Donald Trump has just been sworn in as the President of the United States. Meanwhile, somewhere north, Katie Stelmanis has just gotten what we all need at this point—a good nap. Not watching the ceremony wasn’t a formal protest (although she’s certainly not opposed to the idea) but rather the result of a bout of insomnia the night before. Life, says the Austra frontwoman, just caught up with her.
“I think that we were all blindsided by the situation that we’re in right now,” she muses from her temporary home in Toronto (where she’ll reside after rescuing her furniture from Montreal). “I think that part of that has to do with the fact that we don’t actually have any control over social media or the media in general anymore. I think that it’s turned into something huger and dangerous than any of us had ever anticipated. As someone who is a content creator, I think that there’s a lot more responsivity than anyone has ever considered. There is a reason that Trump is in power and a lot of that is because of the clickbait nature of the internet. I think humans are going to have to take a lot of responsibility for that.”
It’s one of the many heady topics she tackles over the course of Austra’s third LP, Future Politics. A loose concept album about utopia, Stelmanis says it was only a lucky coincidence that it was released on the same day a man came into power who many will argue is working for the exact opposite. Predominately written solo (bandmates Maya Postepski, Dorian Wolf and Ryan Wonsiak joined in for the recording and touring process) the album was her way of recapturing a sense of optimism when the world was telling her otherwise.
But don’t mistake her for a tortured artist. There’s way too much joy implied in each word for that. As Stelmanis explains it, her time down and out during Montreal’s brutal winter was cured by an impromptu trip to Mexico City that ended up lasting six months. She raves about her time there, expressing gratitude for the friendships she formed and decrying the necessity of bottled water.
She punctuates these statements with easy laughter. “I think when I first started writing this record I was feeling despair and real hopelessness,” Stelmanis recalls. “I was looking for a way out. The way I was looking for a way out was reading any opportunity I got about people’s ideas for the future. Any time I would come across something that was about post capitalism or anything about how we could get somewhere cooler or somewhere more just I would want to absorb it immediately. I was so consumed and obsessed with this idea of the future and what possible futures there are.”
What she imagined was a world free from oppression. A lack of borders. An emphasis on sustainability rather than exponential growth. More stripped down than previous Austra releases, Future Politics leans on otherworldly, ice-synth beats and Stelmanis’ impossibly operatic soprano. But there are also slivers of warmth, from the harp interlude “Deep Thought” to flourishes of cumbia beats (a souvenir from her stint in Mexico City) and the electro garage anthem “I Love You More than You Love Yourself.”
“I don’t think it’s entirely separate from the general themes of the record,” she says of the meditation on emotional wellness. “When you talk about the holism and consecutiveness, I that it’s important to acknowledge the whole mind/body/spirit it’s important to think about how we relate to each other.”
Relationships between people. It’s that idea that Stelmanis keeps coming back to. As she notes in the title track, “the system won’t help you when the money runs out.” No matter what shape the future takes (and she admits she feels positive about the potential for change) it’s going to have to involve everyone working for the collective good.
“I feel like there’s been this campaign for individualism in the past 50 years that’s very intentional,” Stelmanis muses, “The fact that Americans are considered individualists isn’t an accident. I think it’s something that was injected in the American people’s brains. If you watch Fox News they’re all, ‘The homeless people need to work too!’ Individualist mentality that people are brainwashed to believe in. I think people need to be brainwashed out of that mentality. It’s like these right wing, fascist ideas are way better at spreading than any other ideas are.”
She pauses, acknowledging the implications of the statement. Yes, she concludes—getting the word out by any means necessary is important.
“I’m all about it,” she laughs. “I think propaganda is great if you use it in an effective, positive way.”