Alison Wonderland is on the other side of the world, quietly and assuredly living her best life. The Aussie EDM performer – real name Alexandra Sholler – has just released an extraordinarily diverse and colourful second album, Awake; melted minds at Coachella; and is generally doing the kind of things most other musicians would only dream of.
“I’m driving in South America right now, and it’s been so surreal already,” Sholler says. “Everyone knew the words to my songs. It is insane. It’s so weird: you’re in one country for most of your life. You travel here for the first time after living somewhere for so long and bam – people are singing your words right back to you. How did I get here?”
That same sense of the surreal can be seen in Sholler’s rise to commercial stardom. Here’s a quick look at her musical background: playing bass in a punk band – check! Spending time as a classically-trained cellist in the Sydney Youth Orchestra – check! Paying her dues as a high-energy EDM producer and DJ – check! From club residencies in Kings Cross, the Sydney native’s relentless work ethic has culminated in a range of incredible achievements and platitudes, including Awake hitting number one on the US Billboard Dance Chart.
It’s a journey that, for its peaks, has had its low points, as she unashamedly explores on Awake. This is her catharsis, and reflects more than merely a coming to terms with the personal effects of success. In an industry that can just as quickly swallow one up in its sheer excess, it’s her testimony to the power of realisation and awakening.
I’m just going to stop giving a shit and write how I want to.
“Second album, what am I going to do? I’m just going to stop giving a shit and write how I want to. It became such an incredibly open experience. You’re always worried about the sophomore, the spooky follow-up – you’re worried if you’re making the right sounds and styles. I eventually got to a point where I just stopped caring and rode my natural high.
“A big example of that is ‘Church’, which almost didn’t make the album. As the masters were getting sent in, I went on Instagram live and my fans were watching. It felt like I was onstage and there was no second-guessing. They guided me and helped me to realise how powerful that song was for them.”
Indeed, ‘Church’ is the rawest example of Sholler’s new, unfettered writing style. Joined by a youth choir, she takes us to her spiritual place (or, as she puts it, “fuck me up on a spiritual level”). There’s a different theme at work here; the inherent strength afforded by acknowledging negative energy and embracing vulnerability. Whereas first Alison Wonderland album Run fizzed with youthful energy and trap-heavy pop anthems, Awake seems more mature and measured – though not without Sholler’s characteristic knack of laying down a big, bass-heavy beat.
Sholler’s not without a sense of humour, either. On a barely-audible phone line dodgier than the NBN roll-out, our call dropped out no less than four times before Sholler decided to finish the interview off, David Byrne-style… interviewing herself.
I wrote the album with Joel Little, who’s worked with Lana Del Rey and won a Grammy. Usually I’m pretty much solo.
“Tell me more about the album and how it came together”, she asks, before responding in kind. “I’m just gonna give you some answers to random questions. I wrote the album with Joel Little, who’s worked with Lana Del Rey and won a Grammy. Usually I’m pretty much solo, and I was so tentative meeting Joel. I had my songs and ideas he gave me little tweaks and tips to improve my music. I worked with Wayne Coyne from Flaming Lips, too…” She laughs. “Oh god, I can’t believe I’m doing this.”