Austra's Katie Stelmanis Explains Why She Recorded With an All-Female Production Team

Katie Stelmanis of Austra
Katie Stelmanis of Austra Renata Raksha
Katie Stelmanis, the songwriter behind the Canadian electronic group Austra, does not see the band’s latest release, Future Politics, resonating with the public as a good thing.

“People have been grateful that the album exists,” she explains. “I never sought to make a political record to teach people something. I think that because the album is ultimately an emotional response to everything that is happening in the world, people are really connecting with it.”

You can hear some of those ideas in the single “Utopia.” In the second verse of the dance anthem, Stelmanid elegantly sings, “My work is valid/I can prove it but I know/A woman screams/She’s looking for meaning.” Our phone conversation takes place days after women marched around the world to fight the fear that the newly elected president will encroach on their rights and values. The album, released on Inauguration Day, might not have elicited the same reaction had it been released a year ago.

Future Politics wasn’t inspired by the dark dystopia where crime and poverty run rampant frequently described by President Donald Trump in his speeches. It was a reaction to books that gave Stelmanis the idea of a future where the finite world isn’t obsessed with infinite growth. In her vision, society creates technology that works to combat climate change and the greed that is synonymous with capitalism. Instead of being exploited for labor, humans can set aside time for creative pursuits and personal growth. Stelmanis uses the hit science-fiction show Star Trek: The Next Generation as an example.

“[Humans] don’t even need money anymore, because they invented this machine called the Replicator,” she recalls. “It’s this machine that will make anything you want at any time. There’s no need to buy anything. That’s the kind of thing I get excited about.”

Stelmanis is thrilled and delighted that Future Politics boasts an all-female production team. She says she did not initially set out to do so. As the creative process continued, she knew adding someone with a Y chromosome wouldn’t do the album justice. When an opportunity arose to do some mixes with a male producer, Stelmanis decided to pull out at the last minute because she knew “he would get all the credit for the record in general.”

“I realized I couldn’t think of any other record that had a 100 percent female production staff,” she elaborates. “I wanted to be able to say that. I wanted to draw attention to the fact that while women in music are much more visible than they were 10 years ago, behind the scenes it is very unequal.”

To her point, Stelmanis tells a story of how women behind the boards are frequently viewed in the music industry. As she describes it, one of the engineers of Future Politics also worked with M.I.A. as the front of the house engineer on a recent tour. A pop band from Asia wanted to use the rapper’s same crew for their American tour but moved the monitor engineer, a man, to the front of the house. Stelamanis acknowledges the average music listener is not concerned with diversity behind the scenes, but this incident reflects how women continue to be seen in the music industry.

“Because there are so few women in the industry [behind the boards], there is a real lack of faith and trust in women in general,” she states. “People don’t feel as safe having a woman behind the board as having a man behind the board. That needs to change.”

Austra is scheduled to perform Tuesday, February 7, at Valley Bar.
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Jason Keil was the Phoenix New Times culture editor from August 2019 to May 2020.
Contact: Jason Keil