Austra’s Katie Stelmanis talks Inauguration Day, right-wing fascism and Future Politics

The "actual impending apocalypse" fuels the Toronto-formed band's third album


AUSTRA with LIDO PIMIENTA at the Mod Club (722 College), Friday (January 20), 8 pm. $24.50. ticketweb.ca. See listing.


Austra’s Future Politics (Pink Fizz) is not about Donald Trump’s rise to power, despite the lyrics’ connection to that narrative – not to mention the fact that it’ll be released the same day as his inauguration. 

But while songwriter/singer/pro-ducer Katie Stelmanis, who wrote it while living in Montreal and Mexico City, may not have been addressing Trump’s presidency literally, the songs ended up matching that story almost as if she’d planned it that way. 

“In some ways I was writing about all the combinations of problems that led to Trump,” Stelmanis explains from her parents’ house in Toronto. “When I started writing, I was experiencing this collective sadness that I think everyone in our generation feels when faced with an actual impending apocalypse. 

“I was identifying all these major problems that need to be addressed and that I think have culminated in the rise of right-wing fascism all over the world.”

Future Politics might have begun as an examination of that sadness, but as Stelmanis worked on it, she became more optimistic. That was partly because she added science fiction to the political reading she was devouring.

“I got really inspired by people who were writing about the future. Every time I saw anything about post-capitalism I’d immediately buy the book on Amazon. I was hungry for ideas about what could come after what we’re experiencing right now. I think eventually we’ll get the future we want. It just might take 500 years to reach that utopia.”

Science fiction combined with goth-tinged synth pop usually makes for campy results, but Stelmanis isn’t singing about benevolent robots as much as examining her own emotional response to the current political climate. She did allow herself a bit of fantasy when it came to the album artwork, though, which features a photograph of herself in front of the Luis Barragán House in Mexico City.

“I had this idea that the character in the red hat – who is obviously me – was going to be called Revolution Rhonda, and that she’d been sent from the future to save us from our impending dystopian doom.”

Fleshed out by Austra cohorts Maya Postepski, Dorian Wolf and Ryan Wonsiak, the songs’ vibe falls somewhere between Austra’s 2011 debut, Feel It Break, and their 2013 follow-up, Olympia. Stelmanis originally had a very different vision in mind.

“I’d wanted to make background music. I wanted to make music you could play in a café. So I started out writing these chilled-out slow songs but then realized they wouldn’t work in a live setting at all, so I had to rethink. For a band at my level, we need to play shows to survive, and no one is going to book me if I make an ambient background music album.”  

benjaminb@nowtoronto.com | @benjaminboles

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