Alison Wonderland Talks About Her New Album 'Awake' and the Realities of Life on the Road

We sat down for a chat with the Australian EDM DJ and producer.

By //Entertainment 

Alison Wonderland is many things. An EDM DJ, producer, classically-trained cellist and above all, a hilarious and a refreshingly honest and authentic badass woman.

Since she dropped her debut album, Run, in 2015, the artist has gone from strength to strength and has headlined her own shows worldwide, played numerous renowned festivals like EDC Las Vegas and Lollapalooza, hosted her own unique, immersive music events and worked with some of the biggest names in the industry. Whilst she’s enjoyed multiple successes, she’s also painfully open about mental health and just how lonely life as an international artist can be. There’s no glossing over the harsh realities with Wonderland, what you see is truly what you get and it’s her most genuine self that’s reflected in her new album, Awake.

We hung out with Alison Wonderland in London around the time of the release of Awake to chat about what it’s like being a woman in such a heavily male-dominated sphere and of course, hear more about the album – read on for more.

Alison Wonderland Awake Album Interview DJ Producer Singer Artist EDM Australian Alexandra Sholler

Could you tell us a bit more about how you got your start in the industry?

I was a classically trained cellist; I thought that was going to be my profession. Then somehow that completely changed; it was a weirdly organic thing though. I was studying in Europe and I came back to Australia because I had kind of fallen out of love with it. I’d be playing a show and there’d be the crowd in front of me and no-one would be reacting, it’s just old people unwrapping candy. I never felt any type of spark when I played and so I actually gave that up and I came back and was like “fuck this, I don’t know what I want to do.”

So, I started playing in bands, producing and DJing and I didn’t think I’d get here with it – I was literally doing it to stay sane and happy. Seeing the crowd interaction and being able to control the vibe of a room was so interesting to me and so fun, you couldn’t take me off the decks I’d be there for like eight hours sometimes.

I definitely gravitate toward darker things as well; even if my stuff’s super-positive, there’s always a dark undertone to it. That worries my father a little bit!

You have a pretty eclectic mix of musical influences that seep through into your work. Where do you think those come from?

The reason I started producing was because of a Swedish duo called The Knife. I was absolutely obsessed with them, I still am to this day. The reason I started honing in on my lyrics was because of James Murphy from LCD Soundsystem – I’m a massive LCD fan. Actually, the first time I ever wrote a song was when I was a kid and that was because of the Smashing Pumpkins  and then when I was producing, after a year or so I got really into Hudson Mohawke. Through that I got more into southern hip hop like Outkast and stuff like that. I love those kind of beats but I love this ravey kind of synth that The Knife had and James Murphy’s lyrics, so I guess my stuff came from a lot of different areas.

I definitely gravitate toward darker things as well; even if my stuff’s super-positive, there’s always a dark undertone to it. That worries my father a little bit!

Alison Wonderland Awake Album Interview DJ Producer Singer Artist EDM Australian Alexandra Sholler

How have you seen representation of women within your area of the industry change over the years?

It has 100% developed. It was very hard when I was starting out for women – it still is very very hard for women – and I said this the other day, no-one will ever understand what it’s like to be a woman in this industry except for a woman in this industry. You can try and empathise with it but you’ll just never see the subtleties that are kind of against you. But in saying that, I think it’s really important to just keep powering through, keep working hard and let your art speak for you and I think that the more women there are representing electronic music at a higher level the more it’s going to give other women the confidence to put themselves out there. I am seeing it happen a lot more.

When I saw a couple of people in my field starting to get attention it gave me more confidence to put myself out there as a musician within that genre. It’s such a crazy thing, because when I’m up on stage I’ve never felt female or male or anything at all, it’s never once entered my mind.

You put together a huge, physical project last year – the Wonderland Scarehouse. What was it like hosting this large-scale event? 

That was the third year I’ve done it. Before that it was just warehouses rather than horror-themed. It kind of all started because I was playing a lot of shows – this was before I even broke overseas – but I was playing a lot of shows around the country in different clubs, different bars and I wanted to do something different and give the people coming to my shows, and myself, a different experience. I feel like when you put people in different scenarios they hear music differently and they accept music differently. A certain amount of pretentiousness is gone and I wanted to curate a night with producers I loved and put on shows in warehouse spaces or in a different place than you would usually be at when you do hear music.

It ended up selling out every year and getting bigger and bigger. I always want to see what I can do next and this year, I curated a way bigger lineup. There was Lido, I had Lunice, who’s half of TNGHT and one of my favourite producers, ASAP Ferg played – I had a bunch of people. I ended up being able to book people that I idolised – it was just a big giant ploy to meet producers I love! It was crazy, we had these deserted farmhouses and people would come in buses to this area – it was an all-day event and it was insane.

No-one will ever understand what it’s like to be a woman in this industry except for a woman in this industry.

You’ve spoken up before about how lonely life in your profession can be. Could you explain that further?

100%! It is fucking lonely. You don’t wake up and do a 9-5 job, there are no structured hours. You’re waking up and you’re not in an office. There are days upon days where you wake up and you won’t see another fucking human and that’s crazy. And whilst you’re not seeing another human, you’re seeing they’re creating stuff whilst you’re completely hyper-analyzing your most inner self. And then, what you’ll do is get on an airplane, walk out on stage to thousands of people who all feel like they know you and you feel like this crazy connection with them for that hour and you’re really communicating with them. Then, you get back offstage and you’re eating dinner alone again.

It’s the craziest polar-opposites that happen so quickly next to each other and it’s just not healthy for someones mind. Which brings me to my next point – it’s really important to always tour with people that you have friendships with or work with people that you’re able to hang out with.

Alison Wonderland Awake Album Interview DJ Producer Singer Artist EDM Australian Alexandra Sholler

I guess it’s the same with social media and how people only seem to present their most glamorous selves?

I actually recently put up a photo of me on Instagram with no filter, nothing, with my acne just out there. I wanted people to see that we’re able to choose how we put ourselves out there as people. Obviously you’re going to choose the best version of yourself to showcase what you’re doing and that takes 20 different selfies and a filter and that’s not real life. I kind od wanted to show my followers that I’m very aware of that and that it’s totally chill to have the worst acne of all time after being on like, 20 airplanes.

It’s also important to put your phone down! That’s something I’ve learnt recently because it does not help with anxiety. The internet is a whole different world and your mind can get stuck in that universe. It’s weird because when you do put down your phone and you’re more present again you can actually see whats going on.

I learned a lot writing this album and I’m really proud of it. It kind of healed me on a personal level.

Your new album, Awake just dropped – how did the process of creating this differ from your last time in the studio?

I think last time I was way more naive because I didn’t really think anyone would hear the album last time around. I was pretty sheltered because I’d just been at home making music and I was a massive nerd for most of my life and I came to LA and saw this whole other world and that’s when I was writing Run. With Awake, the only thing I can say that hasn’t changed is that I still write the same way and I’m proud of that.

I think the best thing you can do when you are writing songs or music is not to think what it should sound like or think what’s cool at the time. Literally just write how you feel. Because I’m highly emotional when I write, I tend to just forget about everything anyway and write completely straight though my emotion too. Last time, I didn’t really write with anyone this time I decided to collaborate with Joel Little who did Pure Heroine with Lorde. It was cool because he had no ego – he let me come in with my songs and helped me elevate it. I learned a lot writing this album and I’m really proud of it. It kind of healed me on a personal level.

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