AUSTRA with RITUALS and DJ KEVIN HEGGE at the Bovine Sex Club (542 Queen West), Friday (December 3), doors 9 pm. $8. 416-504-4239.
Last time we talked to Katie Stelmanis, she was in search of a new band name after discovering that the one she'd wanted, Private Life, was taken. After much deliberation, she rechristened her project Austra, but she probably should've checked the internet first.
"I set up a Google alert for Austra, and it's been going off every few minutes," sighs Stelmanis over pints of cider at the Beaver. "Apparently, it's also the short form for Australia. But at this point I just don't care any more. I like it because it has few associations attached to it."
Band-name neutrality is a big deal for Stelmanis right now, since she's effectively relaunching her career with a dance-club-friendly sound and stronger image. Her dramatic opera-trained voice is still centre stage, but her new material is miles away from the quirky keyboard pop she made under her own name.
Austra's recently released debut single, The Beat And The Pulse (One Big Silence), has many critics declaring that she's finally living up to the huge potential shown on her 2008 solo debut, Join Us (Blocks Recording Club). According to Stelmanis, one of the biggest shifts came from discovering dance music.
"After seeing Hercules and Love Affair at Mod Club, I got inspired to learn more about the history of house music.
"I've really only discovered bass very recently, but I understand now why it's so important with a high-pitched voice like mine. Without those frequencies upfront in the mix, I can sound a little piercing."
It helps that she's brought in producer Damian Taylor (Björk, Robyn) to assist with mixing the songs she's recorded over the last three years for an album to be out in the new year on a prestigious label we can't yet reveal.
"Working with Damian was great because his background is in straight-up techno and dance music, but he's also got experience with pop. He taught me a lot - not just about synthesis but also about how to approach the material live."
Live, she relies on real musicians - bassist Dorian Wolf, drummer Maya Postepski, keyboardist Ryan William and (when available) singers Romy and Sari Lightman - and backing tracks, a compromise she's willing to live with.
"I'm not so worried about whether people think it's cheating to use backing tracks live. It's actually a lot of work and in many ways harder to pull off. There's a lot that can go wrong."