Kate Robertson talks to Alison Wonderland, the Australian EDM producer who’s playing Coachella this weekend.
If you’re of the assumption that electronic music is little more than a beat to rave to, you must not have come across Alison Wonderland. The LA-based Australian producer has earned a reputation for giving soul and an emotional identity to a genre that’s long been plagued by the fact that some of its biggest names create more drama than an episode of Made In Chelsea.
The highest-billed female DJ in Coachella history, Wonderland also hosts her own weekly radio show and was asked to produce the first official remix for Dua Lipa’s ‘New Rules’. But those aren’t the things that matter to her fans. What they love is that she isn’t some inaccessible superstar producer, she’s there to be a friend. Her Twitter reads like a diary documenting everything from drunken snacking to her day-to-day struggles with depression and anxiety, and, along with Instagram and Reddit, it’s become a place where her fans can to speak directly to her.
Wonderland’s newly-released sophomore album Awake (featuring the single ‘Church’ co-written by Joel Little) has her edging closer to the pop sphere than ever before – a fact that’s as representative of pop music’s current love affair with electronic production as it is Wonderland’s ability to know what’s current and what excites people. Lyrically, the album is vulnerable and emotionally-charged, and not only proves that EDM has room for voices that care, but that its audience has a hunger for it.
Most recently in New Zealand to fill the Young Thug-sized hole at Dunedin’s Outer Limits festival, I caught up with Wonderland to chat about being a massive fangirl and letting go of toxic people, and to take a bunch of selfies.
I was watching a video recently where you list your favourite things, and the second you started talking about how much you love glitter I knew we already had a lot in common.
I literally just bought some yesterday and it’s in my bag.
How much glitter do you carry with you while you’re travelling?
I have two little jars in my bag right now. I also have the glitter sticks that you can wear as eyeliner. It’s pretty fun.
Your single ‘Church’ is absolute fire. You listen to the lyrics and just know someone who fits that mould. Who or what inspired those lyrics?
A very toxic situation that I was in. You know when you’re in something that’s beating you down and draining you so much that it’s hard to even see that? Weirdly enough, while I was writing the song my subconscious was like, “Hey girl, you deserve to be treated a lot better than this and you’re worth something.” It’s actually the first song I wrote for the album, and it’s kind of crazy because that’s the song that made me take action in my real life to fix that situation.
I read that it was also the last song you finished. Were you relieved when that track was finally done?
Yes, because I feel like the whole time I had been working on the album and finishing the other songs, I had this at the back of my head. You know when you feel a weight pushing you down at all times? That’s how I felt because ‘Church’ was just there, and something was telling me to finish it. It wasn’t supposed to be the first single, but as the masters were being handed in I finished ‘Church’ and the label was like, “Let’s make this the first single”. Because I’m so connected to all the songs it’s hard for me to see what hits people right. They all hit me a certain way because I’m so emotionally connected to them. I had a lot of trust in those guys to make that call.
Are you stoked with how it’s been received? I’ve seen ‘Church’ all over the viral charts, it’s getting played on electronic and alternative radio.
I’m actually in shock. Like really. I was in the car with my dad the other day and it came on the radio! I was like, “Look Dad! ‘Church’ is on the radio!” It was cool because when I was making the album I was crying to him about not being able to finish ‘Church’. When I finally sent him the last version he was like, “Oh, that’s what you did to it?” Now I’m like “Look, it works!”
How would you say Awake is different from your debut Run?
Run was funny because it was about newly being in LA, seeing all this stuff, experiencing all these crazy things, and this was kind of an evolution from it. There was a bit of an after-flow from that, but Awake feels more personal, more about my inner-self, and waking up personally. They both changed my life emotionally. After I wrote all of Awake, I felt so good because I was taking real-life steps to get out of how I was feeling in these situations. I was making my own choices and I actually did it. It’s crazy. I realised so much from it, and I feel blessed that I was able to write it. Even if it doesn’t do well when it comes out, I’m okay with that because it changed me internally, which is kind of crazy.
You’ve played some of the world’s biggest festivals – Tomorrowland, Lollapalooza, Austin City Limits, Falls Festival – is it ever scary walking out to play those massive sets?
It’s so weird because I do this thing when I play where if it’s a new stage or a new festival I don’t like to look out before I walk on stage because I don’t want to know how many people are there. The adrenaline you feel when you walk out on a stage and see a crowd as big as a city is something I can’t compare to any other thing I’ve felt. The energy you get back from that amount of people when you’re communicating back and forth the whole time is insane. Weirdly enough, I feel most myself and most open when I’m on stage.
Dancing at festivals is such a freeing thing, people really go all in, what’s it like watching that play out from up at the decks?
I don’t see it. I’m on another planet and just feeling. I’m probably doing some weird dance moves too. When I get on stage it’s the only time I genuinely don’t give a fuck about anything in this world. It’s a real feeling. I don’t ever look at someone’s dance moves, but if I see someone really connecting with the music I make eye contact with that person and we have a little moment. I always remember that too. It’s great.
You studied classical music before moving into electronic production. At what point did singing come into it?
I’ve always written songs, even before Alison Wonderland I was producing under a different name called Whyte Fang, but I never considered myself a singer. I feel like I write songs, so I should be the vocalist because it’s what I meant. I still don’t want to push myself as a singer. It’s weird, I wish I could explain it. I was a cellist in the orchestra pit at school, so when the plays were on I was never the person singing. I have a joke with my friends that if I went on American Idol I wouldn’t get past the first round. When you hear me sing on ‘Church’ it’s me. I can’t sing all that, but I’ve written it in a way it works in this one register. I know where my voice works. If I were to sing Alicia Keys I’d get kicked out. It’s so weird.
I know that people absolutely froth over your Scarehouse Project shows. What inspired you to put on such an immersive event for your fans?
I wanted to give people an experience. I’m such a fan of music, so before any of this, I was going to every gig and every show. I’m a fan of everything. I wanted to put on something I would wanna go to, and I wanted to do something where people were put in a space where they had an immersive experience. I feel like you hear music differently that way. I didn’t want any pretentiousness either. I don’t wanna be at a place where someone makes me feel uncomfortable, and I don’t ever want anyone to feel that way at my shows. My shows are a safe space for a sense of community. I feel like the type of people that do come to them are awesome. I don’t want it to be about who’s there and what they’re wearing. I want people to feel like they can do the stupidest dance moves of all time and have no one judge them.
There’s also that gross stereotype that if you’re in “the industry” you’re too cool to be a massive hardcore fan.
HELL NO! I’m such a fan. You should see me fangirl.
Who do you fangirl most over?
Really random people. I fangirled so hard over Lunice who I booked for the Scarehouse. I have a tattoo of him and booked him because I wanted to meet him. I’d never met him before and he was the first person to say yes to it. He is the coolest guy ever, but I booked him because I was a fan. I couldn’t even speak to him for the whole first day he was here. I was just like, “You’re one of my heroes”. The same thing happened with Hudson Mohawke, who’s in a group with him called TNGHT.
Do you have a TNGHT tattoo as well? My superfan sister said to ask if you’ve got one.
Oh yeah, I have it on my foot! I’ll show you! It was a stick and poke that we did live on my radio show. You need to take a photo of it and get your sister the tweet me the photo so I know she saw it.
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