Austra on “HiRUDiN” | Under the Radar | Music Blog for the Indie Music Magazine
Friday, May 24th, 2024  

Austra on “HiRUDiN”

Weighing the Good and Bad

Oct 29, 2020 Issue #67 - Phoebe Bridgers and Moses Sumney Photography by Virginie Khateeb Bookmark and Share

Making music is a privilege. It’s also a poison.

Katie Stelmanis, who fronts the band bearing her middle name Austra, is well-acquainted with both sides of the creative coin. The Toronto-based composer and songwriter has earned a sizable following on the strength of inventive, chilling electropop releases like 2011’s Feel It Break and 2013’s Olympia. Unfortunately, the shadow side of touring demands, personal isolation, and financial instability culminated in a crossroads for Stelmanis in recent years. Following the supporting cycle for 2016’s Future Politics, she wasn’t sure there would be another album.

“I questioned if I wanted to keep doing it,” says Stelmanis. “Every artist will say that making music is a privilege, but it’s also really hard. It’s difficult because financially you never know if you’ll be able to pay the bills in any long-term way.

“I was just weighing the good against the bad. I was asking, ‘Is making another record going to be good for me? Is this a healthy thing to do for me to go through this again?’

Ultimately, after taking a bit of time to really see if I went back into it naturally rather than force myself to start writing, I did.”

Through three full-length albums, Stelmanis has always held a tight grip on Austra as a whole—the sound, the presentation. Yet this time around, it was clear that if a new record was going to be made, Stelmanis needed an infusion of external inspiration and ideas.

“I think I was hitting some walls creatively at the end of my last record,” she says. “I’d always not been into the idea of working with outside producers, and I always felt pressure to work with my live band as long-term collaborators. It almost didn’t feel okay to work with anybody else. Going into this record, I knew immediately that in order to make music again, I needed to switch things up, so I decided to work with outside producers for the first time.”

The resulting album, HiRUDiN, found Stelmanis working with co-producers Rodaidh McDonald (David Byrne, The xx) and Joseph Shabason (DIANA), along with guest vocalist Cecile Believe.

“It was such an incredible experience. I was always so scared that working with a producer meant that you were sacrificing part of yourself in a way, but it ended up being almost more liberating and open than I could have expected. I was able to get closer to what I wanted to do than I ever have before, just because I had someone else there to stay on track and find better solutions and to help get through the difficult parts.”

While her fourth album will likely result in some of the same frustrations that past albums have wrought, the reality is that having a healthy community can provide a powerful salve on those wounds. And having good company for the creative journey will likely be what allows Stelmanis to write and record album number five—if she so desires.

“I’m glad the record happened,” she says. “It was definitely a struggle but I still have things inside me that need to come out despite the fact that being creative and trying to work as a creative in 2020 can be very difficult.”

[Note: This article originally appeared as a bonus article in the digital version (for tablets and smart phones) of Issue 67 of Under the Radar’s print magazine, which is out now. This is its debut online.]

Also read our COVID-19 Quarantine Artist Check In interview with Austra.

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