of.
I know you really like your live dimension, so I guess you are looking forward to bring your new album on tour, will it be the usual tireless one or will it be different this time?
Do we have to expect any exciting news from your new performances?
Yes, I’m currently orchestrating the new show now. Despite the fact this record was mostly digital I want the live show to feel really very live, like a band, and we are planning to have a big visual component too.
Many thanks for your time, just a final question : what artists, bands and books are you excited about at the moment?
Weyes Blood, Jenny Hval, Chancha Via Circuito, Mica Levy, to name a few!!
***Special thanks to Tasos Marougas for making this possible…
Photo credits: Kate Young (1st one), Renata Raksha (2nd one)