August 28 2014

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Beauty And The Beat: International Thrifting And Aromatherapy Tips From Austra’s Katie Stelmanis


Life on the road has been the downfall of many a musician, but for Austra’s Katie Stelmanis, it’s not the sex, drugs, or rock ‘n’ roll that has gotten her in trouble. “I probably lose half of what I own when I go on tour,” the classically trained singer and keyboardist admits. Considering Austra was “on the road constantly—we didn’t have more than two weeks off” its first year out, long-forgotten jeans, dresses, and shoes dot the international cities where indie venues draw a crowd. The incessant traveling also amounted to a lot of new purchases, which isn’t a bad thing considering Stelmanis takes the styling of her bandmates—who have increased from two to five since the release of Austra’s debut album Feel It Break last year—seriously; an aesthetic that properly reflects the Toronto outfit’s operatic dark-wave dance music doesn’t just happen. With a slew of shows lined up for fall, Stelmanis spoke with about her best on-the-road finds, aromatherapy that works, and maintaining her peroxide white-blond tresses—that just took a turn for lavender—when she can’t make it home for a touch-up.

The band has become a touring machine since the debut album came out last year; how has the live show developed during that time?
I think that the record is a lot darker and more dramatic than our live show is. Our live show has turned into a dance party; it’s pretty high-energy. We like to keep momentum going, so every time we play a show, you’re just trying to create something fun.

It also seems like you all have fun with your clothing—one person is wearing sequins, another is in a tie-dye top, a third has some leopard print. Did you ever sit down and talk about the style you wanted the band to have?
That’s something that we talked about a lot, because it’s really important to us. It’s a very collaborative effort as well, and is something that’s constantly changing and evolving; we get bored with a certain aesthetic so quickly. We wear some pretty outrageous outfits, that maybe you look back on and are embarrassed about. One of the band members, Romy [Lightman], she has an actual background in art, and I guess a little bit of fashion, and that’s her thing. I definitely take her as shaping the direction that we’ve been going in recently. Six weeks ago we were really into long, flowing, Eastern-inspired outfits, and I guess we’re still kind of like that. Because we do so much traveling, we’re able to pick up such amazing pieces all over the world. We have so many pieces from Istanbul when we went there, and we got some stuff when we were in Singapore and Asia. We don’t want everything we’re doing to be trendy; we want it to be beautiful, special…an otherworldly feel.

Any favorite tour shopping destinations?
Absolutely! There’s a vintage store in Paris that I’m obsessed with called Kilowatts. I’ve been going there for years and I always find really special pieces, things that you wouldn’t normally find in a vintage store. Maybe it’s a little more expensive than other vintage stores, but I always walk out with pieces that I’ll own for years. My band, we’re pretty big into thrift stores—maybe that’s kind of obvious—but one of the most exciting things about touring as well is all of the small towns you stop in, and the thrift store potential is kind of amazing. I once went to this thrift store just outside of Vegas and I found some amazing stuff there—some amazing shoes, a lot of designer clothes—in this town of 1,000 people.

Touring seems great for thrifting, but tough if you’re health-conscious, which I’ve heard you are. What do you do to stay in shape?
We always try to book hotels that have swimming pools, and we just google health food stores in every single city. Whole Foods is kind of a lifesaver for touring bands; you can get a whole meal there.

What about maintaining your hair color—whether its icy blond or lilac?
A friend of mine in Toronto is a hairstylist, and even if I’m in town for two days, she’ll make it happen. If it weren’t for her, I don’t know how I’d do it! She’s one of my best friends and I always joke I’m going to fly her to me! She hooks me up with L’Oréal’s Kérastase shampoo and conditioner. It’s a lifesaver for people whose hair is dead, like mine.

What’s your pre-show routine like?
We take a lot of time to get ready. I think that getting ready before a show is a really important process for it, and it brings us together on some level. We often travel with a costume bag and we just dress each other up and have fun with it. It’s one of my favorite parts [of touring], to put together an outfit. [With makeup] at a show, it’s pretty much show to show; sometimes we go through phases where we don’t wear a lot of makeup at all, sometimes we wear a lot. At festivals it’s kind of impossible.

What’s the one thing you always pack before you head out for a long block of tour dates?
I always take a lavender eye mask with me that I wear on every single airplane and car ride, because it allows me to sleep as much as possible.

What’s the first thing you do when you get home?
Usually take a bath—I like using essential oils, I like the relaxation stuff. Lavender and just anything for calming, relaxing. It’s really nice to wind down after tour; you’re with six people every day and then, suddenly, you’re alone.

Photo: Kid With Camera

Beauty And The Beat