Being in a toxic relationship can sometimes feel like being lost in a maze. Every attempt to turn a corner lands you back where you started. Austra aka Katie Austra Stelmanis announces her fourth album. HiRUDiN is both a bold acknowledgement of such patterns of behaviour and a testament to the power of breaking them.
Katie Austra Stelmanis has been better known by her middle name for three albums, ten years, and countless tours. She wrote, produced, and performed all her own records, occasionally sharing the spotlight with a band to tour live. From the outside, things were going really well for a while: she built a devoted fan base and sold out shows all around the world. However, on the inside, Stelmanis was beginning to feel stagnant and uninspired. "I was losing faith in my own ideas," she explains. Without realising it, she'd got caught up in a toxic relationship that was tearing her apart.
It wasn't until Stelmanis was ready to face her insecurities that she was able to see a way forward: "My creative and personal relationships were heavily intertwined, and I knew the only answer was to part ways with all of the people and comforts that I'd known for the better part of a decade and start again." Alongside making changes in her personal life, HiRUDiN saw Austra taking an entirely different, free-spirited approach to making a record. Seeking out all new collaborators, she booked three days of sessions in Toronto with improv musicians she'd never met before. They included two thirds of contemporary classical improv group c_RL, the cellist and kamanche duo Kamancello, kulintang ensemble Pantayo, and a children's choir.
Accumulating a vast and vibrant mass of source material, Austra then holed up in a studio in the Spanish countryside and took a collage approach to sampling, arranging, writing and producing to reveal the songs that would form the album. "I found myself really enjoying the role of producer for this record," she says, "directing and arranging a very disparate array of parts and people and feeling strong in my own conviction for what I wanted it to sound like." HiRUDiN additionally saw her work alongside co-producers for the first time, Rodaidh McDonald and Joseph Shabason, and she brought in David Wrench and Heba Kadry to mix and master the record respectively. "It was incredibly liberating and a huge learning process to work with so many different people," she says. "I felt completely revitalized."
While Austra's third album, Future Politics, was concerned with the external power structures that shape society, HiRUDiN points inward. It traces a deeply personal journey towards regeneration, dealing with the fallout of toxic relationships, queer shame, and insecurity along the way. Named after the peptide released by leeches that is the most potent anticoagulant in the world, HiRUDiN is about the importance of healing the self, letting go of harmful influences, and finding the power to rebuild through exploring your innermost desires. It reaps the rewards of Austra's leap into the unknown, in her most introspective yet inventive statement to date.