Scrooged: An Interview with Austra

Inspired by the 1988 Bill Murray movie of the same name, we bring you the twelfth in a series of interviews called Scrooged.


One Thirty BPM: Tell me about your first musical memory or the first time you remember connecting with music.

Austra (Katie Stelmanis): When I was a kid, I had this little child’s organ, it was a little kid toy thing, and I was kind of obsessed with it and I learned how to play that really famous Beethoven concerto on it.

Like most kids, playing Beethoven.

I think that was my earliest musical memory.

Did you take music lessons when you were a kid?

Yeah. I took music lessons starting when I was ten or so.

And, when did you start developing your own musical taste, like, away from what your parents listen to?

I feel like I was listening to my own thing from the age of ten, because that is when I started studying classical music and I got really into classical music. My parents weren’t really into it in the same way that I was. So, I guess essentially I was listening to my own thing from around ten or eleven.

What kind of music lessons were you taking? Was it piano or voice or something else?

I studied piano and then I was in the choir for two years.

Did you have a band when you were young?

I pretty much only did classical music when I was young, until I was 19. It was a major transition. I went from being totally immersed in the classical world to a total switch when I joined a band. Then, I became totally immersed in that world.

How did that switch come about?

It was a transitional point in my life. It was when everybody was going to university and I was going to go and study music, and I decided I didn’t really want to go for a lot of reasons. I was going to be singing opera, but I wasn’t ready to commit to the lifestyle. Opera is really demanding, you have to be really careful about what you eat, you can’t drink, you can’t do all of these things and I was 18 and I just wanted to, uh, party. -laughter-

So, I decided that I was going to take a break from classical music and then I just never went back.

Is it Austra -said like Audi- or Austra -said like Austria-?

Austra -said like Audi-.

When and how did the band form?

Well, I was performing as a solo artist for more than three years and the whole time, Maya (Postepski) was performing with me on drums. We performed with a lot of different musicians and within the last year and a half, we solidified a lineup and eventually got to an arrangement of musicians that made sense for the project. Then, we decided to change the name, since it didn’t really make sense to just use my name, and changed it to Austra, which is actually my middle name. But, I like it, because it is a little more ambiguous. Like, it could be a band or it could be a person. It could be a lot of different things.


How does the songwriting process work for you guys, particularly on Feel It Break. Is it primarily you as a songwriter or is it a lot of collaboration?

I feel like it is definitely me primarily as the songwriter, but this process is evolving. I used to do everything by myself, but now Maya has been doing a lot of production on the computer and she’s really good at making drum beats because, well, she’s a drummer. So, often I give her stuff to do the drums on and we did a lot of arranging on the album together. Then, more recently, she gave me a track and then I sang on it.

I think that it is something that will always change and it’s getting more and more collaborative over time.

So, I saw you guys play twice. I saw you here in L.A. and then I saw you at SXSW. And, the major difference was that at SXSW, you had the two girl backup singers. I talked to them and they said that you guys were just unable to bring them on tour previously. Are they a part of the band?

They are something we’d like to have around whenever we can. I like having them as a part of the band, well, they are a part of the life performance, basically. And, whenever we can have them, we are more than happy to have them with us. I think they will be with us for the next six months or so for the tour. With the stage show we are doing right now, I think it is good to have them, just to have more to look at and that kind of thing.

With all your classical and opera background, which I guess you can hear in the vocals on Feel It Break, but it’s also synthy and dance-influenced, too. What were your big musical influences when creating this album?

I think that in the past, previously writing music, I tended to write stuff that was a lot more cerebral and more based on classical music and my background in classical music. And, I still really love that kind of music, but I think it is really difficult to translate in the live setting. So, as a band, we’ve been making a conscious effort to write music that is specifically geared toward a live show and that often has meant songs that are more focused on drums and bass because that is what gives you the physical experience.

So, I think this album in particular is a combination of that aspect of the music, bringing in the drums and the bass that really work in a live setting, versus the more cerebral and more classically influenced stuff that we still have.

Well, it works. Everybody seems to really love the album. Like, everybody.

Great. That’s amazing.

Both of the times I’ve seen you have been on punkier bills. Like, I saw you with No Age in Austin and with Vivian Girls in L.A. Do you guys like the idea of playing with way different sounding bands?

Um, not really. I guess that kind of happened in L.A. because we were working with a promoter in L.A that based on more punk shows.

Yeah, FYF.

Yeah, but I think in general we’ve spent a lot more time playing clubby shows. Like, we definitly feel more comfortable in that environment. But, at the same time, I’d like to get to the point where we can play both of those. We could have the club-type shows and we could also play some of the more noisy songs and have people be okay we it.

Well, one of the cool things about when I saw you at these divey venues on punk bills was that they both went over extremely well, even though the audience might have been there for a more rocking band. -laughter- But, both times, the audience was totally into it, like you won over the audience.

That’s a good thing.

Yeah, totally. It was a surprising thing. Usually, like No Age fans or Vivian Girls fans, you wouldn’t expect them to necessarily like that music.

Yeah. That’s a good thing.


So, you guys have a few tour dates scheduled in major cities and in Canada in May to support the album, which comes out on the 17th. What other support do you guys have planned for when the album comes out?

We are going to be in Europe from the beginning of June until mid-July and then we are doing a support tour with Cold Cave. And then we are going back to Europe and then we are going back to North America. -laughter- So, we are pretty much on the road constantly until about November.

That’s intense! -laughter-

Yeah, it’s pretty intense.

This album is only just coming out, but you guys have had it finished for a while, right?

Yeah, the record has been done for a very long time. We recorded it the first time about a year and a half ago, then we did some changes and remixed it about eight months ago. So, the songs to us are so old. It’s nice to finally get them out.

I hear that happen to other bands, too. By the time the big debut record comes out, it’s like you are already over it.

Yeah, basically.

Are you guys constantly writing new material and is there talk about what you want to do the next time around?

Yeah, we’ve been writing a lot of new material. I think that I used to write more, only because I wasn’t on the road as much. It’s hard to write a lot of music when you are touring so much. Not even finding the time, but finding enough time to get in that mindset. Writing music takes a lot of time to just chill out and spend time with yourself and I think when you are travelling so much, you just don’t have time to do that. You are just not in that space.

Ideally, with Feel It Break, if you could lay out the future from your mind, what would you want to see come of the album release and the touring. What would be the end result that you would be happy with? Realistically, not like you will become Coldplay, which could happen, but you know.

My band, all we really want to be able to do is go on the tour and pay rent in Toronto. At this point in our lives, if we could pay rent while touring, then that would kind of be a really big deal. So, that’s about where we are at right now.