“I don’t ever really wanna think about being worried about how I present myself, or even think about how I present myself. I think that’s the worst thing I could ever do. It’d drive me crazy. So I just try to be myself. I am myself.”
In the wake of 2014’s stellar Calm Down EP, Sydney DJ/producer Alison Wonderland has been tearing up dancefloors, airwaves and studios. Run, her debut album, is released this Friday, March 20, and she will appear at an album launch party at 329 Charles St, North Perth, on Saturday, March 21, (show proof of album purchase at the door and you’re in). ZOE KILBOURN reports.
Honesty is enormously important for Alison Wonderland.
Maybe it’s down to the level of personal involvement in each and every one of her tracks – she’s a bassist, a cellist, and now most prominently a vocalist. Maybe it’s related to the perfectionism and humility that underpins the way she speaks about her work.
“I definitely think a lot of there’s a lot of variation in Run, but hopefully it ties together,” she says. “It’s an honest record. I wrote it in about six months, and it really just defines a pocket in my life last year. I put everything into it, and hopefully that communicates and people like it – but even if they don’t, I’m kind of okay with that, because, again, I put everything into it and I know it came from somewhere real. I’m nervous about it, I’m really fucking nervous.”
She doesn’t need to be. Alison’s skyrocketed from Stereosonic ‘14 to Coachella ’15; she plays consistently sold-out shows across the country; her debut EP cracked #37 on the triple j Hottest 100. She’s widely recognised as one of the most gifted producers of the new ‘Australian sound’ by an enormously devoted fanbase, Diplo’s Mad Decent label, and, most recently, The Flaming Lips’ Wayne Coyne. Coyne provided the chorus for Run’s first single, U Don’t Know.
“All the rest of my record was made with friends, with people I love and have creatively meshed with in the past, so to have that happen was super surreal,” Alison says. “I really like when two artists from different genres collaborate, and also, like, it’s kinda cool because he gave me a chance, and he probably had no idea who I was. The fact that he wanted to do that was also crazy.
“I used to produce – bedroom produce – under the name Whytefang. I actually did an EP where I did these versions of songs with Patience from The Grates singing over them. I didn’t know her personally – they actually asked me if I wanted to do an EP with them. Again, another crossed genre. And it’s all been serendipitous – I’m really, really bad at networking. I’m terrible at it. If people see what you’re doing, the right people might come to you – and by ‘right people’ I don’t mean big people, I mean people that will get what you’re doing and you’ll get what they’re doing. I think it should always be that way. It should be organic. Even though the Wayne Coyne thing wasn’t as organic (the collaboration was arranged at Alison’s suggestion by EMI) I’d still written the song and he heard it. There was no one forcing him to do that. The ‘Baby, I don’t know’ hook? He actually added that in! The rest of it was me, though, but that was cool.”
Run also features collaborative work with SAFIA, beats pin-up boy Lido, and Perth trap lords Slumberjack, with whom she traded music years ago.
“I think even if we weren’t doing music we’d be really good friends – we say that to each other a lot,” she says. “I love those boys. I think there’s big things coming for them. I played a show with them once like years ago, and, like, far out, they were amazing. I really hate when people don’t take the time to listen to people who send them music. I think that’s a big mistake. There’s another kid called Tasker who emailed me I think when he was 16, and I actually opened one of my triple j mixes with one of his tracks, and he’s just a kid from a regional town in New South Wales. And he’s amazing.
“There’s incredible stuff everywhere, and I hate when people don’t give other artists that are just starting the time of day. It’s super important.”
Australian trap exploded at the pinnacle of viral marketing, and the scene, dominated by web-savvy, young, bedroom-studio graduates, is bound up in internet memes, tumblr ‘aesthetic’, and post-ironic nostalgia. Alison’s a prolific social media user, but unlike a lot of her contemporaries, she doesn’t buy into strategic posting.
“I don’t ever really wanna think about being worried about how I present myself, or even think about how I present myself,” she says. “I think that’s the worst thing I could ever do. It’d drive me crazy. So I just try to be myself. I am myself. I dunno, I’m really honest – if you read my Twitter or my Facebook updates, it’s just me being a dork, writing exactly what I’m thinking. I think the more people think about what they wanna be, the worse they’ll be – I don’t think that communicates. People smell bullshit. I mean, I’m someone who’s a fan of other people, who appreciates other artists, I can tell when someone’s not being themselves.
“I enjoy social media. I don’t think of it as marketing. It’s a good way to vent, especially on Twitter. I never really thought about it until people started asking me about it recently. I just hate the word ‘marketing’ – it’s so synthetic. I dunno, I’m just doing my thing – and in saying that, I love interacting with people online, so if people tweet at me or write to me I’ll read it and respond. I read every email I get sent. It’s cool.”
That transparency and accessibility is a large part of what makes Alison the artist she is. She’s opened her DJ sets and originals tracks all kinds of influences, and she’s earned herself a following who recognise that mutual respect.
“I guess the one thing I’m trying to do is show people you don’t need all the kitschy things around you to be able to communicate your message,” Alison says. “I’ve never taken advantage of the fact I’m a woman to do anything. In my live shows, there’s never crazy LCD screens, it’s all lasers and I have behind me a projection of a GoPro that’s over my hands so people can see what I’m doing. In terms of music, I don’t sit there and go, ‘I’m a singer! I’m this, I’m that‘ – it’s just, ‘Here’s some music’. Letting your art speak for you is probably the best thing you can do.”