In Conversation with Austra

Electronic music project Austra is finally back with a new album, Future Politics. Calling for radical hope and utopian ideals, it’s just what we need to hear in these turbulent times.

We speak to Austra founder and lead singer Katie Stelmanis about imagining the future, the Great Barrier Reef and what it means to be radical.

You took four years between your second album and this one. How was it returning to the record-creating process?

I toured the first two records for about five years straight and didn’t take a break till I started writing this last record. I was pretty exhausted and found it hard to switch to a stationary lifestyle after moving for so long. I was looking for something to inspire me that I wasn’t finding from touring, and that took a bit of time.

Your new album seems to have come at the perfect time – when everyone is saying that the world feels like it’s ending socially and politically, you release an album calling for collective consciousness and personal empowerment. Do you feel like negativity acts as a catalyst for positivity?

I believe it does. However, I am not going to lie that I wrote this album when the world looked and felt very different, Trump wasn’t even on the radar. I don’t think I could conceptualise the same ideas today given the current situation of the world. In some ways, while I was writing Future Politics I felt like I had discovered a way forward and I just needed to tell everyone about it – but now I feel just as lost and confused as everyone else.

Future Politics calls for “radical hope” to “replace the approaching dystopia”. In what way does this album inspire hope in its listeners?

A lot of what I had read while writing the record was addressing that there has been a real lack of vision for progressive people. We focus a lot on resistance, which is important, but we also need to focus on building what we want to see. Building that future society will take a lot of work, involve a lot of people and demand that we start looking at things outside of the current paradigms that bind us. For me this was inspiring, because it felt like something I could do, or participate in.

What does the word ‘radical’ mean to you?

When I use that word I suppose I’m talking about ideas that are unexpected, that most people think won’t work, or most people fundamentally disagree with. I want these “radical” ideas to become normalised, at which point a whole new set of radical ideas will exist.

Do you think it’s important for artists to be vocal about social issues, or should there be a distinction between art and activism?

I think it’s important for artists to use their influence to help guide people, and also I think it’s important that art reflect the times in which its made. However, I think a lot of us are struggling now with social media in how much time we should spend Tweeting every time something bad happens (which is every day) because it feels like it’s important to talk about it, versus how much just gets washed up. An artist speaking out doesn’t necessarily have to be through daily messages on social media – I think it can and possibly should be more influential through the art itself. This album is a call to dream bigger and set your sights on a brighter future.

When you listen to the news and see everything that’s going on in the world, or when you’re just having a bad day, how do you keep your optimism?

It’s quite hard to be honest. I feel a lot different now that I did when I started this album and even when I finished this album, but I’m also inspired by how engaged people are now and just try to do my part in suggesting the direction in which that engagement should go: looking towards building a new future.

What I love most about the album is the way that you’ve delivered important messages about capitalism, exploitation and destruction against a melody of synth, beats and catchy hooks. How easy was it to balance the seriousness of the message with your signature and distinctive sound?

It didn’t really feel any more difficult than anything I’ve done in the past because I don’t think the songs are necessarily as overtly political as the narrative surrounding the album itself. For me, while writing I was respond emotionally to things I was learning or reading about, and that response isn’t really any different than what one feels while being sad, or being in love. Like the fact the Great Barrier Reef may not exist in 30 years (among many other environmental catastrophes) I find deeply upsetting, and so I wrote songs in response to those emotions.

Is Future Politics a call to action for your listeners, and what do you hope it achieves?

Future Politics is more of an invitation to think differently, and I suppose a call to action in that it suggests that there is power and importance in being able to think differently, see things differently, and most importantly imagine. Imagination is a very powerful tool that we should not disregard, and that we need defend in the face of people who want to take it away. I’m not expecting any major world changes with this album but I’d just like to challenge people to re-think about the world around them and the possibilities it holds.

Austra’s third album Future Politics is out now.

UK Tour Dates:
Tues 21st March – Patterns, Brighton
Wed 22nd March – Village Underground, London
Thurs 23rd March – Summerhall, Edinburgh
Friday 24th March – The Deaf Institute, Manchester
Sat 25th March – The Button Factory, Dublin
Image Credit: Renata Reksha

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