Heady beats are her briquettes, cinematic synths her fuel, and her own unguarded voice the match required to send it all up: DJ Alison Wonderland returns to the dance world with second album of originals, Awake.
“I like to bury little Easter eggs in my songs,” says Alex Scholler. “For me, it’s like back in the day when some painters would put a piece of their hair in their painting… I like to do that because it’s real, it’s this element of when it was being recorded, because really, it’s the recording of my life.”
Realness and honesty are paramount to Scholler – AKA Alison Wonderland, the internationally decorated and adored DJ who once called Sydney home. A classically trained cellist, she began making her name via sharp remixes of Sam Sparro and Ladyhawke tracks in 2012, after which she signed with EMI/ Universal and began touring Australia as a bona fide DJ. Collabs with M-Phazes, SAFIA and The Flaming Lips’ Wayne Coyne slugged her into the zeitgeist and earned her ARIA noms and a Billboard #1 debut (for first album Run in 2015), insane streaming numbers, influential musical friendships, critical acclaim and a massive international touring career (Coachella, Tomorrowland).
That’s a breakneck ascent for sure. But Scholler hasn’t lost sight of the micro; those Easter eggs in new album Awake are part of an understanding that details matter, and sometimes the communication between just two people is what makes a song meaningful – such as on standout track Okay. “Oh my God, that’s a crazy song for me,” she says. “You know the vocals in the bridge, where it goes ‘Tell me if you’re okay’? I put the recording on loop, and just sung to the person I was singing about. They were sitting in the room with me. I was sitting in the dark, and I was singing it to that person.” That wasn’t an accident – Scholler deliberately set it up that way, because she wanted that person to be there. “Sometimes I feel like I can communicate better with a song,” she explains.
“I wanted to really mean it. There’s a lot of things hidden in this album that a lot of people will never know about. There’s voices of people [that] the songs are about… but no one will notice unless I tell them.”
The album was written on the floor of Scholler’s bedroom in L.A., and that environment suited the approach she had to its creation. “I didn’t go in planning it in a way I would plan or play a DJ set,” she says. “It was a pretty chronologically-written album, based on how I was dealing with a lot of things during a pocket of my life. Weirdly enough, when I did put it all together at the end and listened to it, it worked. It was kind of creepy.” Opening the gates of “extreme emotion” instead of struggling to repress anything is the major lesson Scholler has derived from her career thus far. “The one thing I’ve learnt about creating music is every song has its own spirit, and you can fight that as long as you want, and try and make it what you want it to be, but it’s going to turn out the way it does. It’s a really weird thing to explain,” she says. “The less I think about it and the more I feel when I’m writing, is the better way to do it.”
And that, consequently, means the realness surfaces like cream. “In 20 years I’m going to have to listen, and know that I made this album,” she says. “I’ve got to know I put 100 percent into it. I feel proud because I did take a lot of risks. I want to know with everything I ever [do], that I was completely honest with myself.”
Awake is out April 6 via EMI/Universal.
Alison Wonderland is throwing album launch parties in Sydney (May 2 @ Civic Underground), Melbourne (May 3 @ Boney), and Brisbane (May 4 @ The Brightside); you’ll receive one guest list spot to the bash of your choice when you pre-order Awake on vinyl or CD at JB Hi-Fi.