Interview: Austra’s Katie Stelmanis shows off opera training with electro-goth sound

The following was originally published on

austra interview

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.



Interview: Tokyo Police Club’s Graham Wright wrestles his past

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graham wright tokyo police club shirts vs skins

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.”


Interview: Austra’s Katie Stelmanis on being a gay indie artist and Beth Ditto groupie

The following was originally published on


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!”


Interview: The Wilderness of Manitoba Battle America’s “Musical ADD”

The following was originally published on

the wilderness of manitoba interview

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.”


Interview: Graham Wright of Tokyo Police Club on Getting the Vote Out

The following story was originally published on (And as a special election day post.)

tokyo police club

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.


Album Review & Interview: We Are the City – High School

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we are the city high school

We Are the City
High School
By Jessica Lewis

High School was intended to be something on the side, simultaneously eschewing the bad feelings of a line-up change, welcoming in someone new and bringing up times of youth thought sour. Cayne McKenzie and Andrew Huculiak had to fend for We Are the City’s future when guitarist David Menzel left, and the pair turned to this project as a distraction. Assuming fake identities and wiping away the clues, it was something new for a while. Somewhere along the timeline, High School turned out to be the next chapter of the BC-based band, and once Blake Enemark was introduced, things became clearer, including the trio’s sound. Now on their second release, following 2009’s In a Quiet World, they’re playing more with speed and let pauses do much of talking. It’s experimental, in their pop rock world, and it works for them. Enemark brings a crunchy guitar sound, Huculiack shines on percussion in “That’s It, That’s All,” taking over vocals for the tropical “Dark/Warm Air,” while McKenzie’s fuzzy Rhodes and clear vocals carry bravery, self-consciousness and weight. Everything is laid out in the open, with storylines intertwined from each other’s memories, having the alternative reality bleeding in to what’s here, now, and we get to watch it all grow up.

Why was High School originally a side-project?
McKenzie: David, who is still our best friend and was our guitar player, is engaged now, so at the time last summer, he was spending a lot of time with his girlfriend and his family. Andrew and I were pretty alone and David had started to not love touring as much or playing lots of basement shows ― not desirable shows. He wasn’t into it anymore. Andrew and I live for the chance to play a pool party. I was trying to get into playing guitar, because I’m the piano player in the band. Andrew and I were just jamming, so we were like, “let’s just make up a band, what can we do for fun? The only thing we know how to do is be a band, so why don’t we make up another band?” And we just decided to call it High School, because that’s where Andrew and I met, and we just felt good times and remembering back to those times. We just thought that was a really good representation of our friendship. There’s this band from Kelowna called Kingdom Cloud and we basically started the band so we could play some shows in Kelowna with them. We wanted to play with them so much we started this band in my basement and we recorded some terrible demos, kind of about these shameful memories from high school and what we were like now. It was a little different from We Are the City because I find with our last record, I felt like we were writing about spiritual development and journeys, and that’s what the album is about: family and spiritual journey, for us, figuring out what you think about everything. Whereas we started to write about other things like actual memories and I feel like we hadn’t really done that before. We started a band, we made a MySpace and we didn’t want anyone to know that we were from We Are the City because we didn’t want whatever we did in High School to affect We Are the City and we didn’t want We Are the City to affect High School. We just wanted to do an experiment to see what it would be like to start over with different songs and, basically, a different kind of music. And then when David told us he was leaving the band, we were just like, “okay, well, what are we going to do?” We didn’t know Blake and we weren’t really sure what we were going to do; it was just like, “maybe we should record these High School tunes and make them into We Are the City tunes.” The guitar parts were written, the ideas were there, so we wrote a couple more tunes with that idea in mind and that’s how the recording came to be. I feel like we were really lucky that we did the High School thing because if we didn’t, I don’t know what we would have done when David quit. I don’t know what we would have recorded. Because High School was already just Andrew and I, it was a good transition into bringing someone new into the band, because it was like, “okay, we already had the band as just the two of us so adding someone new isn’t hard,” whereas taking someone away is hard.

It was the swap of members that made you decide to make it a We Are the City project again.
Definitely. It would have never become part of We Are the City if it hadn’t had been for the member swap.

Were you feeling lost, in terms of We Are the City, for a while?
Yeah. To be honest, Andrew and I were sure that there wasn’t going to be We Are the City anymore. It’s totally important to me, in what we’re going for in our ultimate goal, to show people so much love, and that’s still the most important thing, to me. But I still feel like I was more confident in We Are the City before and now I’m not as confident. I’m confident in myself being in We Are the City, I mean, but I’m not sure what will happen to it. We just went out on a limb here, especially with the recording of this album and then releasing it, as the songs are quite a bit different because they were written for a different band. I was feeling distance from We Are the City and now I feel a lot closer again.


January to mid-February articles

Alright, alright. Sometimes I forget to update my portfolio on here, but if you’re a Twitter follower or a Facebook liker, then you haven’t missed a thing.

Just in case, here’s what I’ve been up to in January and February so far (there was definitely a lull in my work when I spent a few weeks recovering from tonsil surgery).


Video interview with Badly Drawn Boy

DOWNLOAD OF THE WEEK: Destroyer’s “Chinatown”

Mexico’s Chikita Violenta tackle international markets with Arts & Crafts

Watch the trailer for Ages and Stages, a Meligrove Band documentary

DOWNLOAD OF THE WEEK: Katie Moore’s “Montebello”

Allie Hughes to have wedding-themed concert in Toronto

Austra announce debut album, Feel it Break

DOWNLOAD OF THE WEEK: Hey Rosetta! – “Welcome (Live)”


We Are the City Reveal New High School EP
(this also includes tour details and the first single, free download)


Jason Collett Begins Annual ‘Basement Revue’ Series in Toronto


February Monthly Music column

From Far and Wide New Music Challenge