Editors’ Notes “I feel like every time I make a record, it's in direct opposition to whatever record I made before,” Katie Stelmanis tells Apple Music. But in the case of her fourth album as Austra, HiRUDiN, that statement doesn’t just apply to its sound, but to its methodology and lyrical concerns. Where 2017’s Future Politics saw Stelmanis use a solo synth setup to take a macro view of environmentalism and technology, HiRUDiN works in the inverse, congregating a large cast of collaborators (including producer and Destoyer saxophonist Joseph Shabason, chamber music duo Kamancello, and the Toronto kulintang-funk collective Pantayo) to embellish her most personal, vulnerable songwriting to date. Named after the anticoagulant peptide found in the saliva of leeches, HiRUDiN analyzes a relationship's slow, painful dissolution in uncomfortable detail, as Stelmanis relives the awkward meetings with her partner’s homophobic family, the jealousy-induced snooping through her phone, and the difficult pre-breakup conversations. But while these skyscraping electro-pop operettas chart Stelmanis’ eventual liberation, she cautions that the album’s ending is not necessarily a happy one. “I did have this idea that this record would be a linear narrative,” she says. “It starts in a toxic relationship, with all the chaos and emotion that you feel when you're in that position, and then you get out of it and find hope on the other side. But since making the record, everything has just changed so much in my personal life and obviously in the world, and I realized it's not a linear narrative—it's a cycle that repeats itself over and over again.” With that, Stelmanis takes us on a track-by-track ride on HiRUDiN’s emotional rollercoaster.
Anywayz “This is kind of a rogue track on the record, actually, because it's one of the last tracks that I wrote and I didn't really know what I was writing about. I wasn't writing about anything that was happening in my life at the time. And it also started with the chorus, so I was just trying to fill out the verses, and it took a really long time to figure out how I could support what felt to me like a pretty big chorus. But it's kind of crazy because, since I wrote this song, I did kind of go through what the song is describing. So I feel like I have a little bit of a psychic power: I basically wrote myself a breakup song in advance of breaking up, so it was very convenient!”
All I Wanted “This was one of the songs that wrote itself. I think the whole song was written in under 10 minutes. I was writing about something real that happened, but it had happened in the past. And I think that's something that's often true with me: I don't feel like I'm able to fully reflect on what's happening while I'm going through it, but maybe a year later is the time I can do that. This song obviously has some degree of anger in it, but I definitely don't feel any anger towards the person that this song is about. So in some ways, it was like closing a door. It was a relatively therapeutic experience, and it meant I was able to let it go, in a way.”
How Did You Know? "The thing that's fun about this track for me is that I was able to record the piano part on a Disklavier, which is like a MIDI-controlled grand piano. I went to the Yamaha factory in Scarborough [on Toronto's east side] and played the piano part on this beautiful grand piano, and they were able to capture the MIDI data at the same time. So I was able to double the piano part with synth to create this slightly trippy synthy-piano sound, but it's actually a few layers of sound that are in perfect unison.”
Your Family “I wrote 'Your Family' in the same session that I wrote 'All I Wanted.' This was another track that just kind of wrote itself. I didn't consciously write these lyrics, but I sang them. And then I listened back and was like, 'Oh, that is quite meaningful!' I think of it now as being about queer shame, and the weight of meeting [your partner’s] family as a queer person, and coming out of a relationship with somebody who did have a really right-wing, homophobic family.”
Risk It “This song started as a four-bar loop with the horn sample and the drums. And I sang this line—what became the chorus—and pitched it up just to hear what it would sound like in a different key. I ended up kind of getting addicted to the way it sounded, so I wrote an entire song around this pitched-up vocal loop, basically. It's pretty funny, because I was surprised that people were so shocked by it. I feel like it's really common to hear a pitched voice in music now, but I guess because people are just so used to my voice, a lot of them were just like, 'Why would you do that?!' But the thing that's so fun about pitching your voice when you’re already a singer is that it's the same tone, you just change the quality of it. So you get to have these different voices suddenly, which, as somebody who has one single instrument, is a fun project to do.”
Interlude I “I felt like I needed to have some interludes because, to be honest, I wrote so many songs that were so intense and I just felt like people needed a break. When I first mastered this record, it was two or three songs longer, and I went back months later and cut some more songs—I was like, ‘This is just too much!' A lot of the songs have pretty heavy arrangements, so I just needed to create some space.”
It’s Amazing “This was actually one of the first tracks I wrote for this record. In a way, I feel like it encompasses the sound of the record, because it literally has all the elements of the different players and instrumentalists that I used on one track. It just feels like a real middle-of-the-album track—it either begins or ends some section of the album. In a sense, it's kind of like the most traditional songwriter song I've ever written. And it's the kind of thing where, the first time I listened to it, I felt like it was too cheesy to be an Austra song. But then I just got really into it. It's actually one of my favorite songs on the record.”
Mountain Baby (feat. Cecile Believe) “As soon as I wrote this song, I imagined a kids’ choir on it. I don't exactly know why. The only reference I can really come up with is the Charlie Brown Christmas album—that kind of scrappy, jazz-style kid choir. I didn't want proper singers or anything, just a bunch of kids. So that was the first outside element that I brought in. After that, the track just existed without a vocal in the chorus, and I was okay with that for a while—I thought, ‘This is just going to be a weird track with a Skrillex-style instrumental chorus.’ A lot of people that I played the music for were like, 'I think a chorus would be really good in this track.' But I just couldn't come up with anything interesting, so I sent it to [Montreal synth-pop artist] Cecile Believe and she recorded her part and sent it back within a couple hours, and I was like, 'Oh! Yes, this is definitely the chorus.'”
I Am Not Waiting “This was written basically for the live stage. I had written this record with a lot of pretty introverted songs, and I was like, 'Okay, my career is playing shows, and these songs are kind of different than a lot of other Austra songs.' I love having a high-energy show, so I was like, 'I need a track I can play with a band and have fun with.' It's a four-minute song, but I think it could be, like, 10 minutes—it's got this repetitive beat and bassline that I’m excited to jam with in the live show...and unfortunately I won’t get to for a while.”
Interlude II “This is Joseph playing the sax, of course. These interludes are basically samples or collages of other tracks, made from this mountain of material I amassed in these recording sessions. I just weaved together these little instrumental bits.”
Messiah “To me, this song is about my ideal partnership. It describes what the perfect partnership could look like—like, accepting your imperfections and just being in a relationship with somebody where neither person is dominant, and where you're able to maintain your individuality and walk beside each other, rather than one person leading the other. After my toxic relationship, I did enter a new relationship, and that was the inspiration for 'Messiah.' But then that relationship ended a few months ago, so I really am spinning back to the beginning of 'Anywayz.' Such is life!”
All I Wanted
How Did You Know?
Mountain Baby (feat. Cecile Believe)
I Am Not Waiting
11 Songs, 34 Minutes
May 1, 2020
℗ 2020 Domino Recording Co Ltd
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