Austra might have started out as a bedroom project for Katie Stelmanis, but the success of the band’s 2011 debut, Feel It Break, has positioned the Canadian act as one of the world’s most exciting new prospects in alternative electronic music.

After touring their debut for two years, Austra have now unleashed its follow-up, Olympia, into the world. Speaking from Zurich, after having played the first two shows of their European tour in Dublin, frontwoman Stelmanis details how they wanted to break the shackles of the ‘goth’ tag that was applied to the band in 2011.

Barely out of bed, Stelmanis apologises for her state of consciousness after muddling up an answer. Given a second to clear the cobwebs, the musician is then direct and warm as she talks about how Austra were initially pigeonholed as goths.

“With this record we just wanted to show the world that we are not tied to one genre or one aesthetic,” she says, before conceding, “I think there are still elements of goth in the music and I will always be partial to [that]”.

While Olympia is a far more upbeat album than Feel It Break, the goth elements return in the form of Stelmanis’ confessional songwriting on the new record.

The singer illustrates that the LP’s juxtaposition of forlorn lyrics with upbeat music is an important element.

“I think if you’re going to have sad lyrics it’s almost important to not have sad music and vice versa, because if there is too much sadness or too much happiness then they cancel each other out.

“So if you have this upbeat music with these really sad lyrics they stand out,” she remarks.

The lyrical evolution from what Stelmanis describes as nonsensical on Feel It Break to something more personal on Austra’s second album was inspired by the frontwoman’s onstage experiences.

“Through performance it became really obvious to me that as a singer I really wanted to have songs that were more personal. I wanted to connect with the audience on a different level.”

Despite Olympia’s lyrical content, the musician is quick to highlight its playfulness – something she attributes to the experience Austra had in the studio.

Recorded in Michigan with bandmates Maya Postepski and Dorian Wolf, the three musicians lived in lodgings at the studio for the entire experience. The arrangement ultimately allowed for more improvisation while recording the album.

That’s a far cry from Stelmanis recording Austra’s debut on a computer in her bedroom. For Olympia the band recorded with real instruments for the first time.

“When I made Feel It Break, at the time it was an album that was created to the maximum of my production abilities,” says the musician.

“I knew that it didn’t sound exactly how I wanted it to, but I didn’t know why. I realized later on as I became more experienced in that world that it had a lot to do with the fact that the album was made 100% with MIDI synthetic instruments.”

With Austra’s debut made solely by Stelmanis, her hope for Olympia was to, “Create something a lot more warmer, more rhythmic and more playful. The way to do that was to do it collaboratively.”

The frontwoman chuckles as she details how involving Postepski and Wolf in the recording process affected Olympia; “Basically this album taught me that collaboration is the best! I felt more artistically liberated than I’ve ever felt about a project before.

“I think when you’re working alone if you hit a wall there isn’t really anybody around to help you get through that wall. I used to just start so many songs that would hit a wall.”

Stelmanis also collaborated with her backing vocalist Sari Lightman on the lyrics of certain songs.

One of those tracks is the interlude “I Don’t Care (I’m A Man)”. While the album was originally intended to have multiple interludes, this was the only one to make the cut.

While Stelmanis wrote the chorus, Lightman filled in the rest, which allowed for various interpretations of the track’s meaning.

“I interpreted it as being more of a general statement like ‘I don’t care I’m a man’, such as humanity. I think Sari interpreted it as being more of a direct relationship between a man and a woman. So her lyrics suggest an abusive relationship.

“It’s a pretty strong statement, but it’s a pretty open ended one as well,” explains the singer.

One such interpretation could be that the song alludes to sexism. A topic most recently tackled by Stelmanis’ compatriot Grimes in a blog post earlier this year.

The singer agrees that, “It’s very different being a female performer in music than it is being a male performer in music for a lot of reasons.

“I suppose we try not to think about it too much. If we credit it too much it can become very discouraging. So we try to just pretend that it doesn’t exist, but they do.

“There are the obvious ones such as, I find that for women in music, the physical appearance is 150 times more important than for men in music, and that’s something we have to deal with.”

While not in the same sense that Stelmanis means in regards to sexism, the visual representation of Austra remains an important aspect of the band.

From Feel It Break to Olympia the musician details the evolution not just in sound, but also in colour, and the relationship of those two elements.

“With the first record most of the visual representation was very dark and very austere. With this record we wanted to do the opposite, so everything is very very rich in colour.”

This change is most obviously seen when comparing the band’s album artwork.

“We’re influenced by a lot of paintings; the cover of the album is actually a painting from the set from a Chinese opera.

“I think it’s just bringing colour into it essentially. Which is in some ways the same thing we did with our record. Just bringing in this colour and this rhythm.”

The evolution between the two albums is distinct without drastically altering the band’s core sound. Olympia has all the right elements to inject colour, not only into Austra’s existing fan base, but also into potential new listeners.

Olympia is out Friday June 14th through Domino Records.

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