By Lee Hutchison
A classically trained opera singer, AUSTRA lead singer KATIE STELMANIS gives LEE HUTCHISON a rundown on the pitfalls of an operatic career while also discussing the limits to success in her native Canada.
As the vocalist for new wave, electro, experimental trio Austra, Katie Stelmanis has an edge over many of her peers thanks to her operatic training which started at age10. Although set to continue her career at a tertiary level, her commitment to the lifestyle restrictions faced by opera singers was, according to Stelmanis, what led to her current dalliance in the world of popular music. “Being an opera singer is incredibly demanding. You have to watch what you eat and what you drink and at 18 I just wasn’t prepared to do that. So I decided I would take a break and then just never went back.” Stelmanis explains.
At this point I make the faux pas of generalising that opera singers tend to be a little cuddlier than most, therefore questioning Stelmanis’s previous statement that they have to watch what they eat. She humours me. “Obviously, opera singers eat whatever they want but you can’t drink that much, you can’t smoke, it’s not a good thing to fly on airplanes or travel on the subway. If you’re sick and you damage your voice in any way then you’re done, you don’t have an instrument.”
Her latest project, Austra, sees her reuniting with former Galaxy drummer and band mate Maya Postepski while bass player Dorian Wolf joins the ladies for the first time. “Dorian’s been playing with us for about a year and half now. We tried out a couple of musicians, then had a rehearsal with him and it was just obvious it was a good match.”
And the trio’s formula is working according to the bands recent signing to London-based label Domino. Interestingly, according to Stelmanis, achieving success in her native Canada has potentially improved as a result of this overseas recognition – a phenomenon often mirrored in Australia. I ask for her take on the possible reasons behind this trend. “I can’t really speak for Australia but for Canada, it’s just so small. Obviously it’s land mass is huge but the population, because it’s so small it’s really focused on maintaining its identity. A lot of people just have a career in Canada and focus on working their way up, like getting to play on TV or working their way up the touring circuit. And there aren’t many bands that focus outside the country that tour the United States and Europe. And if you’re just focusing on Canada you’re not going to make it work in a greater sense because the size of the population just doesn’t make it possible.”
This article was originally published in Rave Magazine: http://www.ravemagazine.com.au