Interview: Austra's Canadian Homecoming

As the indie buzz band readies their Canadian tour, singer Katie Stelmanis talks about the highs and lows of life on the road.

After 81 days touring Europe and the U.S., Katie Stelmanis, the 26-year-old lead singer of the dramatically atmospheric electro band Austra, has come home to Toronto. She’s looking forward to many things during her stay, not the least of which is rotating her wardrobe. “I have a suitcase full of clothes but I usually wear the same four things,” she says.

Stelmanis better pack wisely. Beginning this November, Austra will be playing 10 dates across Canada, the band’s first national tour since their debut album Feel It Break was shortlisted for the prestigious Polaris Music Prize. Today she’s casually attired in an oversized T, a key dangling from a rope around her neck, framed by her signature white-blonde hair. Falling back into an oversized red velvet cheetah-print loveseat at a relaxed west-end Toronto lounge, Stelmanis reflects on her band’s emergence as one of Canada’s indie It acts.

You have some very demanding vocals on this album. Touring as much as you have been, what’s that been like on your voice?
I’ve only started to notice it’s a bit of a strain now. Now, generally, I just try to warm up. I can’t do wine or beer before I sing, it just dries it out too much. But gin is okay. [laughs]

And does the rest of the band follow that as well?

Ha! No. We have strict band rules about being good and not drinking and not partying. There’s six of us, and we all keep each other in check in a really good way. So I think it’s possible that alone any one of us could fall off the deep end in various ways, through substance or just through our own craziness. But we have a way of balancing each other out.

How is being on tour for 81 days?
We really like touring. I think for the first 65 days it was really good, and the last 20, 25 days were a little bit more difficult. It was also hard because we came off our European tour, which was wildly successful, to a support tour in America. And not only are venues in America a lot less nice to bands, but we were also a support band [opening for Cold Cave]. So we would just get nothing. We would show up and there was like a bottle of water and a gross backstage and we were used to, like, these cheese platters.

What kind of van do you tour in?
Mmmm–like a 12-passenger Chevy big thing, I don’t know.

Do you decorate it?

No, but we just live in it and it becomes garbage.?

You were part of the children’s choir for the Canadian Opera Company. Did you have any opera experience after that?

I graduated from the choir when I was 16 and I studied opera privately until I was 20.

Do you ever see yourself going back to that world?

No–I’m just so far out of it at this point. I used to run marathons like 12 years ago and now I obviously could never do that again. It takes so much training and so much work and years and years of muscle development. I didn’t even make a concrete decision not to do it, I just wanted to take a break, and the gap just got bigger and bigger and bigger and eventually it was just kind of clear that I wasn’t going back.

How do you feel about that?
I feel okay about it now. I definitely went through years and years of regret. Definitely I’ve spent time missing that world and wishing I was still studying, but now I feel pretty good about the decision.

What are you thinking about for the near future?

Right now we’re just trying not to go crazy.

Austra’s tour dates are posted on http://austramusic.tumblr.com/shows.