Alison Wonderland: interview

AW4It’s been a wild year for electronic music producer and coveted party DJ Alison Wonderland. Twelve months on from the release of first record, Run, which debuted at number one on America’s Billboard dance music charts, the Sydney-raised songwriter has taken the world by storm. The AW initials have been emblazoned across big stages at Coachella and Electric Daisy Carnival. Now Wonderland has returned to the regional Australian Groovin the Moo tour, having previously appeared in 2013 as a “filler DJ” between Flume and Midnight Juggernauts. I spoke with Wonderland from Los Angeles, where the writer and cellist spends half her time.

Are you mostly based in Los Angeles now?
I’m based between Australia and America. Kind of vague for me.

Can you see yourself living between those countries for a while or are there other parts of the world you’d like to live in?
I love the States, I love LA. I like spending time here, I have a really good group of friends. I would love to live in Japan, honestly. I went to Tokyo recently and fell in love with the place. I don’t know if I could live there, if I’d be good at living there, but I’d love to. I’d love to live in Berlin. So there’s lots of places I’d love to live, but I’m pretty happy where I am.

What was behind your move to LA?
I’ve literally gone where life’s taken me. I didn’t plan to move here, there was no reason for me at the beginning. I came to LA the first time because I wanted to get away from my life for about 10 days. I didn’t really know anyone here, except for a few people. Then I met a couple of people, came back for Coachella two years ago, fell in love, got food poisoning, didn’t go to Coachella, did my Diplo and Friends mix because I was sick, then wrote an album and the album went unexpectedly good (laughs). I ended up having to be somewhere central worldwide, rather than Australia. It just made more sense travel-wise because I was doing a lot more shows in the States and Europe, it made sense for me to have some sort of base in the States as well as Australia.

You played Groovin the Moo in 2013 and you’re back this year. How did you find the tour last time?
It was different, I was a filler DJ between Midnight Juggernauts and Flume. I hadn’t had any music out under “Alison Wonderland”. I was still finding… myself as an artist, if that makes any sense. I still have the same shoes though, I still wear them, so there’s that. I think it was my first touring festival. The other one I did was Parklife 2012, where I was an opening act. Me and Flume were both opening acts then but he had a lot more people than me (laughs). [Groovin] was my second time doing that kind of stuff, and I guess I was still looking around and seeing what this whole touring and artist life was. It was really eye opening, because I’d been at it for so long but mainly based in Sydney and doing my own interstate shows, but never on a touring festival. My following was more about the DJing.
I don’t really know what to expect now – I feel a little misplaced from everywhere because I’ve been travelling so much it’s hard for me to know how I’m viewed there. I try not to think about it and do my own thing, if that makes any sense.

There’s been a few times when I’ve been up on stage and started crying. Not to sound like a loser or anything.

When you return to Groovin you’ll have a wealth of material that is your own. Will that drastically change the mood and atmosphere of your set?
Not at all. I think it’s definitely less “genre free” party style. In saying that, take me to any after party and I’ll play a six-hour party set. If I’m playing my own headline show now it’s going to be my music for most of it and intelligently mixing other beats around it, as it flourishes. In saying that, it’s not a self-indulgent thing for me. I want to try to create a vibe and still choose songs that I’m head over heels for, and that’s really important to me. I think if I’m not loving what I’m playing up there then how is anyone else supposed to? So I think keeping it real and not being a dick is a good thing (laughs). You should be able to feel the vibe of a crowd and understand that we’re in this together, and it’s not just about you, it’s not just about them, it’s about us. It’s like a very quick marriage.

It must be different to being in a band where you’re sticking to a rigid setlist. Do you go out and drop in tracks on the fly?
At a festival set and at my own ticketed shows, it’s a more fixed set, only because I’m playing my album and… there’s a journey to that. It’s a little more fixed. But in saying that, because I started off as an improvisational DJ I still can’t help doing that. I would be fuckin’ bored as shit if I didn’t.


It’s just over a year ago since your debut album, Run, was released. Has your career been non-stop since then?
Yeah, it has been non-stop for me. It’s been really interesting because my life has really changed a lot in terms of the pace. Especially with touring, you’ve got to be really self-aware and make sure you don’t disintegrate, mentally and physically. I don’t feel any different. People that do come to my shows are very loyal, so I have to make sure I make time for that too – it’s overwhelming, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.

I get interviewed a lot in the States and people are like, “What’s it like, you’ve risen so quickly?” and I’m like, “You know what? I haven’t. I’ve done the hard yards.”

Have there been many “pinch yourself” moments?
Hell yeah, I mean, the fact I wrote an album is a pinch yourself moment. I’d written one before but I scrapped it. It’s more the fact I put out a full-length album. It’s different to an EP, this is a journey – it’s a real vivid snapshot of when I wrote it as well, so every time I play those songs I know exactly where I was and how I was feeling when I wrote it. It’s kind of crazy. You know when you smell something and it brings back nostalgia. It’s like with the songs for me.
There’s been a few times when I’ve been up on stage and started crying. Not to sound like a loser or anything. But Coachella was really crazy because that was my first American show and they put me on the Sahara tent and there were 15,000 people there both weekends. It was just really crazy. In that same week my album had come out and it debuted at number one on the Billboard dance charts over in the States, which was also really unexpected. It’s hard to know… I still get shocked when I meet someone I look up to and they’ve heard of me.
Also playing EDC (Electric Daisy Carnival) to 20 to 30,000 people and dropping your own music and they knew it. There’s a photo of me somewhere from EDC Orlando, I’d finished a Justin Bieber remix and I hadn’t really heard it out at a club yet, it had only been heard in my headphones, the final thing. I dropped it at EDC Orlando for the first time and I was so nervous, I’d never spun it. The crowd reaction was so crazy and there was so many people up there that I turned around and burst into tears and started shaking.
I get interviewed a lot in the States and people are like, “What’s it like, you’ve risen so quickly?” and I’m like, “You know what? I haven’t. I’ve done the hard yards.” Anyone in Australia that has seen my journey knows how real this is. It’s not just me getting picked up by a major label and jumping on the decks and getting a stylist. It’s me doing years of work… and collecting T-shirts on the side, because I’ve got great taste in T-shirts. But it’s been quite DIY until people were on board. I still have such pinch me moments. I spoke at Harvard Business School recently, that was pretty crazy. I got interviewed by CNN the other day too. All of these things I would never have imagined to ever happen. Every time I get given an opportunity like that, I think because I’ve been at this for so long and feel so grateful, I work twice as hard and try to soak everything up so I’m not missing anything, so when I’m an old lady with dementia from all the crazy partying I do now, I’ll have those memories.

Have you had time to work on new material?
Yeah, of course. There’s a new track that’s coming out soon, so I’m really excited about that, which is a collaboration with M-Phazes, who is an amazing producer. I played it twice during my American tour recently in really small towns and next minute it’s all over the internet. I had it taken down because I hadn’t spoken to Phazes about it yet. I was really excited to try it out and I didn’t think anyone would notice. But that’s the thing, when you are doing well people are always watching. If you do 22 shows in a month, you can’t play the same set either because people will come to nine of those shows if they want. I don’t want to let anyone down. At every festival I put a lot of pressure on myself to make sure that someone who might have seen me three times already is not going to get the same show. It’s a personal thing every time.

Any plans for the rest of 2016?
Honestly, just never to become a dickhead and just keep it moving and keep writing and playing and stay sane. That’s my move.


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