2011 was a great year for Katie Stelmanis. Her solo project became a proper band, and “Feel It Break”, their debut album under the name Austra (released in May by Canadian label Paper Bag), was critically acclaimed and reissued by Domino, in a deluxe version with a bonus CD including their singles' B-sides and a remix of “Clown” (Slipknot). Austra is now a six-piece live band: Maya Postepski (who played with Stelmanis in punk rock band Galaxy, partly responsible for the electronic makeover of the album tracks and also 50% of TRUST) on drums, Dorian Wolf on bass, Ryan Wonsiak on keyboards, and twins Sari and Romy Lightman (who are also known as indie-folk duo Tasseomancy) on backing vocals.
Before the release of “Feel It Break”, Katie used to take care of the band bookings, without - she admits - having a clue what she was doing. This year she's happy to be playing at festivals and in venues she wrote to months ago asking for an opportunity, but that had never responded. After touring non-stop for over a year, and after a well-deserved holiday, Austra are coming back to Europe. On 15th June they'll be playing at Sónar, in order to show why their album became the soundtrack of dance floors the world over, and ending up on so many Best Of 2011 lists. Their energetic live show is a must for lovers of dark synth-pop. We had a chat with Katie about the past couple of months and what lies ahead.
How have things been since Domino released the album?
They have been great, we’ve done a ton of touring, we’ve got to play in some amazing places all over the world. It’s been amazing since the record came out I guess; our lives have changed and now we are musicians. Before we were waitresses, so it’s better now.
Do you think that being on two big indie labels in different countries is better than being on a major label across the world?
I think it depends on the band. For us, well, we are not really pop-stars. I don’t think we would necessarily go over very well on a major label. But I think that when you are on an indie label, especially one that works as well as Domino, it is nice because they have a little axis in every country - there is a different personal approach all over the world and that is really important, I think that has been really good for us.
"To be honest I
pay too much
attention to record
sales and things
like that. I just
kind of like to
do what I do: I
tour, I play shows,
I write music"
Has it been hard to tour for such a long time?
We haven’t stopped, but it’s been great actually, I love touring. We just had two months off, but we will be coming back to Europe in May. I think it’s interesting because we have been sort of nonstop since January 2011 and now that we have taken a break, going back on the road is a little bit daunting. I’m sure it will be fine, but it’s nice to be nonstop all this time, then have a break and take a breath. It’s like wow! You realise that you have been on the move for a year and a half…
Releasing a deluxe version of an album is something not all bands can boast. It is not easy to achieve in times of recession and of digital sales over physical ones. Do you feel lucky?
I guess so, but to be honest I don’t personally pay too much attention to record sales and things like that. I just kind of like to do what I do: I tour, I play shows, I write music. I think that if you spend too much time thinking about the business, it kind of gets more difficult to keep on going - because it is a very difficult business. I just try not to focus on it and I’m happy that we are still able to play shows and people are coming to see us play and we have these opportunities. I just hope that we are able to do this for a long time.
I saw the Paper Bag sessions and loved the acoustic versions of “Lose It” and “The Beast”. Even though you like the synth sound of the band, have you ever thought about having stripped-back versions of the songs or doing any of them acoustic live?
Yeah, definitely. I probably wouldn’t do the acoustic version of “Lose It” live, because I think that the people that come to see us are expecting to hear the fancy version, but I do quite often play “The Beast”. However sometimes I am limited by the instruments, sometimes I don’t have the right keyboard on the road to play those kind of piano songs. But I just acquired a new keyboard in the past few months - that has a really good piano sound - so I hope we will be able to incorporate more of that into the live shows, because I really love doing it. I think it’s a nice contrast to the electronics that most of the songs have.
Everyone keeps bringing up Kate Bush when it comes to describing your sound, but to me it sounds closer to Siouxsie and the Banshees - is Siouxsie someone you looked up to while growing up. Do you like her?
To be honest I didn’t really knew her until I started making music. I didn’t listen to a lot of bands when I was young, I was kind of obsessed with classic music and that was all the kind of music I did. So when I started making music coming from this classical music place, people started to compare me to all these artists that I hadn’t known before. Now I love Siouxsie and the Banshees and I definitely listen to her, but obviously I didn’t have her in mind when the project started.
I read that you were thinking of becoming an opera singer when you started in the choir as a child. What made you change your mind?
I kind of reached the point where I was either going to have to commit to it 100%, or I wasn’t going to do it at all - and I just wasn’t really ready to commit to it. I had started writing my own music by then and started to discover the DIY music and art scene in Toronto and I was really inspired by that. And I like that when you are making your own music you can do what you want, whereas when you are an opera singer you are singing other people’s music under other people’s direction and you really lose a lot of creative control. I wanted to do everything by myself basically.
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