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Talking to Austra About Feminism and why Rob Ford Sucks

Everyday it's like "What's Rob Ford done now?"

Dec 12 2013, 3:20pm

Canadian six-piece Austra released their second album, Olympia, earlier this year, and have been touring it around the world for the past 7 months. We caught up with frontwoman Katie Stelmanis to talk styrofoam cups, lesbians, and why Rob Ford sucks.

Noisey: How's the past six months been touring? Hectic?

Katie: Yeah, pretty much, but I think touring's easier when you have more of a defined schedule so you can process it in your brain a little bit better. Whereas Feel It Break was always a bit SURPRISE you're on tour! at the last minute.

Where have you most enjoyed playing? Festivals or venues?

I love festivals, they're easy, you show up and do whatever you want, but it feels good to be in a room of people you know bought tickets to see you.

You've said before that some of the older lyrics didn't really have that much meaning to them. how do you feel when the crowd singing along?

People tried to before but couldn't do it. but this time it's way easier to sing along because the songs are more simpler and more lyric driven.

Does it ever put you off? Your voice is a lot better than theirs, they can't manage what you do.

It makes me feel uncomfortable, to have a whole crowd of people singing, I get a little bit taken aback and nervous.

It's overwhelming?

Exactly. It's just like, "Woah god". I'm not very good at taking compliments and it's a giant compliment.

What percentage of your audience is lesbians?

There's always at least 15%, but I don't feel like our shows are that lesbian. The smaller club shows, yeah, but once you get bigger ones, our audiences are becoming more and more man-dominated.

I don't want to be like, "So what do you think about twerking," but do you think it's important that there are lots of conversations going on about women in the music industry right now?

It's great. This has definitely been a year for feminism, it's a topic of discussion where in the past it hasn't been. Everybody's talking about it.

Do you think it's going down a good route?

Yeah. Whether you agree or not with what they're saying, challenging things is pretty interesting. The Miley Cyrus thing got people like Sinead O'Connor speaking out against her, she ignited all these old feminist flames and people who haven't said anything for 15 years suddenly jumped in.

I was also going to ask you what you thought of Rob Ford, because you're from Toronto, too.

He sucks. It's funny, because it's so ridiculous but it's also really depressing for Toronto because it has a lot of problems and nothing is getting done, because everyday it's like "What's Rob Ford done now?"

I was reading an article saying he's like Sarah Palin; he's a joke but he's a back-to-basics frat boy and that's comforting for those who dislike Canada's bohemians.

Canadian politicians are usually really passive, whereas in America it's all about the drama. In Canada, our evil prime minister, for example-

Why's he evil?

He's basically an environmental terrorist, he's selling all our oil to China. And he's anti-gay rights and very conservative. He bores people out of caring. He'll sit down in his christmas speech or whatever the hell it is he does, it's an hour long and so boring that nobody cares about it. So he can secretly pass all these bills and people are totally apathetic. Whereas, at least with Rob Ford everyone's like (shakes fist) "Get him out!"

How do you make your tour environmentally friendly?

We try to have reusable water bottles, but I got so sick in Barcelona because I wasn't used to the water. We try and do everything we can, but there's not much we can ask for. We get to a venue and they give us a teapot with like eight plastic cups and i'm like "How am I meant to put tea in this plastic cup?"

Is that what you drink backstage?

We drink tea and miso soup. Sheryl Crow can be like, "We only accept everything in porcelain" and we're like "Thanks for the fucking styrofoam dinner."

You do incredible things with your voice, how is that holding up with excessive touring?

I haven't got sick once on this album cycle which is crazy because on the last tour, I got sick every six weeks.

That's good to hear! Is it the tea that's keeping you well?

Maybe! I think it's to do with the lack of stress. I used to be like "We can do it ourselves, fuck that, we don't need a tour manager," but now we have one who does all the driving and the stressing.

Have you been won over by any of the mainstream songs this year? There's an Avicii song I've been floored by.

Oh actually I really like the Avicii song!

"You Make Me"?

The one with the country vibe?

Shit, that's another one. There's something great about him. Lena Dunham wrote a piece for the YouTube Music Awards with Spike Jonze directing and I was reminded of Girls and thought "Fuck, this is incredible." The whole thing was soundtracked to Avicii and it really won me over. And "Wake Me Up" is great, too.

I want to see that! And I want to say one more thing about Lena Dunham. There are a lot of people who are awesome in the vein of journalism and writing or acting who give so much of their support to mainstream artists like "Taylor Swift is a major feminist" and I'm like "Yeah, she is a feminist" but I wish they would show these respected like, indie-grown writers and move away from the mainstream people to some of the cooler, underground feminism.

Like who?

Obviously Haim are superstars now but in the beginning… people say they're the new version of classic rock, the feminist utopia version of classic rock, which I appreciate, so sure, them.

I think it's incredible how feminism is seeping through into the mainstream, but I get what you're saying—Taylor Swift can only afford to do feminist stuff because she's mainstream, talented and people appreciate her looks.

And her music is boring.

Do you think so? All of it?

She's not pushing any boundaries. It's not experimental cutting-edge new music. I guess what I'm saying is I want more support for other acts.

Without being too pretentious, I want to bring up Mary Wollstonecraft. You know how in the Vindication of the Rights of Woman, the sentences are weird and disjointed because she's tearing apart these man-made structures, and I suppose you mean Taylor Swift does the classic, intro, verse, bridge, chorus, and it's nice to escape that.

Yeah, I think women who are doing more alternative things should get more praise, like Julia Holter, she's fucking SICK.

I suppose it's a lot more daring to be things that the status quo isn't into.

And not even in relation to feminism but in relation to female creativity!

Sophie is on Twitter - @SophWilkinson.

More Austra? Watch Katie discuss her style evolution.