In the parlance of modern music, the term “tastemaker” has a whiff of the ‘influencer’: a gatekeeper who consciously decides what becomes cool. It’s an expression which has been applied to Annika Schmarsel, but in conversation about the way she’s constructed her excellent second album as Alice Ivy, Don’t Sleep, Schmarsel agrees it’s a weird word.
“Please don’t take this in a wanky way, but I sort of see [Don’t Sleep] as an art gallery – I just want to curate, I’m not setting trends,” she says. “I went into sessions with these different, diverse artists and voices, and everyone has their story to tell. I feel like I’m creating a safe space to be able to portray that art, and for those voices to be heard.”
The voices she’s chosen are a veritable Best Of from within contemporary music, mostly Australian – Thelma Plum, Ecca Vandal, Imbi, BOI, Ngaiire, Montaigne, Benjamin Joseph (SAFIA), Dijah Sb and more – and they were selected, Schmarsel attests, wholly organically. “I don’t go out to specifically just work with female and non-binary artists and people of colour,” she says. “I work with artists who I think are exceptional artists, who are exceptional songwriters. And the majority on the record turned out to be voices of colour and non-binary and female artists – it naturally happened.
“I think that’s the thing that’s a problem in society – I wish it were just a natural thing, that people would give attention to, and elevate, these voices.”
The guests and their contributions are something to marvel, to be sure: Sweetest Love featuring Montaigne has touches of Bjork’s Amphibian in the way tiny airy details poke their heads out from behind the rhythms and then ripple away again, and the gorgeous hip hop bloom of In My Mind sees inimitable talent Ecca Vandal lending her raps and unflappably graceful singing voice to Schmarsel’s mid-paced, dreamy beats.
“The story behind that collaboration is pretty funny,” Schmarsel smiles, explaining that she met Vandal at a music conference, and after proclaiming her own fandom for the South African-born, Melbourne-raised talent (Schmarsel cites Ecca’s track Your Orbit featuring Sampa The Great as one of her favourites), asked if they might do a studio session together. The opportunity didn’t come until many months later after Ecca’s giant UK tour, but finally the two found themselves in the studio, when – mercy – the power went out.
The two artists considered moving to Schmarsel’s home studio, but the power wasn’t going there either. “I was like, ‘Look, I know you just finished the tour and you’re really burnt out, but please-please-please can you come back tomorrow?’” Schmarsel pleaded with her guest. Vandal agreed. “So it’s a collaboration that almost didn’t happen.
“Actually, a few of the songs are like, wow… if it wasn’t for timing they probably wouldn’t have seen the world. It’s pretty amazing thinking about when songs get written, the time and place when that happens – and if something had shifted in the timelime, that song couldn’t have been brought to life. It’s pretty nuts.”
Don’t Sleep by Alice Ivy is out Friday July 17 via Dew Process.
Pre-order the red vinyl online with JB and you’ll receive an LP-sized print of the cover art signed by Alice Ivy.
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