Austra – Habitat Music Video (w/ Katie Stelmanis Interview)

Austra - Habitat Music Video

Directed by Matt Lambert, Austra’s music video for “Habitat” weaves together three tales of human connection into one beautifully-lit cinematic narrative. Set in motel rooms that have been transformed into flowery love chambers, “Habitat” is a departure from Lambert’s more sexually-charged works, but maintains a strong focus on casting and persona; with a deliberate eye, it captures the moments of first intimacy between forbidden lovers. Katie Stelmanis of Austra gives us some insight into the band’s collaboration with the director.

Austra - Habitat Music Video

Director Matt Lambert says this video “explores the fragile and tender moments of anxiety and anticipation that lead up to first intimate contact”. How did the concept come about, and how closely did you guys work together?

Basically, we kind of decided we wanted to do this video with Matt, and he was in Berlin and I was in Toronto, and we were kind of putting ideas back and forth and kind of playing with two different ideas…

First, I had the idea of using the word “habitat” and focusing on different habitats or whatever but that kind of didn’t really go anywhere, so we decided to really focus on this one line: “I want you, I need you.” [It’s a] really old song… the lyrics are kind of really secondary to everything else; they’re sort of really more — [like] automatic writing… which is a lot of what my older stuff was like. [I was] singing demos, with words just kind of flowing, so in that sense they don’t necessarily make a lot of sense but they definitely create a vibe…

The one focus point of the song was the, “I want you, I need you,” so we decided to kind of focus on that line and what was feasible… and Matt was the one who kind of crafted the three storylines.


Austra - Habitat Music Video


Can you tell me a bit about the casting process and what the goals were when looking for the people?

Matt totally took control of the casting, and I was actually completely surprised that he managed to find so many great people… but he is a really great director and casting was really important to him, so he took it upon himself. I was attached on emails of friends I hadn’t talked to in five years who were helping Matt find these cast members, and I was like, “How did you guys even know each other?” That’s how deep he went with it.

“In general I’ve been interested in the normalization and humanization of relationships and identities that are often presented as taboo. I’ve been doing an ongoing documentary project with male escorts in Berlin and most all of my subjects are introspective, intelligent, adjusted and empowered—very few are victims.

I’m also very into shooting characters in their late teens/early 20s or over 60. There’s a unique energy and truth that comes from someone coming of age and ones who are confident enough to ‘come again’.” – Matthew Lambert, via BlackBook interview


Austra - Habitat Music Video


What is the significance of shooting these scenes in motel rooms?

The concept was based on the Japanese style love hotel where you rent it by the hour and you kind of just show up… I suppose it kind of indicates that you’re probably somewhere you shouldn’t be; the teenagers maybe kind of live with their parents, [or] I don’t know exactly what the situation is, but there’s definitely a sort of feeling that it’s somewhat forbidden or somewhat secret.


I saw some comments where people seemed confused about what was forbidden about the heterosexual couple; how would you respond to that?

I would probably just say that they were too young, basically. That’s the thing with love hotels in Japan; for the most part, it’s a culture where people live with their parents for a long time, and so a lot of the time, you kind of have to go to a love hotel because that’s what they’re there for culturally. Kids and young people can go and have fun because it’s not really kosher to bring people back home.


I read that Matt was saying he wanted something endearing and honest rather than something overly sexual because he had been doing a lot of sexually-oriented work. How did you feel about this concept?

I feel like a lot of times with our band — I dunno if it’s specifically a female band thing, but — I feel like people often kind of tend toward this very sexual imagery with our music, and I wanted to get away from that. I wanted to make it very clear to Matt that I don’t want it to be with porno…. Especially given the type of director he is; he deals with a lot of very sexual imagery, especially with homosexual themes.

When we were filming it, I was like, “Oh, it might be a porno, I don’t know,” but after seeing the finished product, I love what he did with it. Initially, he described that the climax was going to be the first intimate contact, but he changed it so that the climax was kind of the aftermath — the joy of being physically intimate with somebody.


Austra - Habitat Music Video


Can you tell me a little bit about Matt’s impressive approach to lighting?

Again, that’s not really my world, but I just know that he pays attention to every single last detail in creating a certain vibe. All of the hotel rooms didn’t look at all what they looked like in the video. The set designers came in and transformed everything from the color of the wallpaper to the bedding to the carpet; everything was sort of tailored specifically for this video and the lighting of this video…


Were there visual differences between the three storylines?

There was supposed to be; I think If you look closely there are, but there’s kind of this overarching aesthetic to the video, so there are definitely commonalities… The scene with the older women is kind of more pastels and flowers and then with the young couple, it’s going to be more deep reds, sort of bit more intensity. With the older guy and the young man, it’s more of a tan brown color palette… so they’re not drastically different, but there was definitely an attempt to create different vibes.


Stay tuned for Austra’s next music videos, which include one for “Doepfer”, directed by Toronto artist Adrian Crossman and one for “Hulluu”, directed by Lucy Powers and starring Emily Law.


Written by
Vee Hua 華婷婷

Vee Hua 華婷婷 (they/them) is a writer, filmmaker, and organizer with semi-nomadic tendencies. Much of their work unifies their metaphysical interests with their belief that art can positively transform the self and society. They are the Editor-in-Chief of REDEFINE, Interim Managing Editor of South Seattle Emerald, and Co-Chair of the Seattle Arts Commission. They also previously served as the Executive Director of the interdisciplinary community hub, Northwest Film Forum, where they played a key role in making the space more welcoming and accessible for diverse audiences.

Vee has two narrative short films. Searching Skies (2017) touches on Syrian refugee resettlement in the United States; with it, they helped co-organize The Seventh Art Stand, a national film and civil rights discussion series against Islamophobia. Reckless Spirits (2022) is a metaphysical, multi-lingual POC buddy comedy for a bleak new era, in anticipation of a feature-length project.

Vee is passionate about cultural space, the environment, and finding ways to covertly and overtly disrupt oppressive structures. They also regularly share observational human stories through their storytelling newsletter, RAMBLIN’ WITH VEE!, and are pursuing a Master’s in Tribal Resource and Environmental Stewardship under the Native American Studies Department at the University of Minnesota.

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