From opera star to pop star
Making the transition from childhood opera singer to adult electro-pop star has been surprisingly easy for Austra frontwoman Katie Stelmanis, writes Jim Carroll
KATIE STELMANIS exudes steely determination. The brains behind Canadian electro-pop outfit Austra, Stelmanis’ backstory is about someone who has steadfastly moved from one genre to another, finding her feet with ease as she’s done so. The classically trained kid who was singing with the Canadian Children’s Opera Chorus as a 10-year-old has become an artist now tapping into an engaging, fluid, accomplished sound.
You’ll hear the width and depth of Stelmanis’ grand vision on Feel It Break, her new album as Austra, where tracks such as Lose It and the dramatic Beat and The Pulse are remarkably focused and poised. While she’s put her name to other releases – there was another Stelmanis album in 2008 and she also appeared on Fucked Up’s The Chemistry Of Common Life album that year – the striking, inventive and cool Feel It Break sounds like Stelmanis has truly found her direction.
Stelmanis moved from the classical world a long time ago, but those years of studying opera, viola and piano have stayed with her.
“When I originally made the transition from classical music to writing my own music, I was probably heavily influenced by artists who’d made a similar transition and who had a classical background, people like Björk and Kate Bush and Owen Pallett and Nine Inch Nails. You could hear the training in their music and that appealed to me. I wanted to make classical music with really messed up and distorted sounds.”
That training also influenced her songwriting. “When I first started writing my own music, I was very drawn to and inspired by the lyrical format you get in classical music as a way of telling stories and it evolved from there,” she explains
“Writing for me always came from my roots in opera and classical music. There was a time when I looked back and regretted leaving that world. But at this point in my life, I definitely see it as something which was a valuable experience, but which I don’t think about too much. It was very helpful and informative but my music career has gone in a much different way.”
Stelmanis is based in Toronto, a city with a very active and diverse musical community, though she never considered herself part of any scene.
“Because there are so many artists here,