2016 Artist Survey: Katie Stelmanis of Austra
Stelmanis on 2016’s Best Albums, Trump and the Election, First Kisses, Self-Driving Cars, and Scary Movies
Jan 20, 2017
Photography by Renata Raksha Issue # 59 - 15th Anniversary
For Under the Radar's 14th annual Artist Survey we emailed some of our favorite artists a few questions relating to 2016. We asked them about their favorite albums of the year and their thoughts on various notable 2016 news stories involving either the music industry or world events, as well as some quirkier personal questions. Here are some answers from Katie Stelmanis of Austra. Austra's third album, Future Politics, is out today (January 20) via Domino.
For our annual Artist Surveys we emailed the same set of questions to musicians about Trump and the election, 2016's deaths, self-driving cars, Stranger Things, first kisses, scary movies they shouldn't have seen as a child, which Friends character they are most like, and much more.
Pick up or download Under the Radar's Best of 2016 / 15th Anniversary Issue for Artist Survey interviews with Amber Arcades, Austra, Faris Badwan of Cat's Eyes and The Horrors, Boxed In, Caveman, The Charlatans, Cursive, Lucy Dacus, The Dears, C Duncan, Sadie Dupuis of Sad13 and Speedy Ortiz, Dutch Uncles, Ezra Furman, Robyn Hitchcock, The Invisible, Justin Lockey of Editors and Minor Victories, Lost Under Heaven (LUH), Lush, Midlake, Phantogram, The Range, Springtime Carnivore, Sunflower Bean, Surfer Blood, TEEN, The Thermals, Nick Valensi of CRX and The Strokes, Jenn Wasner of Flock of Dimes and Wye Oak, and Yuck.
A shorter version of Austra's survey appeared in the print version of Under the Radar's Best of 2016 / 15th Anniversary Issue, this is the full unedited version.
Top 10 Albums of 2016
1. Tanya Tagaq: Retribution—Tanya Tagaq is one of the most important artists around right now. She doesn't give any shits about the music industry or what people think of her, and she has brought indigenous throat singing and politics to a more mainstream audience which is incredible.
2. A Tribe Called Red: We are the Halluci Nation—A Tribe Called Red are blending pow-wow and EDM and the result is insanely powerful. These guys are constantly promoting indigenous greatness and are also therefore one of the most relevant acts that exist right now.
3. ANOHNI: Hopelessness—This record is so beautiful. I love it when an artist can make bold statements with music in such a way that people are encouraged to listen compassionately, because who couldn't listen compassionately when the most beautiful voice in pop music is singing at you.
4. Blood Orange: Freetown Sound—Another album that makes politics beautiful.
5. Casey Mecija: Psychic Materials—Casey is a local Toronto artist who secretly made one of the smoothest, most elegantly produced albums of the year.
6. Weyes Blood: Front Row Seat to Earth—I haven't heard a voice like this in so long, it's so refreshing in 2016 to hear someone singing like Carol King.
7. Shura: Nothing's Real—I'm such a sucker for good pop music, especially when it's written by a cute lesbian.
8. Jessy Lanza: Oh No—She is such a great producer and this record has a wonderful vibe.
9. Jenny Hval: Blood Bitch—This record makes really good background music. I think it's incredibly difficult to make good background music, its something I constantly aspire and fail to do.
10. ABRA: PRINCESS EP—This actually isn't my favorite release of hers but I had to include it anyways cause I'm such a huge fan and I think she's gonna be huge.
2016 was regarded by many as a fairly tough and negative year. Was it also a hard year for you personally? If so, how? And also what were the high points for you?
2016 was definitely a weird year. A lot of big changes occurred, and a lot of people are now feeling pretty insecure. It's hard to think about high points when all I can think about is how many people are no longer safe in the U.S. and in Britain. But that said, it's also nice to see that so many of my peers have become politically charged and active in response to all the bullshit.
What are your thoughts on how the U.S. presidential election played out?
I really didn't think Trump could win. Like, at all. But the eve of the election I was having dinner with my friends in Paris and we were talking about how we really didn't think Brexit could happen either, and then we all went to bed with a lot of uncertainty.
Let's discuss Donald Trump. What does the rise of Trump tell you about America in 2016? What concerns you most about a Trump presidency? How do you think his presidency might personally change your life? What message do you have for those who voted for Trump? What actions will you take over the course of the next four years to either protest a Trump presidency or support it?
Seeing as I am Canadian and also white, living in primarily liberal cities, I don't think I will be affected by Trump personally, but I also know that a lot of people will be in danger because of him and his rhetoric. Therefore, it's important to be vigilant, resistant, and not allow is language and policies to become normalized. We can't allow him a smooth ride at any level, on any issue, and thankfully so far that hasn't been the case. But even more importantly, I think his opposition needs to be completely radicalized and organized so that at the next election there is a positive, progressive replacement that people can enthusiastically get behind, and that actually addresses real life problems like climate change, and not fake problems like the danger of Islamic terrorism in America.
What reality TV star would you have rather been elected president?
Ellen DeGeneres. I guess that's not reality TV but close enough?
If you were president, what would you try to accomplish in your first 100 days in office?
I would make cars illegal, invest billions of dollars in public transit, allow all documented immigrants citizenship, in fact let anyone who wanted it citizenship, I would end all the wars and I would designate 80% of the U.S. as a national park.
What are your thoughts on Brexit and the future of the European Union? To what extent do you think the Brexit vote and the election of Donald Trump were motivated by the same factors?
I mean I'm not an expert by any means but there seems to be two major things at play-the issues of people feeling disenfranchised and helpless under the neo-liberalism that has governed us since Thatcher, people are genuinely afraid of terrorism, but also people are afraid that they are losing their white privilege whether they know it or not and there is a lot of unfounded resistance to that.
We lost three highly influential music icons in 2016. What are your thoughts on the passing of David Bowie, Prince, and Leonard Cohen? And what are your favorite albums by each artist?
I never spent much time listening to any of those artists though I loved and respected them all. My mother was a big Leonard Cohen fan and the first time I player her my music she was afraid at how sad it was and proceeded to play me the Cohen song with the line "There is a crack in everything/That's how the light gets in."
What do you think Prince and Bowie's afterlife project sounds like?
Whatever it sounds like I hope they are working together and that when I die I am introduced to the most psychedelic music possible.
Which Friends character are you most like?
Um, I don't know, Ross?
What scary movie did you see way too young as a child, how'd you end up seeing it, and does it still scare you now?
My friends and I used to have sleepovers when I was 12 every weekend and we would always watch a horror movie. I would always fall asleep last when it was over and just be lying there terrified, one I remember in particular is Halloween.
Are you ready for self-driving cars and a more automated future?
I mean I feel conflicted about it. Firstly, I don't understand the point of self-driving cars at all, why don't we just get rid of cars and have self driving trains to get around instead? Seems like technology is going in the wrong direction.
Tell us about the most memorable fan encounter you had this year.
When we were in Russia someone painted my whole band and sound engineer on the five pieces of a little Russian doll (I think that's what they're called?)
Tell us about your first kiss.
I kissed a boy when I was 11 and I didn't like it at all.
Under the Radar has been around for 15 years now, since December 2001. How do you feel the music industry has most changed in that time, both for the better and the worst?
I only entered the music industry as people stopped selling records so it's hard for me to think about a time when artists actually made money off them. For me, being an artist has always meant that it's hard to make money. I think because of that reason people are scared to take risks, or if they do, they need to maintain day jobs and therefore can't promote their weird music as much as they could.
Which Stranger Things character do you most relate with? Why?
Winona Ryder, because she is always paranoid, yet right.
What advice do you have to the leaders of the Democratic Party in terms of how to rebound from this election?
If you have kids or plan to have kids one day, will you encourage them to be a musician or artist or would you prefer they get a more stable job?
I don't want kids because I believe the human population on the planet is too high.
What's usually the biggest stumbling block to your happiness?
Not being able to sleep eight hours a day.
What celebrity, musician, or historical figure, living or dead, would you most want to be stuck in an elevator with?
What band, besides your own, has the best name?
Tegan and Sara.
What's the most vivid dream or nightmare you had in 2016?
I don't remember!
What VHS tape or DVD did you wear out growing up?
What problem in the music industry isn't discussed enough and which one is over-covered?
Over covered: Lack of album sales. Under covered: Lack of diversity.
What song, past or present, best sums up 2016?
"Piggy" by Nine Inch Nails.
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