From goth and witch house to New Wave and electronic pop, Austra‘s lead singer Katie Stelmanis isn’t sure what genre her Toronto-based band falls into.
“Honestly, I don’t even know what to call it,” Stelmanis tells Spinner. “It’s pop music. It’s electronic music. You can say whatever you want. It’s not like I hate it if people call it witch house, it’s just I feel witch house is a small genre that isn’t going to take over the world or anything — it’s not like grunge. I think it’s just a convenient place where my music fits in right now.
“It’s funny because I have been making music with the same aesthetic for a long time — the music that I was making three years ago, people still claimed it to be goth.”
Stelmanis was a trained choir and opera singer before she released her solo album ‘Join Us’ and subsequently formed Austra — who will release their debut album, ‘Feel It Break,’ this week via Paper Bag Records/Domino — so some of those vocal styles and moods have found their way into her work.
For Tokyo Police Club keyboardist Graham Wright’s debut solo album, ‘Shirts vs. Skins,’ the match at hand seems to be between the musician’s past and present.
The forthcoming album is full of songs written two years ago, in a time when Wright went through an intense break-up and a lull at home after a long Tokyo Police Club tour. Getting this material out now means Wright has to revisit that unpleasant mindset.
“I was in a really specific place,” he tells Spinner. “Even the songs that don’t have anything to do with that, I can still find that in there. It’s kind of weird now because I don’t necessarily identify with the same things, it’s changed a bit. It’s going to be interesting performing the songs and trying to get back into that head space.
“It’s real and was something that happened, and that’s what I like about records, they document a real thing. That’s what’s important to me about these songs even though they aren’t necessarily current for me. It’s time travel, really.”
We all have a musician we admire, usually because there’s a personal connection to them and their music. For Katie Stelmanis, a lesbian and the lead singer of Canadian electronic band Austra, it’s Gossip‘s Beth Ditto, also a gay artist, and her positive message concerning queer identity.
“I literally cried when I saw her,” Stelmanis tells Spinner. “She’s so strong.”
Though a 2009 gig in Toronto marked the first time she saw Ditto at the reins of Gossip, Stelmanis actually met the vivacious frontwoman five years earlier after a gig with her former band Galaxy.
“I was a total groupie,” says Stelmanis. “She was just so sweet. She was so nice and positive, thanked us and made us feel really good about it, which was so exciting to us 20 year olds — I love her!”
Toronto’s Wilderness of Manitoba have already sunk their teeth into the Canadian and UK markets, but with the American release of their debut album, ‘When You Left the Fire,’ this week, they’re shifting their gaze towards the States and good old lady lucky.
“I’m not worried because I don’t really control these things,” vocalist-guitarist Will Whitwham tells Spinner. “The only thing I can control is playing well, and if we don’t play well then we’re screwing up for everybody. That’s the only thing we can really do.”
That said, Whitwham suspects breaking into the US market will be more grueling than building a presence at home or in the UK.
“Europeans are more patient and the US is musical ADD,” he says. “…It’s hard not to feel that way when you’re bombarded in the US.”
With the Canadian election for Prime Minister coming to its final vote today, musicians have been abuzz with getting the word out to their fans. Though they’ve been on tour during the election campaign, Toronto-based Tokyo Police Club have still found the time to urge Canada’s eligible voters to do their part.
“It’s been hard to keep up with the news and everything,” keyboardist Graham Wright tells Spinner from a Calgary, AB, tour stop. “Just go vote. I hope people do; nobody ever does, it’s so easy not to.”
Wright, who is about to release his first solo album, ‘Shirts vs. Skins,’ says he wishes the band could have planned something more proactive for the election on their tour with recent Juno-winners Said the Whale, such as setting up voter registration at their shows.
The Juno Awards took place this weekend and surprisingly they did really well! Congratulations to all the winners and nominees.
I didn’t get to attend the actual awards, but I did do some coverage of Juno Fest, a two day festival leading up to the awards, full of nominees and friends.
Here’s my coverage for Spinner. On Friday I checked out Said the Whale, who went on to win New Group of the Year the next day, and Horsey Craze, the Neil Young cover band formed of members from the Constantines and Lullaby Arkestra. On Saturday, I saw Hannah Georgas and Basia Bulat, both who were nominated for Best New Artist.
Well folks, my Canadian Music Week is over. It’s been a ton of fun, but I am exhausted! Since Wednesday, I’ve:
trudged through a lot of disgusting weather
saw 15 bands play, although not as many as I’d hoped to catch
finally met people I’ve been meaning to meet for ages and saw plenty of good friends from all over
did some entertaining interviews on whims (like Isis Salam who kissed me on the cheek but made fun of me for not wanting to have some of her drink or Cayne McKenzie who had us squished in a bathroom stall, you guys rock)
was disgusted by a club district bar and the people in it
wrote reviews at ridiculous hours in the morning
had great dinners with the other bloggers
got into a venue through the back door after a crazy glitterati band performed, so the backstage area looked like it was straight out of a movie
In the dog days of summer, some bands are liable to do anything. Lo-fi indie rockers Dog Day got the jump on summer by trimming half their lineup back in May, leaving only married couple Seth Smith and Nancy Urich to translate their songs as a touring duo.
The band’s split is amicable, and perhaps temporary, but it was something Smith and Urich felt they needed.
“We’ve been married for three years and we’ve been together for ten,” Smith tells Spinner. “Out of that time, we’ve never travelled just the two of us playing music and we wanted to try it out. So far, it’s been really great and it’s a nice getaway vacation. In a lot of ways we’re just starting out again and it’s like we have the shakiness of a new band that’s trying to figure out how to make it all work, but it’s exciting.”
Writing a new record isn’t an easy feat for a much-hyped band like the Acorn — their song ‘Crooked Legs’ even had Kanye West blogging about them. So it made sense for them to isolate themselves at a cottage in northern Quebec to write most of what is now their new album, ‘No Ghost.’
The band reveled in their surroundings, even setting up microphones on a dock to record the sound of frogs. But the blissful scenery couldn’t quite stave off the pressure of creating music.
“I think we did feel like we had to come out of there with something — not necessarily the whole record, but something,” singer-guitarist Rolf Klausener tells Spinner. “So there were definitely times where I think we were pushing ourselves to write.”