Thanks to the Internet, not only are we able to more easily monitor the behaviors of our exes without fear of restraining orders, we’re also more likely to fall in to the trap of paying money to see a band that rips our hearts out on Spotify and then totally deflates our dreams with 45 minutes of technical difficulties and janky live sound. Such is not the case with Austra, the Toronto-based goth-popera (goth+pop+opera) band, who sounds approximately 42,000 times better in real life than on my (very fancy) home speakers, thanks to lead singer Katie Stelmanis‘ bellowing, beautiful voice. Austra, which means “Goddess Of Light” in Latvian mythology and is also Stelmanis’ middle name, not-so-recently headlined the El Rey theater in Los Angeles, where they transformed the chandelier and velvet draped ballroom into a (metaphorical) medieval Gothic cathedral equally fit for a rave and ritual sacrifice, complete with macabre stain glass windows and decapitated Jesus statues and so many other sacrilegious icons my imagination completely dreamed up (I was not on ecstasy, just a bit of vodka).

Austra’s debut album Feel It Break was released in May of 2011, and is dark and dancey and also strangely cold and smooth and a bit like a melting icicle in your chest, and has earned  Stelmanis, who also just happens to be a classically trained opera singer who loves the ladies, deserved comparisons to the likes of Zola Jesus, Florence Welch, and Kate Bush. Pretty ladies with pipes and politics are basically the best thing ever. This is why I was so extremely nervous about our interview that after fumbling through our 20 minute phone call and asking stupid questions like “What do you think about American Apparel, you know, because you’re Canadian and all?” (she tries not to shop there because she doesn’t agree with their controversial CEO’s ethics), and confessing that I’m not actually a professional music journalist but that I really wanted the opportunity to get to know her better because I have a total crush, I proceeded to accidentally erase the entire interview after transcribing only a few minutes of our conversation. Anyway, sorry for blowing it.  I promise I’ll do better next time. Until then, here’s what I salvaged from our phone call.

(all photos by Rick Rodney)

Hi, Katie. 
KS: Hi, sorry about that, my phone was on silent. I’m glad you called back.

Oh, no worries. I did feel a little like a stalker after that third unanswered call, though. I thought you were avoiding me. Speaking of stalking, I saw you at the El Rey, but I was too nervous to approach you. 
KS: Haha. It’s for the better. I probably wouldn’t have wanted to talk to you before going on stage and playing a show.

That makes sense. Plus you were with your really attractive girlfriend. I really liked the sponge-bob-ish yellow shoes that you were wearing that night. You know, fashion week just finished. Are you into fashion?
KS: I don’t follow it regularly, but I check every now and then to see what’s going on. I like it when there’s really weird stuff happening. I find that to be inspiring.

Kind of like how Beth Ditto has become this unlikely fashion muse, playing at Milan Fashion week and what not. Can you see yourself doing that?
KS: It would have to be a brand I really love.

Both you and Beth Ditto get a lot of media attention for your big voices as well as your sexuality. Is it weird to have your sexuality out there in the spotlight?
KS: I don’t mind talking about it at all. I come from a liberal place. I grew up in Toronto. I think we got gay marriage when I wasn’t even old enough to remember it. I come from a place where it’s really normal, and not a big deal. When I started doing interviews it became a significant thing that I was comfortable talking about publicly, and that made me realize it was an important thing to do. 

But it must be weird to be a a queer role model all of the sudden. 
KS: I don’t really think about that. That never really crosses my mind. I would never really think of myself as being a role model in any way. I guess in some circles or in some situations, but it makes me really uncomfortable to think about that.

I get that. Too much pressure. But, it’s true. I was looking at some of your music videos on YouTube and people were commenting sexy things like, “OMG is she a lesbian?” “I thought about this song while I was having sex last night.” Is it weird to read things like that?
KS: Youtube is a pretty weird medium because people have no reservations about what they say. I think it’s slightly dangerous to read that stuff because people can be pretty brutal. But sometimes it’s fun to see what people are saying and see the arguments people have. People will go back and forth on a certain video, but it can definitely be dangerous to delve into that world.

The internet is nuts. Ok, easier questions now. Who is your muse?
KS: My girlfriend.

Aw. Who is your celebrity crush?
KS: Kristen Stewart.



Jane Helpern

About Jane Helpern

Writer & Over-sharer. @janeohelp