Features Austra: ‘It’s Essential To Make Music For Yourself’

Aurora Mitchell speaks to Katie Stelmanis about recording ‘Olympia’ in the middle of nowhere.

Starting off as the bedroom project of solo artist Katie Stelmanis, Canadian outfit Austra has slowly bloomed into a full-bodied band. While many musicians are turning further towards technology to make music, Austra are shying away with their new album ‘Olympia’; a reaction against 2011 debut, ‘Feel It Break’, which Stelmanis describes as “icy”. From lead single ‘Home’, it’s clear that ‘Olympia’ is a much more personal affair. Sat in the lobby of an East London hotel, Stelmanis reflects that with her warm nature, relaxed and at ease to be talking about the new record; undoubtedly the album that she wanted to make.

This time, almost everything has changed in the way that Austra’s sound is produced but it’s still undeniably Austra. “I think that with this album, we’re starting to define the sound of Austra. I really think that the sound is based on the musical collaboration between me, Maya [Postepski] and Dorian [Wolf],” Stelmanis comments. ‘Feel It Break’ may be an accomplished debut but Stelmanis has now viewed it through a microscopic lens and it becomes apparent that making it was a real learning curve for her. Although classically trained, she hadn’t previously experienced anything like it. “I didn’t really know anything about making an album or production or anything like that,” she admits. “The lyrics on ‘Feel It Break’ didn’t make any sense, they weren’t about anything and I wanted to make sure that with this album all the songs had a story and were about something specific.”

‘Olympia’ is a much more collaborative effort than ‘Feel It Break’, something that Stelmanis is visibly extremely excited about. There are some people she has already worked with, such as Sari Lightman and Damien Taylor, who she calls “the best vocal engineer in the entire world,” but there are some new faces too such as F**ked Up’s Mike Haliechuk. “He’s one of my good friends in Toronto and he actually surprisingly has a really good pop sensibility. He also has so much experience making albums so he was really around in the early stages. He was helping me structure the songs to be more cohesive,” she explains.

There may have been more people involved, but it was important to Stelmanis to have an isolated working environment. Recorded in a studio called Key Club in Benton Harbour - pretty much the middle of nowhere in Michigan - she had a different vision to what they were actually faced with. “I had this idea that it was in a forest but it’s on a barren, concrete highway; there was really nothing around. We lived there. We slept there, we’d wake up every morning, go right to the studio and we could stay as late as we wanted in the studio then go to bed. It was weird, our living and working environments were so intertwined – it was a really good working environment. We tried to use a lot of different orchestral instruments, like ‘Home’ for example, has a recorder solo. Most of the weirdest stuff was in the percussion world, Maya really went crazy in the percussion zone. She’d basically hit anything she could think of – from ripping pieces of cardboard to playing bottles. We did all the instrumentals in the studio in Michigan and then recorded the vocals in Montreal with Damien Taylor.”

A lot of expectation has been placed on Canadian music as of late, but Stelmanis seems unfazed. “It doesn’t feel like people were listening to our music because they were told to. I also didn’t feel a lot of pressure because I knew exactly what I wanted to do and how to do it and so this record is exactly the record that I wanted to make. If people don’t like it, that’s too bad. It’s essential to make music for yourself; I couldn’t imagine doing anything else.”

Austra’s new album ‘Olympia’ is out now via Domino. Purchase on iTunes.

Tags: Austra, Features

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