[tabs tab1=”Intro” tab2=”Austra & Asia Tour” tab3=”Industry” tab4=”Music” count=”4″]
Pretty wrecked, having arrived just hours earlier from their show in Hong Kong, the current foursome (sisters Sari and Romy Lightman, who are taking time out to focus on their own project TASSEOMANCY, are due to reunite with Austra for the band’s final show of the tour in Bangkok) are found chilling out at the table in their room behind the stage of the Yebisu Garden Hall.
Katie Stelmanis, Maya Postepski, Dorian Wolf and Ryan Wonsiak have just wrapped up their set, opening up Day 2 of the festival, and are unwinding with drinks and plates of food from the buffet, muttering about how the meals provided are decidedly un-Japanese. After a brief chat about other bands on the festival’s lineup, some recommendations on where to visit in Tokyo, and teaching Katie how to explain her shellfish allergy in Japanese, we got to talking about their current tour and their thoughts on Tokyo.
Welcome to Japan! How has your Asia tour been going so far?
DORIAN: Well this is only our second date in Asia, but so far so good! We were in Hong Kong a couple of days ago, and yeah that was a great show. We just recently got over our jet lag.
KATIE: I’m not over it, I’m still jet lagged. Our big Asia tour! We were supposed to co-headline a couple more shows after this but the co-headliner dropped out, we’ve cancelled shows. So yeah, we just decided it’d be great to plan our tour around five days in Tokyo!
How did you find your performance this afternoon? How did a Japanese crowd compare to what you’re more used to?
MAYA: Well, they were quite quiet, and respectful – that’s how I read it. So, it’s a bit different because we just finished a big European tour, and a big North American tour previous to that, where the audiences are like mental, and usually drunk or crazy – Dorian was just saying about our show in Dublin…
DORIAN: Yeah we played a show in Dublin, and everyone there was wasted, like eight hundred people… Even in the quiet moments during the song, we would quiet down and we could hear people yelling at each other, it was like a party constantly. When we finished the show, the promoter came backstage and was so proud, he was like, “Don’t you just love the Dublin crowd!? They’re so attentive to you guys, they listened to everything!” And we were like, “Really? Are you serious??” Anyway they were “remarkably attentive” as an audience that night, but yeah…
MAYA: So, compared to that, Japanese people seem really… I like it! I think it’s a cool way to watch a concert.
DORIAN: Yeah, I think it was good for a Sunday afternoon at 1pm, very appropriate for a crowd to be like that. They did seem to be very interested.
And how was the Hong Kong show? Quite a different setup to this one…
KATIE: It was nice, it was outside!
DORIAN: Yeah, it was outside so you could see the crazy skyline.
RYAN: Like right in the central area of the city, it was very beautiful.
You’re currently playing as a four-piece instead of six, how is that feeling?
KATIE: Well, we’ve been playing as a four-piece now for about six months, so we’re pretty used to it at this point. The twins are coming out to our last show of the year in Thailand, because they used to live there, so even though they’re not touring with us any more, it’s kind of special for them to be a part of that show.
DORIAN: Actually though, we’ve been touring with others sometimes too, like we brought a trombone player across Canada with us, and we also had a flautist play a couple of shows with us in Berlin, and then another flute player and saxophone player join us for a couple of weeks also in Europe, so yeah it’s a changing lineup in general.
In the UK, for some of your shows you had a sort of Asian-themed backdrop, but you didn’t use it here…
KATIE: We brought it! We have it…
MAYA: They didn’t have the right pole for it, so we brought it all over the place but unfortunately it didn’t work out today. We didn’t get to use it in Hong Kong either, it was also a different pole…
DORIAN: We brought this beautiful backdrop on our Asian tour and can’t even use it!
KATIE: I sleep with it as my blanket, that’s why I brought it – I wrap myself in it.
You guys now have five days free in Tokyo, what are you most looking forward to doing?
MAYA: I also want to do karaoke!
KATIE: To be honest, I’m not really excited by the idea of doing karaoke in a private room.
RYAN: Oh, you want to be on stage?
KATIE: I’d like to be on stage! What’s the point of doing karaoke for like three people?
RYAN: It’s for us!
MAYA: We can get drunk and make fun of you.
KATIE: Yeah, but it’s so much better when it’s in front of like a hundred people.
DORIAN: Yeah, but you’re one of those people that does karaoke and actually impresses people.
MAYA: I’d like to go chill in that spa in Haneda!
MAYA: Why do I keep calling it Haneda? What’s Haneda?
…It’s an airport.
MAYA: Oh yeah, I’ll go to the airport – cool!
With regards to women in music, do you feel like circumstances have gotten better in recent years?
KATIE: I don’t know. It’s difficult to say whether or not anything’s improved. I think it’s just an entirely different landscape for women, it’s just always going to be a different experience than a man in the music industry. What I see right now is that there’s a major popularity of having female solo projects – it seems like that’s a way that people really kind of identify with women. For a long time, it kind of felt like there wasn’t much happening in the way of bands… Popstars are so tied to the visual, and a character in a way. I found that there was a real lack of female musicians that didn’t have to be tied to some kind of character in order to be noticed, and so that was always kind of a big problem for me. But, I think even this year it’s getting better and better. I think the band Haim is a great example of a female group that is pretty much known for their technical musical abilities over anything else, and they’re like topping the charts all over the world, so I think that they’re a really big triumph for women in music.
MAYA: I mean it’s always getting better, but it’s a difficult industry, like many other industries, to be a woman. You know it’s weird when you look at festivals and the lineups are practically all men. It’s still a reality that unfortunately for some reason, it’s not just that women aren’t playing music, that we’re not interested or not good at music, it’s just kind of a dude’s world. I’m glad that we are a band that can function and survive, and there are other bands like Haim and tonnes of other awesome bands that are making it happen. It’s weird when you actually look at statistics…
KATIE: Because the reality is there are a lot of successful female-fronted bands right now, but relative to the amount of successful bands in the world, it’s probably less than ten percent.
MAYA: It’s weird when I hear these questions – we still have to talk about it in this way, like, “Oh you’re a woman drummer… you’re a woman musician…” It’s still a category on its own, and because I guess it’s just still not normal. It’s hard because I don’t have a definite answer like how I feel about it, but yeah it’s weird.
How is the electro scene in Toronto at the moment?
RYAN: We’re never in Toronto…
KATIE: Yeah, we don’t know. I loved instrumental electronic music for a really long time and didn’t really think that there was any sort of scene in Toronto. Then after touring, I sort of started meeting all these artists who were like, “Oh, I’m from Toronto!” And I’m like, “Really, you live here?!”
MAYA: Yeah, there are also a lot of electronic bands in Toronto that are really popular, like obviously Crystal Castles… We toured with a band called Diana, they were on our tour in North American and for some of Europe, and they’re doing really, really well, and they’re electronic. So, there’re lots of cool bands coming out of Toronto that are under the electronic umbrella. I’m happy that’s happening, because growing up there was nothing besides folky, indie music, so now it’s really flipped and everyone’s on the electronic scene.
DORIAN: I’m just trying to think of other bands in Toronto that are making it big…
RYAN: There’s a good underground scene in Toronto, there’s a lot of house, a lot of dubstep, a lot of techno… So many parties every day of the week I’d say.
KATIE: Ryan’s the only one who knows about it. I feel like you’re the only one that knows about it because you’re not from Toronto, you came to Toronto and were like, “Where’s the dance party?” and you looked for it. I never would’ve known about it, ever. I feel like you experience a city differently when you move there and you’re like, “I need to figure out what’s going on!”
You released your second album Olympia earlier this year, and it has a very different vibe to the previous one – how do you think it’s been received so far?
KATIE: I think it’s been good. I think with our first album, we kind of went from zero to real band, and it felt like a really big surge in popularity. It didn’t feel like that with this album. I think now we’re a band, we’ve established ourselves, and this is an album that is one of the hundreds we will make.
MAYA: Yeah, I guess when you’re a fresh face, everyone points their attention at you, but then when you’ve kind of established your name a little bit, it’s like, “Oh, there’s another Austra album out – cool… Well, there’s also this awesome new person!!” So it’s fine, I’m happy with it. At first, we weren’t sure if people liked it, but now as we’ve been touring a lot more, I’ve been seeing a lot more people singing the songs and I think it just took a little time for people to get into it, because it’s a bit of a different album. Listening to it takes a bit more time maybe, you know, it’s not like a hit Top 40 album.
KATIE: It’s an introspective album.
Where are you heading from this point? Have you already started working on material for a third album?
MAYA: Yeah, we’re always working – you don’t just stop and say, “I’m not working now.” We all constantly do our own work and it just interweaves itself into Austra eventually – all of us just keep working on our private stuff. We’re going to try and take a little bit of a holiday after Thailand, but then into the New Year, I definitely see us working a lot on new stuff.
How do you feel the Internet has affected the rise of electronic music?
KATIE: I think that electronic music has become much more popular because it’s kind of like punk music, in a sense – anyone with a computer can make it, it’s so accessible, and there’re so many success stories of people just using GarageBand and selling hundreds of thousands of records. It’s kind of cool that basically anyone has an entire studio at their fingertips now and I think that has a lot to do with electronic music increasing. It’s also just that cities are changing – in most cities in North America now, you can’t really afford to be in a band and have a job, but you can afford to make music on your computer. Being in a band is so expensive, but if you can make music on your computer, you have everything yourself.
MAYA: Yeah, I mean it’s cheap, it’s fast, and you can virtually start with no experience. If you know how to go on YouTube, Google “How to use Ableton,” and you have the time and the patience to teach yourself, it’s awesome. It’s like, I’m not going to go and learn how to play the clarinet by watching YouTube, but you can do that with computer programs.
KATIE: It’s cool, it’s created this open playing field because there isn’t really any ‘right way’ to use Ableton or GarageBand or ProTools, like there’s no one correct way – everyone kind of interprets it and figures it out in their own way. Right now, there’s so much really interesting music that’s happening just because people are kind of discovering it from a completely outsider perspective.
DORIAN: It’s really fun to tour with bands and find out how they use Ableton, because everybody uses Ableton, every band we tour with has a backing track of some sort, and they all use it differently! Every single person I’ve talked to, and that’s really cool, like weird tricks and things like that.
MAYA: I think also at the same time though, there’s something to be said about the negative aspects of it. There’re awesome bands that are coming out that have taught themselves from nothing and they’re excellent, but then there’s so much oversaturation of not-that-great music. So I think that what I’d like to see in the next 10-15 years is a change of some kind of taste avenue. I just think there’s so much bad music out there right now.
DORIAN: What are you saying? We need to eliminate it?
MAYA: No, no, no… but you couldn’t just be in a band 30-40 years ago!
KATIE: Yes you could! Do you know how many bad bands there are in the world? As long as there’s good music, there’s going to be bad music. Every single musical genre is oversaturated with bad music.
DORIAN: I think what’s going to happen is we’re going to forget about the bad ones.
KATIE: Yeah, that’s what happens – the good ones withstand time and the bad ones don’t.
MAYA: Yeah, but you know what I mean, like everyone can be a photographer now with iPhones…
KATIE: Yeah, but only the good ones stand out.
MAYA: Yeah! I guess I’m just like… I don’t know…
DORIAN: I don’t know, maybe that’s a valid point – do we look at more crappy pictures in our lives than people 50 years ago? We have more access to them now.
KATIE: How many people in the ‘50s and ‘60s wanted to be musicians and just walked around with an acoustic guitar wanting to be the next Bob Dylan. Think about how many of those people then were probably hundreds of thousands and everyone was just like, “I hate this instrument.”
DORIAN: I know, but we just spent the past 20 minutes talking about why electronic music in Toronto is so huge now, and it’s because of the ease of recording music. Well, everyone back then had an acoustic guitar and a microphone that costs a hundred dollars…
KATIE: But that’s electronic music versus non-electronic music.
MAYA: I just wanted to flip it! Because I think it’s great that people have access to this resource, but then as a result of that you get a lot of garbage – that’s all I wanted to say.
DORIAN: I want all the garbage to be eliminated too! I don’t know how to do it, but…
KATIE: You can’t call anything ‘garbage’!
MAYA: I’m just saying there’s more saturation.
KATIE: How much music in the world do you think was called ‘garbage’ at one point and became like ‘revolutionary.’ I would never ever in a million years want to annihilate the ‘garbage’ music from the world, because I think it’s hugely influential for the landscape of music in general.
DORIAN: Well that’s very Canadian of you… but I don’t like ‘garbage’ music.
KATIE: You guys sound like such assholes! You do!
MAYA: He said that! Not me! I was just trying to flip the argument, I wasn’t doing like a ‘God’ thing where it’s like, “This is good and this is bad.” I was just saying in general it’s more saturated – period. It’s just your opinion that there is no such thing as ‘garbage’ music.
KATIE: This is why we don’t do interviews all together.
DORIAN: I appreciate a healthy argument.
MAYA: Dorian used to be on the debate team, so don’t do interviews with him.
DORIAN: Excuse me but this is my creative outlet – I like to express myself and I don’t think it’s appropriate that you annihilate my creative opinion.