Arts & Entertainment
2 min

Austra puts music first, politics second

Lead singer says group is inherently queer

Austra's Katie Stelmanis got her start with classical music and opera. Credit: Promotional photo
Katie Stelmanis sings with her entire body.
 
The lead singer of Toronto electro-group Austra is a musical force of nature with a sense of otherworldliness. And despite recent travels in other parts of the world, Stelmanis is looking forward to being back in Canada.
 
“It’s a homecoming show. We’ve been on tour for seven or eight months straight; it’s gonna be nice,” she says. “We feel a lot more confident to perform . . . at this new level.”
 
Stelmanis says Austra hopes to shatter Canadian audiences anew with songs from its first major album, Feel It Break, which was shortlisted for the 2011 Polaris music prize.
 
Stelmanis’s background as a classical musician (she performed with the Canadian Children’s Opera Chorus at the age of 10), contributes to the group’s dramatic and tragic musical feel.
 
Deeply hypnotic, Austra’s music seems to cast a spell. While Austra is also a small Norwegian island, Stelmanis chose the moniker because it is her middle name. Translation: the Latvian goddess of light.
 
“It just fit with what we were doing with the band,” she says.
 
Stelmanis says she left the opera world because of its restrictive heteronormative approach.
 
Her first non-opera musical venture was as part of the band Galaxy, which she formed with Emma McKenna and Maya Postepski. They rocked their hearts out from 2005 to 2008.
 
McKenna eventually pursued a solo career and Stelmanis also wrote a solo album, Join Us, before reuniting with Postepski to form Austra.
 
“Galaxy, politics and music didn’t meet for me,” she says. “Galaxy’s third member, Emma Mckenna, was very political and wanted the band to have a message. I just wanted to be a musician, to make music, to play our instruments. I’ve been a musician longer than I identified as gay or being a part of any community. It came into my life second.”
 
She says Austra isn’t explicitly gay or lesbian but, rather, inherently queer. Sexually charged and emotive, it is band of diversity.
 
“I think that if you are going to be writing and performing music for people, it’s important to know where they come from,” she says. “Our band comes from a pretty diverse background in terms of sexualities and everything. It brings together a very eclectic balance; it’s one of our strengths. Even though the lyrics aren’t politically charged intentionally, we’re definitely influenced by our community.”

The Deets:
Austra performs in:

Waterloo
Wed, Nov 30, 7pm
Starlight, 47 King St N

Toronto
Thurs, Dec 1, 7pm
Phoenix Concert Theatre, 410 Sherbourne St

Montreal
Fri, Dec 2, 7pm
Cabaret Du Mile End, 5240 Ave du Parc

Ottawa
Sat, Dec 3, 7pm
Ritual Nightclub, 137 Besserer St