“What if we were alive?”

The Canadian electronic group Austra is known for making melancholic music dealing with loneliness and the gloomier aspects of life. On their most recent album from 2016, Future Politics, their frontwoman Katie Stelmanis performs a haunting, somber piece titled “We Were Alive”, a song that speaks to our collective desire for intimacy.

Lyrics courtesy of Genius.

“Waking up, got somewhere to go
I’m making sweat fall
Step in line, do it hard enough
To bring your colour back
Got no time to waste
‘Cause I’m poor and
If I get something good
I’m gonna take it!
I shouldn’t laugh but I feel it
I’m inside –
I am moribund
It’s what you want: torpidity
But I sigh

What if we were alive?
What if we were alive?
What if we were alive?

He knows
It’s true, I believed in nothing before
I’ve been living in a garden
Distant, I was in a fortress
Those tough walls crumbling
And I think I see
How we’ve been cheated, the lies

It’s like we were alive
It’s like we were alive
It’s like we were alive

Doctor, what’s the cure for apathy?
(Come and pick me up)

It’s like we were alive
It’s like we were alive
It’s like we were alive
It’s like we were alive
It’s like we were alive
It’s like we were alive”

Analysis

The singer is one of many people who’ve tried to end their lover’s depression through deep acts of intimacy, in an effort to end their grayness and restore their color. However, their lover has been so used to their depression, to their gloominess that they prefer it, and in remaining attached to it, they ensure that their persistent lover becomes affected by it. All the lover can do is wistfully sigh and wonder how different things would be for them both, if their mutual torpidity ceased to be, and they finally felt alive again.

In this way, “We Were Alive” is a poetic depiction of how depression affects couples. As Katie Stelmanis sings in “We Were Alive”‘s story, even the most intimate of lovemaking can feel like an aching desire to escape each other’s feeling of utter emptiness inside.

“We Were Alive” also makes a metaphorical reference to a lover realizing that for so long, they’ve been shutting others out. Instead of being open like a garden, they were instead hiding within a lonesome, far-away fortress. It’s only when the walls of these fortresses crumble do we realize that we’ve been believing this lie for too long: that we can survive being alone indefinitely.

While a loving relationship might not necessarily cure depression, having somebody to fight the gloominess by your side always helps. By fighting together to escape the fogginess that often clouds us, lovers can help each other regain their color at last.

This song is one of the many reasons why Austra is currently my favorite band.