Audra Santa was originally from Thunder Bay, though for a decade they found themselves in Australia performing indie-folk and progressive rock. Returning to their home country in 2017, the musical explosion for them occurred with not just their music but also the performing aspects of who they’re becoming through their Art. Working in recent years with the top-notch Tom McKay (JoyDrop, Mercy Flight) and releasing numerous Singles – Keep Asking, Cruel and Afterglow – ahead of a full album in the coming year. What is clear and you’ll hear in our chat its more than the music – its the visuals, community and honesty – that make their output so special and worthy of a listen and if you can get the chance see live.
Santa will be performing in June at MIDEM (France), September at Live at Heart (Sweeden) and within days – May 8th at 8pm – showcasing in their home town at CMW at Stackt Studio.
Last November from Brisbane, Australia where they were visiting briefly they spoke to radionotes of being banned by Facebook, taking lodgement in a Mansion through to their secret new project and much more….
To listen, click the green ‘play’ triangle… [note: may take few seconds to load]
(Transcript of Audra Santa chat below, check to delivery in audio)
PHOTO IMAGE CREDIT: Brandon Allen – website and instagram
SHOW NOTES: Audra Santa episode
Where to find the show to subscribe/follow:
- PlayPodcast – this link directs you, to the Podcast app on your device (subscribe to not miss an episode)
….or you may prefer to Search “radionotes Podcast” in your favourite podcatcher.
The socials… Instagram – Facebook – Twitter
In The Box:
- Harpoon – Ok Moon (Official Music Clip)
- Not Like a Brother – Tracy McNeil (Bandcamp)
- Zero Gravity [Acoustic Version] – Kate Miller Heidke (Eurovision Clip) Purchase/Stream
- LIVE at the Sydney Opera House – Paul Kelly (Official Site)
- Scatter The Rats (Album) – L7 (Official Band Site)
FEATURE GUEST: Audra Santa
I’m at a point where I’m not afraid to share it with the world
- Official Site
- Instagram – Twitter – Facebook
- CMW Profile (Official Link)
- CMW Showcase at Stackt The Studio May 8th (Eventbrite/details)
- Harrie Demero (Instagram)
- What goes on inside Toronto’s Darling Mansion – The Star (Article)
- The Darling Mansion (Official Website)
- Tristan Hoogland (Official Website)
- JoyDrop (Spotify)
- Thomas McKay – Exeter Sound Studios (Official Website)
- The Secret Path – Gord Downie & Jeff Lemire (Official Wesbite)
- Downie Wenjack Fun (Official Website)
- Truth and Reconciliation Commission (Archived – Official Site)
- The Ontario Native Women’s Association – ONWA (Official Site)
- Lenny Stoute on Jaynz Bee Podcast (YouTube)
- Cruel (Offical Music Video)
- Afterglow (Official Music Video – banned by Facebook)
- My Mother & I – Lucy Dacus (Bandcamp)
- Emerald Valley – Filthy Friends (SmartLink)
- Honest Words – Brain Romance (Bandcamp)
Who Sent What? (segment):
- Coby Grant (Facebook)
- Hobbledehoy Records (Official Site)
- ANARA (Official Site)
Off the Charts:
- ME! – Taylor Swift feat. Brendon Urie (Official Music Clip)
- Bad Dating and back tattoos – Shameless (Podcast)
Next episode guest: Laura Imbruglia
More details on playpodcast here, thanks to Matt from them.
[Radio Production – notes: Audra Santa chat is 47 minutes of the 54 minute episode, feel free to add your own music from them for broadcast ]
Theme/Music: Martin Kennedy and All India Radio
Web-design/tech: Steve Davis
Voice: Tammy Weller
You can make direct contact with the podcast – on the Contact Page
For direct quotes check to audio, first version of transcript by Barry M at REV
John Murch: We’re joined by a guest with fire inside for the fires of life, working with the need for a form of nakedness to create, and recently launched at Radio their latest Single, banned by Facebook, featuring the burning looks with the watery touch of Harry Demero. Audra Santa, welcome to radionotes.
Audra Santa: So, great to be here. Thank you for having me.
John Murch: Let’s talk about that you were born in Thunder Bay, a decade in Australia and now living back in the country of birth. Is this returning to, a reset or something else for you?
Audra Santa: Oh, wow. Well, I spent 10 years in Brisbane, 2006 to 2016. I came here originally to study and then ended up coming back and getting married and kind of building my entire adult life and in 2016, I went back to Thunder Bay for a wedding and at the time I had just separated from my husband. I had this plan to go down to Melbourne and finally pursue music as I had always wanted to and instead as fate would have it ended up meeting some musicians on a fateful weekend in Toronto and decided to stay and explore that a little longer and then two years on, still found myself in Canada, moved my whole life down to Toronto, started building and allowing my music to take shape from there and finally, I’m doing what I had always wanted to do, which is fully put my heart and soul and creativity into my musical expression. I’m super excited.
John Murch: At the time that we speak, the latest single is called Afterglow, shot on the shores in fact of Lake Ontario.
Audra Santa: Yes. A few people actually said to me when they saw it in Canada, they’re like, did you shoot that in Australia? I went, oh no. It’s the power of video and editing. Yeah, Lake Ontario is one of the five great lakes. It was rather chilly. It was a day in August that we did the first day of shooting and then the second day I ended up booking because when I looked at the cut of the first day, I realised I needed more content. I directed that video and I also took it from concept all the way through to the final edit and it was a huge and exciting creative project for me and then just so much fun to like frolic in the sand and the water with that gorgeous model that you mentioned and just kind of explore a few things that I hadn’t done before in the visual aspect.
John Murch: Talk us through the level of confidence you need to find within yourself from going from the film clip to Cruel to Afterglow.
Audra Santa: You know what? It’s funny because, yeah, there’s a degree of confidence and bravado even in art as you’re creating things. Most of the time I’m terrified. I have quite a perfectionist bent and even as a little girl, I wouldn’t try anything unless I thought I was good at it right away and it’s only been getting into directing or getting into any aspect of music or creativity, it’s been because I’ve had people behind me pushing me and saying, sure, I could direct this for you but I think you can do it or sure, I could record this for you, but I think you have the ability to do part of it yourself.
Audra Santa: So, yeah, the director of Cruel, I talked to him about the video concept and he said to me, I don’t want to direct this, and said, I can help you with it, but I think you should do it. I had no idea what I was doing. I knew what I wanted in the end, but I just kind of meandered my way through it and I think that’s the thing as artists quite often, or just people in life, we can step out somewhere and pretend we have a level of confidence, but a lot of us, we have no idea what the hell we’re doing. You build skill. For me, it was about the creative expression first and then just figuring out a way to make it happen.
John Murch: Talking about having a person or people around you to give the hand sign, signal that you yourself can do it, how do you take that moment to look around and find those people to actually encourage you to give you that confidence?
Audra Santa: To be completely honest, most of them have found me or they have come into my life by almost a miracle of sorts. I’ve had amazing creative muses over the last 10 or 15 years of my life where it’s almost like, like I say god, but people say universe or just fate, but I feel like god will bring people into my life at a certain time and they will be there for a season to help me to grow and to become more of who I am and in this case, it was exactly the same. I’ve had kind of creative muses come into my life and give me that nudge. I do very intentionally also build my network. I do reach out, but one of the things I always encourage other artists to do too is that, in networking or in getting to know a creative community, not thinking right away about, what can I get out of this connection? But instead saying, well, who is this person? I want to discover about who that person is, what makes them tick? What are they passionate about? And letting that inspire you, as opposed to trying to draw something out of it where I need a mentorship or I need a creative support person.
Audra Santa: It’s not about that, it’s about a collaboration that comes out of a mutually beneficial relationship. So, with most of these people that I met, I was only in Toronto a few months and already I had this amazing creative network around me of people who were pushing and encouraging me. It was just because I connected with them and wanted to know who they were and if there was an alignment creatively, where we were into the same thing and we had a similar vibe, then we’d just run with it. That’s how I ended up with the video team that I had, that’s how I’ve worked with the producers I’m working with and it’s been a really exciting process.
John Murch: I sense a level of leadership coming from you as well, something I didn’t know until today was that you’re a Church Worship Leader. Can you talk us through what that was and what the role was?
Audra Santa: I originally … I started my music, there was a church in Australia, in New Hope, Brisbane and it was one day, I was attending the church at the time, someone came up to me and said, hey, we hear you play a bit of guitar, we don’t have a leader for tonight, can you sing a couple songs? I went, I guess so. So, I went home, I learned a few songs and then from then on, I ended up like being the music director in this church and leading a team and it was a really formative and important time for me. It was important as well because in terms of developing, not just leadership in a musical sense or leading the team, it was also I learned how to connect to a band, how to connect in more of the flow or the spirit or however people understand it, but understanding that when we are moving together as a band, it’s not about us just playing a lot of the same notes together, it’s actually how are we connecting? How are we paying attention to the atmosphere in the room? How are we facilitating a place for people to experience and connect more with themselves and with the spirit and all of those things. So, I take that same approach now into any music I make, for any event I run.
John Murch: Talking about a sense of place, there was some shooting of a film clip in The Darling Mansion, which by the way is a creative space but it’s also an Airbnb as well. Who are The Darling Mansion and how does that creative vibe fit into what you are able to produce musically with a team?
Audra Santa: Well, that song … So, Cruel was actually a song that I recorded as my marriage was breaking down here in Australia. I went down to sing-sing studios in Melbourne before they shut down there, that one location and recorded there kind of just out of this heartache of things that were imploding. I shelled it for a while and then when I got to Toronto, one of my first weekends there, I stayed at the darling mansion as an Airbnb and it is the most eclectic place. If anybody here listening goes to Toronto, please look up The Darling Mansion, look up Tanya Grossi, she is just a creative maverick who’s made this amazing place.
Audra Santa: So, I stayed in the opium den which was a bedroom upstairs. After I saw it, I mentioned to Tanya several months later that I was interested in shooting a video and she opened up her home to me and I shot it there and it was, yeah, it was this dark and moody and foreboding vibe that I wanted for the song. Really, the creativity … even now, I work with people who are some of the creative artists working within the mansion or connected to the community there, including a lady named Micheline who’s a live painter and artist and fashion designer, another designer named Evan Bedell and they’ve kind of all become my community. It’s almost this little neighborhood that I live in where we all encourage and inspire each other.
John Murch: The thing I’m hearing is it gave you a chance for that song to actually connect back to when you first arrived in a new space as well. So, an old memory but a new space. Was it a chance to close that chapter in any particular way or did it leave the book open on that story, that narrative for which the song is about?
Audra Santa: It’s really interesting, because the song at the time was when my relationship was kind of falling apart and it was just a visceral response. I was even thinking of the words that literally just came into the studio and emoted and the producer Tristan Hoogland who’s now in LA was like, that’s it. When I went to do the video, the video wasn’t really connected to the song directly. The video was more about reconciling two different parts of myself, the dark and the light. As we’re talking about being a worship leader in a church, I really struggled when I stepped out of that and started making my own music, like exploring certain parts of myself that I almost thought were forbidden or bad in some way.
Audra Santa: One of the things that’s been a big part of my healing the last couple of years, not just relationally, but with myself and with my own sense of spirituality and everything has been not calling any part of myself bad, but actually redeeming it all by allowing myself to fully examine every part of who I am, who I was and who I want to become. That video is about the dark and light parts of myself and the division of the two but actually allowing it to come together and realizing that the true essence of who I am doesn’t deny any of it.
John Murch: Is this the aspect that being the good girl is creative suicide?
Audra Santa: Oh, I think putting yourself into any sort of box is creative suicide. Yeah, absolutely. I mean, for a long time, all of my art was very safe. I was playing it safe. Safe art makes for a weak art in my opinion. If I’m trying to make art that’s going to appeal to everyone, then it will be to something that inspires no one. So, even now, so, with my recent video, Afterglow, as we’re talking about it being banned on Facebook, what happened was is there’s too much implied nudity that I wasn’t able to promote the Facebook post and I got a couple messages from some lovely friends and well-intentioned people who didn’t like the video themselves and that’s okay. It’s not for everyone. No art is for everyone. People are going to have different tastes. There were certain things within the video that I was doing that was allowing myself the creative freedom and the fullness of expression and sensuality and parts of myself that I kind of kept wrapped-up for a long time, coming out and to make a statement because it’s about a woman taking back her power.
Audra Santa: So, in that sense, some people aren’t going to like what I do. Being the good girl and trying to do something where everyone’s going to like it is actually fully denying the reason that I make any music or art in the first place. All of my music initially from when I was young came out of pain. It came out of a place of trying to understand broken parts of myself. So, it’s not going to be clean, it’s not going to be all shiny and new all the time, it’s gonna be messy and my hope is that with any music or art that I make is that it would inspire other people to be willing to look at some of the darker or the hidden parts of themselves because we always have a choice about what we do with it, but we have to look at it in the first place.
John Murch: Briefly, on Facebook issue, when I was hearing about the banning, I was imagining those in Facebook who are underpaid who need to actually decide what is good and what is bad and for them, not to have the graciousness of time to go, well, that looks great, instead going, I better errr on caution, I’m getting paid less than the minimum wage, I better just go.
Audra Santa: I imagine it was probably even bots, like, so many things are automated these days. I think it probably was some computer scanning and seeing a lot of skin and then a person looking at it and confirming, yes, there’s a lot of skin.
John Murch: It wasn’t Mark Zuckerberg’s wife going, Mark, you can’t have a look at that, nope, not happening.
Audra Santa: No, not okay –
John Murch: Not happening.
Audra Santa: One thing I do want to say about that video is that I’m so proud of it. I look at it now and I’m very proud of where I got it to in the end. The final cut, the amount of hours we spent in the editing suite, because really I pieced it together. I didn’t storyboard and take it all out, I had ideas and I filmed it and then I was like, well, that isn’t working, I have to film more and added pieces together and in the end, it came together in nearly a miraculous way. I’m really proud of it. The thing that I’m realising now with anything that I make is I’m not even as attached to who likes it, but also even how far it gets, like yeah, of course I want more people to hear my music and pay attention so that I can make more of it, but it was so fulfilling on a personal level that I went, well, if Zuckerberg doesn’t like it, that’s fine.
John Murch: We’re not saying he actually seen it. I’m sure it got censored before he got to see it.
Audra Santa: No, maybe he will. After this podcast, we should send it to him.
John Murch: This brings the fact that you were actually Director of this very film clip. What are those feelings that being a director of your own work and possibly of others later brought you?
Audra Santa: Wow. Well, there was a long time and like the video itself is about kind of taking back my own power, but there’s a long time where I was relinquishing my power to everyone else, really willingly. Nobody was taking my voice away from me. No one was saying that they wanted to control me, but as a woman, and as an artist, I was almost looking for validation from everyone else. I was needing people to be okay and happy with who I was. So, I continually instead of deciding if I felt okay about me, I was deferring it to everyone else to tell me if I was okay.
Audra Santa: This was also happening in my art and I had some producers who were saying to me, because I’d be like, oh, I don’t really know what I’m talking about, but I think maybe this mix needs to change. I had a few call me on it and they said, no, you do know what you’re talking about. You might not have all the technical words for it, but you know what you want and I need you to tell me what you want. So, just connecting with what I wanted, it’s been a process, step by step to take control back on all of my art and go, yeah, I’m gonna learn more skills, but if the guy that I’m shooting the video with says I should direct it, well, I’ll give it a crack. If I could take it further, it just keeps going.
John Murch: You gendered it there by saying as a woman, how much did that play into it? How much did identifying with that gender play into?
Audra Santa: It’s funny, because I paid attention to myself gendering it as well, because I think men can deal with this as … I’m not saying that as just a woman struggle at all, however we are conditioned in society as women, there’s a very kind of feminine way of approaching things and even in studying masculine and feminine energies. The masculine is often more dominant and more forward and the feminine is a bit more gentle and accommodating. For me, I just found that as a woman, I had put myself in a certain place. Again, no one put me there. I put myself there. Yes, society might have implied things that I’ve taken on and worn as a coat for a long time, but it was my choice to take that coat off.
Audra Santa: So, now, as I’m doing everything, I’m having to pay attention. Like, my first gig for example in Toronto, things don’t always go according to plan, especially in live. I was very conscious of managing that first gig that I was in a room of men and I showed up and there were a few things that were miscommunicated in the venue and my first thought to myself, because I was going around saying what I needed and what I wanted, all of a sudden I went, oh, they’re gonna think I’m a bitch. They’re gonna think I’m a diva, because I’m telling them, no, I need a sound check. No, it’s not okay that this hasn’t been done this way. This is what was agreed upon. I became really aware that as a woman asserting authority or power with these men that I had just met could be seen as being a bitch.
Audra Santa: I wasn’t sure how I felt about that. I love this quote from Beyonce, because we often get called like bossy, look at leadership and kids and be like, well, that girl’s being bossy and Beyonce would say, well, I’m not bossy, I’m the boss. I’m realizing I’m the boss in my own life and I’m the boss in my own music and the sooner that I take control over those aspects of myself, the further I can take it.
John Murch: What was the catalyst within you that said it was time to do so?
Audra Santa: I went through a really severe depression a couple years ago. That depression stemmed out of a place of needing to please everyone else and not knowing who I was or what I wanted. What started to happen was, as I was examining parts of myself and figuring out the real root causes of some of it and then working on some of my relationships and ways of relating with people, I realized that I had given away that power as I said, and that the only way that I could become whole again was actually giving myself a little more credit and allowing myself my own authority and agency to control my life and to make decisions. What I started to see as I kept doing that was that I had decisions in front of me all the time.
Audra Santa: It’s very easy for us people to say things like, I have to or I should, like I have to go to work. Well, no you don’t have to go to work. Yeah, you signed a contract that said you would, but every morning when you wake up, you still have a choice and if you take away that choice by saying you have to do things, you’re actually disempowering yourself. So, when I stopped allowing myself to say I have to or I should and I started to say I choose to, and this is why I choose to, it put me in the driver’s seat in a new way and now with my life, I examine my choices all the time. I do this process of mind mapping personally where I sit down and I make sure that my decisions and actions are in line with my deeper values. So, I actually like pull back, what do I really value and are the things that I’m doing in my life building more momentum towards those things or are they taking away and distracting me from what actually matters?
John Murch: Because depression can take you down that very dark corridor of the decision of living or not to live.
Audra Santa: Yes, I was there. Absolutely. Yeah, it can be a very scary place and it can be very isolating and even when I was going through the worst of my depression a few years ago. See, I actually have a background in mental health. I did my honors in psychology, my masters in public health. I’ve worked in managing mental health programs and yet, when depression hit me, I knew I was feeling depressed, I didn’t actually acknowledge that I was severely clinically depressed and it was only when I got a phone call as I was driving over a bridge, over the Gateway bridge in Brisbane and my phone happened to ring and it just happened to be my counselor and she said, I just … she never calls me ever, and I answered the phone, I said, Anne, it’s amazing you call because I’m having these thoughts and feelings that I haven’t had before where I want to drive my car off this bridge.
Audra Santa: She said, well, I just felt I needed to ring you to confirm our appointment which she had never done before and she said, because I do think you have a mood disorder and we need to get you to a doctor. So, at that point, I went in to see her, we had a really great conversation and I went to the doctor and again, I was totally resistant. I was like, I don’t want to do it. I agreed just for my own safety in that time to get through that challenging time to go on some medication which I did for a year or so to get over the really difficult challenge I was going through, but it also gave me the tools to enable myself to get up in the morning so I could work on the issues that were underlying the depression.
Audra Santa: I’m a huge advocate for people talking about this sort of thing, for mental health services and for support systems being put in place and also for us to kind of take away the stigma about being able to have the conversations of depression, of other mental health issues. Yeah. It’s a dark place but when you have the support and you can get out of it, there’s definitely light at the end of the tunnel.
John Murch: The important thing, as we’re saying there, is the consultation is actually having a conversation about where you’re at and where the issues are at and what I was picking up also was the fact that even with that knowledge of what it is in black and white compared to what can be within the colour of life and how those colours can change as well.
Audra Santa: Exactly. One day to the next, one of the things I kept reminding myself with depression was, I would wake up and there might be a really bad day and I’d wake up and all of a sudden it felt like the walls were caving in on me, and I’d ask myself, what’s different about today than yesterday? I’m like, nothing. Just my perception. Maybe I have some new information, but I am okay and I would have … there was a gym I used to work out here in Brisbane, happened to be in Brisbane right now just visiting, but there was a gym I worked at where someone who worked there, Beanie at SoulFit, she’d say, just stop and ask yourself these two questions. How do I want to feel and what do I need to do to feel that way? It was so simple. So, if I wanted to feel comforted or connected or whatever it might be, sometimes the step I could take to bring myself a little closer was as simple as taking a shower or going for a 10-minute walk or calling a friend. Those little things just gave me new perspective so I wouldn’t get too wound up in my own head.
John Murch: How great are walks? Just one foot after the other.
Audra Santa: So good.
John Murch: After the other. That forward motion, that thing the former Prime-Minister, one of many we’ve had in Australia, said, moving forward, one foot after the other.
Audra Santa: That’s right.
John Murch: Let’s lighten the mood for you a little. We’ll get back to the film clip Afterglow, because I want to talk about a band … look, it is a little while ago, maybe both of us are way too young to remember them that well, called JoyDrop, someone who worked with them is producer Thomas McKay, who is Thomas McKay? How did you get to hook up professionally with such a talent and what a great basis they are. Let’s swoon a little about Thomas McKay.
Audra Santa: I love him. So, Tom’s actually one of the hardest-working people I’ve ever met.
John Murch: Doesn’t surprise me.
Audra Santa: One of the hardest working in music. He’s killer. He’d been signed onto a couple of different deals, both in the UK and Canada, yeah, and the bass player for JoyDrop. JoyDrop was like a band that I loved when I was fifteen, I think they put out their record MetaSexual. I knew them well and what happened was, I was in Toronto and I was on an app, similar to a dating app like Tinder, there was an app called Shapr and Shapr is an app that’s just for like connecting on a professional level and networking and I saw this guy who was a producer. Turns out he was only on that app one day. I was only really on it one day. We met, we swiped right on each other, I had a meeting with him, went in and met him and I didn’t realize until afterward that he was actually the producer and the bass player for Joy Drop, but we vibed off each other right away. Lovely guy. He’s a big part of the reason why I’m making music the way I am now, because when I first went into see him, I had released Keep Asking, which I’d recorded here in Australia and I had this idea that I was gonna release Cruel kind of as this black sheep of some of my music and get into this poppy, happy, R&B type thing.
Audra Santa: He listened to the songs that I brought him and then he’s like, show me everything you’ve written. I showed him a whole list of songs I’ve written, he heard my story, we talked about depression, we talked about my relationship, we talked about the things that I used to love, like when I was a kid and I used to be obsessed with just weird shit like bugs and I still am. I was just a dark, weird child, like I was on many levels. He said to me, I’m looking at these songs you brought here Audra, he said, I don’t know who you think you are, but when I listen, I don’t know if it’s this. He challenged me and he said, look at the list of songs you have here. Which one makes you feel like you’re gonna vomit? I looked at it and I pointed out a song called, I think it was Native Species and he said, how about we start there?
Audra Santa: It was the best thing that could have happened because he went, stop thinking about what sounds good or what could be, like, what kind of music you think you want to make. What’s actually the music that moves you? What’s the music that makes you feel like you’re sick inside? He could tell that there was this anger in me that I was presenting as this really happy and go-lucky person, but on the inside, he could see that there was dark, seething anger, frustration and this woman who just wanted to come out and just scream at the top of her lungs. He wanted to figure out how to let her come out and set her free.
John Murch: What I like about that is just that serendipitous of it that you’re both on the app you’re suggesting for just a day, a window. You were listening to them as a kid as well weren’t you?
Audra Santa: I was. I was, but y’know what John? My whole life, the past two years has been that. There’s been a serendipitous magical component of nearly every single day of my life in the last two years. I can’t … to the point that people have literally asked me if there’s a horseshoe up my arse, just because things unfold in a great way because I see so much opportunity and I feel very, very blessed to have the things that are finally coming together and working with Tom was certainly one of those things and realizing that some of these people that I had idolized were just like me.
John Murch: Has it had to do with the fact of giving yourself some freedom as well to actually be the artist you want to be, to not be shackled down to a nine to five per se?
Audra Santa: Yeah. Oh, definitely. Well, even that has been amazing. I’ve had opportunities unfold in my life and the other professional aspect of my life – consulting – which means that I have the freedom to focus on music time to stay out till three if I need to or whatever it might be. There’s a lot of freedom in that.
John Murch: My understanding is, you’re currently back in Australia to work with, discuss with issues of indigenous communities. Can you possibly talk to us a little bit about that personal experience for you? I guess it’s the professional but also that personal engagement you have with indigenous communities.
Audra Santa: Oh man, it’s been such an honor. So, originally I came to Australia to study my masters in public health focusing on indigenous health. I went back to Canada and there’s the Ontario Native Women’s Association which is an indigenous women’s group that focuses on the voices and issues that affect indigenous women and their families. So, I worked for them in a little window ten years ago and then when I went back and I moved back there in 2016, I engaged them again and was working in supporting building capacity within their organization, in policy and communications. When I moved down to Toronto, I ended up working not just in the policy space, but specifically for an indigenous women’s organization, that provided services to women in Toronto and then, now, I’m also doing some work for the Downie Wenjack Fund. You remember The Tragically Hip and Gord Downie?
John Murch: I do.
Audra Santa: Iconic Canadian band.
John Murch: Absolutely.
Audra Santa: I know most of your listeners may be Australian I do encourage everyone to check them out.
John Murch: Sorry to interrupt. Gordy passed away on October the 18th of last year.
Audra Santa: That’s correct. So, when Gord passed away, in the last year, he ended up doing some really amazing work that has become his legacy. He wrote an album called Secret Path and that was based on the story of a young boy named Chanie Wenjack who was taken just much like in Australia where we had the Stolen Generation here. There was the residential school system in Canada where indigenous young kids were taken from their families, put in schools where they were boarded and quite often there was abuse and neglect and they were not allowed to practice their culture or speak their language. So, we had the same route, the colonial routes, the same intergenerational trauma in Canada as we do here in Australia. The very fabric of what made a family a family was ripped out from under these communities and there’s been so much struggle and challenge and there’s been very little education in Canada up to this point until there was the Truth and Reconciliation Commission a few years ago where people didn’t even realize this had happened.
Audra Santa: So, what happened was Gord Dowie, he ended up finding out from his brother Mike about Chanie story. Now, young Chanie’s had been at a residential school close to Kenora, Ontario, and he decided to run away and he was running away following the railway tracks back to his community and unfortunately he ended up dying of exposure and his body was found beside the tracks. Gord was so affected by this that he wrote an entire album poetry and then the music that went with it based on Chanie’s story and then there was an artist by the name of Jeff Lemire who actually created a graphic novel out of this. Now, you can go on YouTube and you can see what’s become a documentary.
Audra Santa: Gord ended up being awarded the Order of Canada and honored greatly by indigenous communities and now as Canada is on this journey of reconciliation, where all of us as Canadians have a responsibility to repair the foundations which were totally wrong coming into the country and trying to steal what was not ours. So, as a settler or a non-indigenous person, I have now a responsibility for reconciliation. We also now have indigenous communities where we are coming together in partnership to move forward on this journey. So, I have the incredible honor right now where I’ve also been working with the Downie Wenjack Fund because Gord prior to his passing, the Downie family and the Wenjack family, so, Chanie’s family, created this fund where it’s a foundation where we work together to build awareness across Canada around the issues of reconciliation residential schools. So, I’ve even been helping to build an artist ambassador program to get music and artists in the schools to talk about these issues.
John Murch: So, that’s why you’re in the country isn’t it?
Audra Santa: Well, yeah, well, partly, healing our spirit worldwide, it’s the eighth gathering of First Nations from all over the world that are going to be in Sydney November 26 through to 29. So, I know about the time this airs, that will have passed, but it’s a gathering of indigenous communities there and thankfully, the Ontario Native Women’s Association will be presenting and I have the incredible privilege of supporting them to do so and also being a representative of the Indigenous NewsWire and Canada Nation talk. So, I’ll be working kind of a journalist capacity as well for them.
John Murch: I’ve got a quote here. Bottle of wine and a bass line. Does this bring us back to Tom or is this something else?
Audra Santa: Oh, John, I always love talking to you. You do such wonderful research. I learn things about myself when you ask me questions. Oh yes. Well, that’s about a project that I have on the go that started as a secret project. When I first went back to Canada, found myself in this place of kind of exploring parts of myself that I’d hidden away for a long time. In particular, my sexuality, my sensuality, my connection to other people, all of these things that I had quite a degree of almost hidden shame around it, because it was a very new thing to even explore that again. I ended up sending some music to an incredible producer in Australia by the name of Nick O’Donnell. I’ve never met, I had just heard his music at a show I went to and I messaged him on Facebook afterward and told him that I had not been moved by someone’s music like that in years, but we kept in touch and when I started to explore some of this music, I was also going on GarageBand for the first time and playing with music production software.
Audra Santa: So, I made this sexy song called Heaven On Earth one night and I thought, you know what? I’m gonna send this to that Nick guy. Why not? I don’t even really know him, I may as well just send it off. So, I forwarded it to him. The next morning I woke up because of course Australia and Canada time was different and he had been working on it. He sent it back to me, mixed with some swinging shaker on it and some sex guitar as he called it. I was blown away with how it sounded. What was the line? What did you say?
John Murch: The quote was, bottle of wine and a bass line.
Audra Santa: I was staying with my parents at the time. I was in the bedroom, in the basement and I had a bottle of wine because my dad kept telling me it was a good idea for me to de-stress and relax a bit. So, he’d bring me wine to my door. So, here I was with an entire bottle to myself. I downed it. I had this bass line running on GarageBand and I just started singing these lyrics that when I listen back to them, I went, oh my goodness. I sent that to Nick because again, I went, well, nothing to lose and a song came back that we call Castle and it is probably something of mine that when I listen to it, I am most moved by it because there’s something really raw and sensual and sexy about it that I was afraid of to that point.
Audra Santa: So, after that, there was about two years of Nick and I sending music back and forth across the ocean. Still having never met each other, called the boudoir project. I’m really excited about it, and now I’m at a point where I’m not afraid to share it with the world, but for a while, keeping it as a secret project, then I could explore and I could go deeper and the idea that no one would ever hear it allowed me to go places I normally wouldn’t. But now, that I’m not embarrassed about any part of who I am, I’m ready to share it. I did play a couple songs. I played these songs at MIDEM in Cannes, France in June, because I was invited to showcase there and I did play a few of the songs. I had a different guitarist and I played against some tracks and it was received … like, it was crazy. There was actually a double encore the night that I did these songs.
John Murch: For some reason, I’m thinking of a body contortionist that I think you’ve been doing launches with or at least the world of yoga. Now, is the world of yoga and body contortionist something new for you?
Audra Santa: Well, it’s just been, again, like collaboration with other artists. So, at The Darling Mansion I had been to a few parties there where they had had this contortionist and they also had shabari which is like a form of artistic Japanese rope bondage and they had like these amazing performances that were very physical. I’ve done a bit of dance before. I’d love to bring dance into my videos or things like that in the future, but there was something so beautiful about these artists. So, bring in contortionists into like a party I’m throwing, I love it. Yeah, yoga and some of that has been more of some of my own personal practice in the past few years or meditation and I’m just … I get fascinated with everybody’s … what their own journey is and just making my parties or my shows or my videos about more than just simply music and things that accompany it, but trying to actually enhance the experience.
John Murch: Is this where we pick up on what you say is Art beyond the music?
Audra Santa: Yeah. So, that was something that came out. There’s a journalist in Canada by the name of Lenny Stoute who now works for … he writes for Cashbox, he used to do a lot of stuff. He’s originally from Georgia, he has this wonderful accent and he calls me Audra and I love it. He’s the one who talked about that. He said, in all the years that he had done music, he said, what he’s seeing was that what I was doing was art beyond the music, that it wasn’t just about the sound or about a record. Yeah. So, we’ve kind of brought that into, now that he’s mentoring me a little bit as well, brought that into thinking about everything that I do from here on, instead of just like accompanying the music, actually saying, well, if I want to create art that’s bigger … even this morning, I was having a conversation with another musician here in Brisbane, and I was saying to her, I can say that I value music and I do, but what I actually really value is creativity and self-expression and music is a mode of that. It’s a medium for me to express, but so is visual art or video or poetry. So, I’m now looking at music, not things to enhance or hold the music, but just like going, what’s the expression and how do I ellevate, enhance and amplify that expression?
John Murch: You’ve come to believe getting naked is key to uncovering one’s true essence. The idea of nakedness for you, what are we exploring? What are we talking about?
Audra Santa: That was a quote from a piece of writing I had that was exploring the Boudoir Project for me. I just found that we as people, when we are uncomfortable with a part of who we are, instead of uncovering it, and exploring it and getting naked per se, we put on more layers, more layers of clothing, we hide our shame in the same way the story of Adam and Eve hiding their shame. Taking a fig leaf and going I am naked and god says, who told you you’re naked? So, for me, I was realizing that the only way I could release shame was actually pulling apart and uncovering myself and not being afraid to look at it. I think that becoming comfortable with being uncomfortable, becoming willing to lean into the parts of me that I’m afraid of, has been a really big part of becoming whole, becoming who I am, not shying away from being big, having a voice and exploring more of myself.
Audra Santa: I think that we also, in that nakedness, one of the things that we tend to do when we get afraid is we’ll also judge ourselves before we even explore what it means for us. So, we’ll decide that an emotion is good or bad or we’ll decide that our past is good or bad. What if we didn’t actually put that judgment on and we just went and looked at it and asked ourselves some questions? So, for me, getting naked and doing that secret boudoir project allowed me to uncover parts of myself, explore it and examine it in a safe place and then decide to share only if I wanted to, which I do.
John Murch: The latest Single as we speak is called Afterglow and one of the essence that comes through that in terms of nakedness is the scars that you can have when you do show some nakedness, how have you been healing those scars over the last few years through both your music, your musical experience and who you’ve become since leaving Australia through that process of nakedness?
Audra Santa: Oh, so many things. It’s been leaning in and exploring the parts that scared me the most and letting go of ideas of what I thought was what my life was going to be and allowing myself to open up to possibilities. A lot of the healing, actually, it wasn’t work that I had to do afterward. There has been a lot of healing the last two years, but it was actually the brokenness and the depression and the other work that I had done where I was so uncomfortable during that time, that laid the groundwork for this healing to happen. So, as soon as I moved to Canada, as soon as I started exploring my music in Toronto, it was almost like life actually became a lot easier at that time. I was no longer feeling stuck. I was allowing myself the freedom. I mean, I’ve had some really great people around me and I’ve just over time, I’ve had to let go of what I thought my life was gonna be at a certain point in my life and it would put a lot of pressure on ourselves, like, oh, I’m now in my 30s, that means I need to own property or I need to be aligning to these certain ideals that I had set. Yeah, just approaching life with wonder.
John Murch: But, what about the anger? You spoke to Cashbox regarding the anger that you were feeling, that you’re trying to push away those that were trying to get close, particularly those on a more personal level.
Audra Santa: I was part of this online songwriting club, iheartsongwritingclub.com, where there was a … I get a songwriting assignment every week and the assignment was moving backwards and we just had to write this song. You have an hour to write it. You get a restriction. The idea is just to get a song writing every week. So, I sat down and I didn’t realize I was angry until I started to play, and then the lyrics that just came out were like, I warn you that many have come before, ask and I’ll show you carved privilege and spoils of war. There were these men that had been approaching me, these people approaching me in Toronto and wanting to get close to me, wanting to take me out and there was just something in me where I’d be like, yeah, you want to f***ing try? I felt like I was going to destroy someone in a hundred different ways. I think that the only way for me to deal with the anger at the time was through it, was to express it.
Audra Santa: For a very long time I looked at anger as a bad emotion and said, well, I can’t feel that way. I’m not allowed to feel that, but when I actually said, what if I let myself feel it 110%? I don’t want to hurt anybody and that’s why I need to let myself feel it, because otherwise, it’s going to kill me from the inside and it is going to actually destroy potential relationships that come in my way. So, I allowed myself to feel, I allowed myself to put it into my music, I allowed myself to express it in other ways in my life, in safer ways or in very contained ways and that was a big part of the healing and not being afraid of being angry. Being like, you know what? I can be as angry as I want to be. I’m allowed to feel this, because for a long time, I was telling myself I wasn’t allowed to. The issue with anger and any other emotion isn’t the feeling, it’s what we do with it. So, if I didn’t allow myself to process it, I think it could have been very destructive.
John Murch: We were talking there about the scars though as well, so obviously conflict can be part of an anger response and I guess sometimes, it’s reactionary to how you’re dealing with people at the time. Have you found a path through music to actually communicate how you’ve dealt with that? When we listen to these tunes that have been and maybe, dare I say, the boudoir sessions when they come out, of how to actually deal one-on-one with how to reduce the scars?
Audra Santa: Well, like in something like Afterglow, if you look at the Afterglow video, the concept around that was the black mark that he leaves on my chest and then me tying him up and putting a black mark on his chest. That really represents the mark that people can leave on you, the scars, and then the colors of us, like the intimacy and the beautiful marks you can leave behind on someone too. Just making that video was healing for me. Just in simply acknowledging that those marks can be left. The Boudoir Project was healing in a different way and I think that when people hear it, they might hear that healing, but I think they’ll just really, in some ways, just hear real like visceral and sexual and connected response that just comes out of being human and feeling all of these things that we have the capacity to feel.
Audra Santa: I think that that’s been the healing part, is just allowing myself to feel everything. Feel everything. Again, when we’re talking about depression, we can get really scared of our feelings or we can decide that some feelings are okay and some aren’t and I think that the healing of scars for me has been about allowing the scar tissue to break up by bringing life underneath them again, by actually allowing the blood to flow and allowing the oxygen to come and examine them. For me with any music, that’s what it’s been. The music has allowed me to examine things in a safe space. Even when we were talking before about indigenous issues, the reason that Gord Dowie’s legacy and the Dowie Wenjack Fund is so powerful is because music can bring people together and music can allow people to feel things they might not just do in a regular conversation. Music has done that for me personally and I hope that for some, they might hear what I do or see what I do and that maybe able to help them to look at those scars for themselves.
John Murch: Audra, thank you very much for joining radionotes.
Audra Santa: Oh, it’s my pleasure. Thank you for having me.