Toronto-based electronic music group Austra stops at the Independent on June 26 with a mix of baroque-pop, similar to Florence and the Machine, with electro-dance elements and experimental sounds.
Consisting primarily of Katie Stelmanis, her former Galaxy bandmate and drummer Maya Postepski, as well as former Spiral Beach bassist Dorian Wolf, the band recently released their second album Olympia.
We spoke with Stelmanis, the band’s principal songwriter, in a phone interview.
What type of music did you listen to growing up?
I was pretty immersed in classical music when I was a kid. It was kind of the only type of music I listened to. I studied it and I was really into studying classical music. I found all the types of music boring when I was young.
Did you parents influence your music listening habits?
I kind of discovered it on my own. I guess they put me in a choir or whatever and I had piano lessons. I definitely was more into it then they thought that I would be. I think they had to end up paying for lessons a lot longer than they thought they would. I’m not sure they were too happy about that.
How did the Austra get started?
Well, I used to do it solo, basically. On the last record I had been playing with Maya and Dorian for a while. So, we decided it made more sense to have a band name rather than keep on presenting it as a solo project. That’s when we formed Austra. As we were touring, the live band expanded to a group of six people. The recording process is still basically the three of us, but we’ve been collaborating with other musicians. I’ve been working very closely with [backing singers] the twins.
You’re talking about twin backing singers Sari and Romy Lightman. Are they identical twins? How did you meet them?
I don’t think so. I feel they used to be as a kid but they’re identical not anymore. To me, they are so different, but I don’t know what they look like to other people.
We played a show together on the East coast of Canada at a girls surf school. That’s when I was touring DIY-style. We played on the ocean in this tiny club of probably like 20 people. We became friends, started playing more shows together and they ended up moving to Toronto. They had sung backup for me a lot for me in the past and they started doing it permanently for the last album cycle. When we first started touring as Austra it was just kind of like all of our friends playing on the road with us and it just stayed that way.
If you had to pick one word to describe Maya Postepski, what would it be?
Ah man, that’s a hard one. I guess I would say…well, I don’t have one word. But we always say Maya is really good at the three D’s: drumming, driving and drinking. She loves driving and will drive for eight hours straight in our tour van. For drinking, her drink of choice is red wine. She’s a wine girl.
How is Olympia different from your first album?
I think mostly in production. The first record, I mostly did by myself on a laptop at home. Olympia was a full studio band experience. We played music, improvised and jammed like a real band. I think it really shaped the writing process. It’s a lot different.
Do you have a dream collaborator that you haven’t worked with yet?
I really love collaborating with producers. I love singing on other people’s tracks. For me, the singing part is the easiest part. It’s really satisfying to sing with other people. I’ve always done everything that Röyksopp has done. I don’t think Four Tet even has singers, but I love his music and would love to do something with him.
For travelers that have never visited Toronto, what is the must-do activity if they visit?
I like don’t even feel like I live there anymore so it’s hard to say. My favorite area is definitely Kensington Market. It’s kind of the only area of Toronto that seems to be resits gentrification in anyway possible. IT’s got an old school punk ethos. Lot’s of food stores, Mexican stores, bars, vintage stores. It’s got a real DIY aesthetic.
Do you have a favorite ice cream flavor?
I really like cookies and cream, or what’s that other one? Cookie dough! Pretty much anything cookie related I’m into.
Do you have a pre-show routine?
I feel like our process as a band is generally getting dressed. That’s how we come together on stage. We help each other formulate our outfits. I usually have a whiskey before I go on stage as a bit of a ritual.
Do you have a favorite tour moment?
It actually happens a lot. Touring has such extreme highs and lows. We have such amazing shows and shows where we feel really sad after. It’s kind of hard to pinpoint one particular moment. I guess for us,- I always go back to this very first show in Berlin at the Berghain. Germany was one of the first counties to support our band. We never played in Germany before and we ended up playing this huge sold-out show. It was our first real show outside of Toronto. It felt like the moment where were realized that we are a real band. I always think of that one.