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Austra’s Katie Stelmanis On Recording New Album ‘Olympia,’ Referencing the Ninja Turtles + More

Austra
Norman Wong

When Austra released their debut, ‘Feel It Break,’ in 2011, fans and critics alike praised the Toronto art-punk outfit, and the album was shortlisted for Canada’s prestigious Polaris Music Prize. The trio landed on numerous “band to watch” lists, and their synth-pop sounds carried them nicely in the limelight.

Back in June, the band — leader Katie Stelmanis, Maya Postepski and Dorian Wolf — returned with its second album, ‘Olympia.’ Anything but a sophomore slump, the collection of trippy, electronic groovers follow from the ‘Feel It Break’ foundation but take things a step further, proving Austra’s initial success was no fluke.

Diffuser.fm recently chatted with Stelmanis about how the band survives its jam-packed touring schedule, why she’s becoming fonder of ‘Feel It Break’ better and what type of music she might be making if not fronting Austra. She also explained how Garbage Pail Kids and Ninja Turtles factor into her output.

There was a two-year gap between your last album and ‘Olympia.’ What have you been up to over that period of time?

We never stopped touring! Literally up until 3 months before the release of ‘Olympia,’ we were still on the road for “Feel It Break.”

What are the significant differences between ‘Feel It Break’ and ‘Olympia?’

‘Feel It Break’ was mostly written by myself in my bedroom, and ‘Olympia’ was a fully collaborative album between the six people we had toured FIB with for the past two years. Through playing shows, the songs on that record had become something completely different: more of a celebratory dance party than the relatively icy recording. We wanted the new record to represent that sound. We used analog instruments, played everything live and relied more on experimentation in the studio rather than midi.

The video for ‘Painful Like‘ is interesting and visually trippy. What is the premise behind that one?

I was really influenced by ’90s sci-fi at the time. In my mind, ‘Painful Like’ kinda sounds like it’s performed with trashcans in a garbage pile, and I felt like that particular old-school imagery of analog effects would represent the song perfectly. We wanted to reference ‘Ninja Turtles’ [the movie], ‘Garbage Pail Kids’ and ‘Fraggle Rock.’

What is the song ‘Home’ about?

‘Home’ is about waiting at home for a lover to return who has been stolen by features of the night. It is intended to address the issue of substance abuse, and how that can affect a relationship.

‘Olympia’ has been getting positive reviews. How do you feel about all the good feedback about the album?

The response to ‘Olympia’ has been great. Funnily enough, although we intended for ‘Olympia’ to be an improvement on ‘Feel it Break’ — all of the response and feedback has actually made me love and appreciate my first record even more.

You have a strong classical music background. How has that influenced how you approach Austra’s sound?

I abandoned classical music about 10 years ago. These days, I’m way more influenced by more contemporary sounds. I love the electronic pioneers. I love ’90s music and jazz.

What do you think you’d be doing if you weren’t in Austra?

I have no idea! Maybe I’d try to sing back-up for some pop star, or like Joni Mitchell.

Austra has been touring Europe. How has it been going? What has been your favorite city to perform in?

We love touring Europe, and I feel like I spend most of my time there. I couldn’t chose one city that’s been my favorite. Every time I visit a place, my experience is different. We just had a wonderful show in Finland, which is a nice surprise, because we had never played there.

There’s more touring in the North America this fall. What needs to be in your tour survival kit?

Sleep, water, running and ‘Pretty Little Liars’ is essential to my survival on the road. I’m also trying to read all the books a student would read in a literature undergrad so I can prevent my brain from deteriorating.

Any new announcements or projects your working on?

Really good remix EP coming very soon featuring two of my favorite producers, XXXY and Peter Van Hoesin.

Plans for the rest of 2013?

Just tour tour and tour — and Asia, which is cool!

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