Today’s a big day for Toronto’s very own, Austra! The band just dropped their third album Future Politics and kicks off their 86-day tour tonight.
And the new album couldn’t be timelier: it’s filled with passion and political resistance. While working on the album, Austra’s lead singer and overall kick-ass woman Katie Stelmanis split her time between Montreal and Mexico City, as she dealt with a breakup and witnessed political unrest unfold around her. These layers of experience are expressed throughout, making this Austra’s most mature album yet. As Stelmanis describes it on Austra’s blog, “Future Politics is the realization that we have the power to imagine, invent and create a life for ourselves that is different… Don’t accept anything you’ve been told about an appropriate way to live.”
FLARE caught up with Stelmanis to talk about the inspiration behind some of the tracks on the album.
Describe Future Politics in Four Words.
Ethereal, energized, melancholy and optimistic.
The album is heavily political and a bit sci-fi. Why is it important for you to talk about politics in your music?
It’s a very important time to discuss politics—probably now, more so than it has been for a long time, because artists in general tend to have a lot of influence. It’s especially important to include that in the art and work that people are consuming, because you have the power to influence the way people think.
You grew up in Toronto and spent a lot of time in Montreal and Mexico City while writing this album. You also sing about city life in the song “Utopia.” How has living in big cities influenced the way you’ve written this album?
I’ve only ever lived in big cities, but specifically, this record was influenced by whatever situation I recently had found myself in. “Utopia” is about Toronto: it’s about feeling disenfranchised with Toronto and how it’s become so expensive—it’s a condo city. Then I guess when I was living in Montreal, it was in the winter, when Montreal is freezing and dark, and so represents a lot of the kind of darker songs on the record. I feel like it’s quite clear which ones are written during the Montreal period.
Then Mexico City just became, on a basic sensory level, such a difference from living in Montreal. It was colourful and warm, and that really affects your mental state; it also influenced how I was writing the songs.
The song “43” is about a tragic incident in Mexico City in which 43 students were abducted in 2014. What made you want to write about this particular incident?
There was a huge protest about what happened just days before I arrived. The place I would go for breakfast had 43 photographs of the 43 missing boys. It was just something people talked about a lot, and one of my good friends there would tell me that Mexico is in the middle of a civil war. I wanted to write this song because I don’t think you can really experience Mexico and not acknowledge what’s happening.
You’ve been quoted in the past, saying lyrics come secondary to you when writing music. Was the process any different for this album?
This album was much more of a holistic process in general. I find that with some songs, lyrics came second, but for others, they really informed the song themselves, and that’s sort of the same with visuals. The visuals, the lyrics, the concepts and the whole narrative surrounding the album, they all kind of came together at the same time and kind of developed together.
How would you say this album differs from your last album, Olympia?
This album feels more similar to Feel it Break [Austra’s first album], just because of the way it was written—not as a band—and that’s obvious when you listen to the productions.
But at the same time, it’s a lot more ethereal and there’s a lot more ambiance on the album and a lot more textures. I want to say it’s more emo. [laughs]
Despite the heavily political and critical elements of this album, there’s still an underlying tone of positivity. How do you remain optimistic when faced with tragedy?
I’m fortunate enough that I exist in a generally positive mental state. I just happen to be mentally quite healthy and I recognize that that’s a privilege and a lot of people don’t have the ability to do that, and, so, I stay positive because it’s kind of my only option. Either I stay positive and that keeps me going, or I don’t stay positive and then, you know, what’s the point?
Future Politics’s release date is on the same day as Donald Trump’s inauguration: coincidence?
It’s just a really crazy coincidence that it’s coming out the same day! A lot of the stuff I was reading about and thinking about when I was making the record, a lot of these problems that I was identifying basically resulted in Trump.
I was thinking about problems that were going to become something bigger and between writing the album and putting out the album, they did become something bigger. So, it’s almost like, I was right. [laughs]
Your live tour kicks off tonight. What can we expect?
We’ve mixed a lot of the older songs to try and make some more cohesive, but because this new album has a lot more ambiance and slower tracks, we still wanted to keep maintaining the energy of our live show, so we’ve been remixing. We’ll have a good mix of like straight up dance songs, and then more quiet moments.
The band has a very distinctive style, not only in your sound, but also aesthetically. How would you describe it?
In terms of my own personal style right now, I’m just really into primary colours and colour blocking in general. I like to wear one colour. I wear a lot of solid yellow or solid blue or solid red. I think that’s kind of what we’re going to be doing with the live show.
Each person in my band kind of has their own weird, unique style. I kind of see Ryan and Dorian as these like “industrial scientists,” and then Ryan is more of like an alien or a unicorn, and then I’m somewhere in between this like—I don’t know—somewhere in between like a leprechaun and like a Mariah Carey-style diva.
Which track makes you most emotional?
“I love you more than you love yourself”—because that has a very personal meaning to it, so when I sing it I always think about it. It’s about somebody that I dated that I am no longer dating.
Which track makes you want to dance?
“I’m a monster”—even though it starts pretty quiet, it kind of turns into a rager by the end.
Which track are you most excited to play live?
“Gaia”—to me Gaia seems like the most traditional pop song I’ve ever written and I get to sing it in a voice I don’t usually use and it’s fun for me.