Tara Stewart caught up with Katie Stelmanis of Austra to discuss the tolerant nature of her shows and how the new album 'Future Politics' deals with different aspects of depression.
“…we want our live show to feel like a welcoming and safe space. That’s why I’m so vocal about being queer and being a queer band.”
Canadian group Austra are an electronic music project that have been creating together for almost 10 years. The group was founded by Katie Stelmanis, a talented writer and strong vocalist that has a powerful presence on stage.
They’ve got three albums under their belt and their latest project is titled ‘Future Politics’. I spoke to Katie on the phone ahead of their next Irish show down at Body&Soul, and we talked about what some of her darkest songs on the new record are about, and learning to mix the tracks the DIY way.
I’ve seen Katie along with the rest of the band, Maya Postepski, Dorian Wolf and Ryan Wonsiak perform in Ireland about five times now, at festivals and at their own solo shows, and every time it feels like you’re immersed into another world – Austra’s world.
I told Katie how I’ve personally felt after leaving one of their shows, and she told told me what she wants fans to experience at a show.
“I guess for me I just want the live show to feel like you’re being transported into another dimension. I want you to feel like you’re not in your world or universe. You’re experiencing another realm. And I guess more specifically we want our live show to feel like a welcoming and safe space. That’s why I’m so vocal about being queer and being a queer band. All the queers and weirdos are welcome.”
In the last four years Katie toured the world with the guys, then went back to Montréal, Québec. She felt alone there so decided to buy a one way ticket to Mexico City. She connected with the metropolis, and was lucky enough to meet the right people to really enjoy it and create a little home. But the biggest reason it took what could be considered a long time for a band to release another album wasn’t that glamorous to begin with.
Katie tells me that simple logistics and clashing of schedules with a mixing studio meant it took longer for her final songs to be mixed. But then it ended up being a huge learning curve, where the singer/songwriter learnt how to do things without relying on anything outside of the creativity around her.
“‘Future Politics’ was mixed in a really DIY way so it took a lot longer. This one took like a year because it was DIY. And it wasn’t even the intention to do it that way but it kept on happening. By random circumstances.
“I’m super happy it worked out that way ’cause it kind of meant that I was super involved in the whole process and I learnt so much about producing. Normally I’d send songs to a mixing engineer and they would do a bunch of work then send it back to me. But that way I never really understood what they did… It would just sound different. And I feel like now I am completely able to hear exactly what’s going on, which is pretty valuable.”
"Somebody that suffers with depression is unable to feel that love or believe that it’s real."
It can be quick to assume what this new album is about, with a name like ‘Future Politics’, but it’s not that simple.
Katie elaborates: “For me when I started out writing this project, the concept of ‘Future Politics’ was kind of about personal politics. It wasn’t really writing about the government. It’s more, really, about changing the way people think. And I believe changing the way people think and the way the masses think will really affect and change decisions and policies that are made in the future.”
Getting into the album there are a couple of songs in particular that have dark undercurrents.
I was really intrigued as to what Katie’s meaning behind these songs were, not just because of the lyrics within, but more because of the actual names of the tracks. One is called ‘I Love You More Than You Love Yourself’.
“That song is about loving somebody with depression and I guess it’s about trying to reach out to that person, and sort of feeling this wall. Somebody that suffers with depression is unable to feel that love or believe that it’s real.”
Another song I’m drawn to ask about is ‘I’m a Monster’, again due to the bleakness of the name.
“I guess it’s about feeling depression, it’s sort of being in that moment of just not feeling anything. Feeling completely numb, which I think is one of the most dangerous places to be in terms of depression.”
Katie’s opening lyrics to ‘I Love You More Than You Love Yourself’ says: “There is nothing in your soul tonight, I only see darkness.’’
It reminded me of one of my close friends telling me that the man she’d loved and been in a relationship with for three years suffers from depression. They parted ways a while ago now, it was one of the hardest decisions she had to make, she felt selfish for leaving him for her own mental health but she knew for her own sake it had to be done. To this day she still loves him. It’s an extremely difficult situation to find yourself in. The stories Katie refers to effects nearly everyone on earth directly or indirectly. It’s by opening up these dialogues, and maintaining an inclusive live environment that these barriers are broken.
I guess sometimes we can forget about the partners of those suffering physically or mentally. Katie laughs that I chose to ask about the two sad songs she’s released. Moving on from the darker side of the band, they do have a lighter fun sound and message behind their music. They perfect music you can tap your foot to and find meaning in the words. Like Katie said with their live shows and songs, they’ve made a space for the strange among us to transport into another dimension and immerse themselves into the experience of Austra.
Austra perform with an amazing host of acts at Body&Soul this year, taking place over the Summer Solstice Weekend, June 23-25 2017. Click here for tickets.