Katie Austra Stelmanis is a Toronto-based singer/songwriter, composer and producer, and the creative mastermind behind the critically applauded electronic music act that takes her middle name, Austra. Over the past decade, Stelmanis has released three full-length albums 2011’s Feel It Break, 2013’s Olympia and 2017’s Future Politics, which she has written, performed and produced — and has maintained a busy touring schedule both as s solo performer and with a backing band of rotating collaborators. All of this led to a devoted fanbase and countless sold-out shows across the globe; however, despite her growing success, Stelmanis had began to feel stagnant and uninspired. “I was losing faith in my own ideas,” the acclaimed Canadian singer/songwriter, composer and producer explains in press notes. During that period. Stelmanis unwittingly got into a toxic relationship that was tearing her apart.
It wasn’t until Stelmanis was ready to face her insecurities, that was she was able to see a path forward. “My creative and personal relationships were heavily intertwined, and i knew the only answer was to part ways with all of the people and comforts that I’d known for the better part of a decade and start again,” Stelmanis says. Along with making much-needed changes in her personal life, her fourth album HiRUDiN, which is slated for a May 1, 2020 release through Domino Recording Co. reportedly finds Stelmanis taking an entirely different and free-spirited approach to her songwriting and production: she took up a collage approach to sampling, arranging, writing and producing the album’s material. She also sought new collaborators, at one point booking three days of sessions in Toronto with improv musicians she hadn’t met: these musicians included two-thirds of contemporary classical improv group c_RL; Kamancello, a cellist and kamanche duo; Pantayoa, a kulitang ensemble; and a children’s choir. Additionally, Rodaidh McDonald and Joseph Shabason were brought in to co-produce the album’s material with Stelmanis.
Deriving its title from the peptide that leeches releases that’s the most potent anticoagulant in the world, HiRUDiN points inward, following a deeply personal and intimate journey towards regeneration and salvation, while touching upon the fallout of toxic relationships, queer shame and insecurity, letting go of harmful and hurtful influences, breaking harmful behavioral problems and cycles, and finding the power and wherewithal to rebuild from scratch. Rooted in hard-fought and even harder-won personal experience, Stelmanis’ fourth album may arguably be the most introspective and forward-thinking of her growing catalog to date.
“Anywayz,” HiRUDiN’s second and latest single is an expansive and cinematic track centered around twinkling keys, oscillating synths, four-on-the-floor-like beats, a rousingly anthemic hook and Stelmanis’ and achingly plaintive vocals, and sonically, the slickly produced song — to my ears — seems to draw from Kate Bush, classical music, experimental pop and synth pop. The song “explores the fear associated with leaving someone, and the terrifying realization that without them in your life, the rest of the world will continue unscathed as if nothing has changed.”
Directed by Jasmin Mozaffari, the recently released video for “Anywayz” continues an ongoing collaboration between the director and the Canadian artist — and the video employs a surreal and dream-like quality while being uneasy and chaotic, as we follow a protagonist, who’s pushed onward — even if she doesn’t initially want to. “I wanted the video to feel as dramatic and chaotic as heartbreak can be, bringing this fear into fruition. The concept focuses on Katie as a heightened version of herself, sequestered inside a barren mansion that resembles a cage of her own spiralling thoughts,” Mozzaffari explains in press notes. “She resists moving on, yet as time persists and the outside world thrives, it eventually forces itself upon her.”