Austra's Katie Stelmanis On Her 'Psychedelic Industrial' Style and Sock Obsession
"Psychedelic industrial" is the term Katie Stelmanis, the lead vocalist and keyboardist for the Toronto-based band Austra, uses to describe her personal style. Sitting at the Thompson LES Hotel in Manhattan, Stelmanis is wearing a black silk turtleneck bodysuit trimmed with lace along with a floor-length black velvet dress she bought at a church bazaar in Ottawa, a pair of black platform Mary Janes by Bull Boxer and sheer black tights. Her bleached-blonde hair is pulled back in a low bun with a scrunchie.
Emulating her style sounds simple enough—wear a lot of black—but Stelmanis says it's more complicated than that. "I’m a Gemini, so I change a lot,” she says. Her voice is quiet and you can detect her Canadian accent in certain words. "Sometimes I have goth days. Sometimes I like to look a little bit more like a painting. My outfit rotation changes usually monthly, but I place a lot of importance in nylons and socks.” She believes that shoes and socks can make or break an outfit. Agreed.
Stelmanis says that most of her tights come from American Apparel, but she recently made her first online purchase to buy socks from Moschino. “I’ve never shopped online before," she admits [Editor's note: !!!]. "I think it’s a dangerous place for me to go. I started buying furniture online from Gilt, or household items, and it was kind of disastrous so I stopped.”
Instead, Stelmanis prefers thrift shopping. In Toronto, the vintage store Fawn is her destination of choice, but shopping with the band while on tour is always fun, too. "I think I’m really lucky to be in a band, being able to travel, because I get to go to stores all over the world and pick up interesting pieces," she says. "That’s my favorite way to shop.”
As with any Lucky girl, shopping is a regular thing for Stelmanis, who grows tired of her suitcase quickly. "If I wear an outfit three times at a show, I pretty much have to put it to rest for at least a few months,” she says. Thankfully, traveling so often comes with the benefit of virtually limitless store options for Stelmanis to get her shopping fix. The singer says, "We always pass through a town when we’re on our way to another town and so we have like one hour and we all run into the town and go crazy and pick up as much as we can.” Special shout out to Tucson, which, according to Stelmanis, "has a lot of really cool vintage stores."
For someone who loves thrift shopping, it's no wonder that Stelmanis looks to older artists and musicians, like Heart and PJ Harvey, for inspiration. "I had my makeup done by somebody recently and I told her I wanted to have big drag queen makeup and she told me that that’s what PJ Harvey would ask for,” she says. More contemporary inspiration comes from The xx. "We just went on tour with The xx and they pretty much dress entirely in Acne," she says. "I like all The xx’s clothes.”
Stelmanis picks out her own outfits for the stage, but says that Romy Lightman (one of Austra's backup singers) enjoys playing the part of band stylist. "She has a very distinct style and she enjoys giving the band suggestions of what to wear," says Stelmanis.
The six-person band's second album, Olympia, is set to release on June 18. Stelmanis describes the music as electronic—it's a dance record. "We wanted to make electronic music, but all acoustically,” she says, adding that she was inspired by Portishead's 2008 record Third. “I loved how they made essentially an electronic record, but they made it acoustically. It’s all analog," says Stelmanis. "And it was also really messy and really sloppy. I just love that because so much of pop music and popular music is all set to a grid. It’s all perfect. We just wanted to try to make something that felt real.”
While Stelmanis is Austra's lead songwriter, backup singer Sari Lightman (Romy's twin) collaborated on the lyrics for this album. So what's Stelmanis' fave track? “I always like the weird emo-y tracks on the record," she says. "I think my favorite is ‘You Changed my Life.’ That one just came together in five minutes. I like when that happens.”
Click through to shop Stelmanis' favorite looks.
Photo Credit: Norman Wong
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