Growing up in Toronto in the 1990s, Katie Stelmanis knew she'd one day be an opera singer. She studied piano and violin and, as a child, sang with the Canadian Opera Company. Later, after years of private lessons, she was set to study opera in college. But deep down inside, Stelmanis says she knew that all she really wanted to do was make "classical music with really f---- up, distorted, crazy s-- on there." It was a singular, and certainly colorful, vision that eventually led the ivory-voiced singer to abandon school, discover electronica and form the band Austra.
Out May 17, Austra's full-length debut, Feel It Break, is a strange and moody marriage of classical and electronica, though the operatic influences aren't always easy to hear. The songs are guided by the siren call of Stelmanis' haunting voice and orchestrated entirely with sleek analog synths. It's a throbbing, beat-heavy mix that's both unsettling and alluring.
From the moment Austra began making music in 2009, the trio — featuring Stelmanis, Dorian Wolf on bass and Maya Postepski on percussion — has drawn well-earned comparisons to the Swedish duo The Knife. Both groups make stylish, emotionally remote synth-pop. But Austra isn't as icy as The Knife, nor is its music as creepy. And the songs on Feel It Break are infinitely more danceable.
"For me, music should be a release," Stelmanis says. "I used to write songs with the intention that people would listen to it in their headphones when they needed to escape. Now, I keep the same mentality, but also want people to be able to dance and completely lose themselves in a more physical way. If I can emotionally stimulate the mind and the body through music, I'll feel like I've accomplished something significant." Copyright 2011 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.