Alison Wonderland: "Sex Sells, but There's No Longevity in That Type of Shit"

Down the rabbit hole with Alison Wonderland.
Down the rabbit hole with Alison Wonderland.
Photo by Donslens

Alison Wonderland's skyrocketing career seems like something out of a fantasy novel by Lewis Carroll. But instead of it being a work of fiction, it's all very real for the Australian DJ, singer, songwriter, and producer.

Wonderland is fresh off her live American debut at Coachella after releasing her debut album, Run, in March. She recruited producers like Djemba Djemba, Lido, and Alexander Burnett to help her execute her vision, but make no mistake, Wonderland is firmly in charge — she wouldn't have it any other way.

As an artist and musician, Wonderland has rejected the "female DJ” tag, letting her performance do the talking. And with sold-out Australian tours under her belt, it seems as though she is poised to repeat that success in the United States. She's even gone so far as to hush critics who say DJs don't do anything during live sets by setting up GoPro cameras to show her skills behind the decks. And though it started as a way to prove the naysayers wrong, Wonderland insists it has now become a way for her to connect with audiences.

We connected with Wonderland before her May 2 show at Grand Central to talk about the process of making an album, her 30 Rock fanaticism, and women in the music industry.

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New Times: You recently played Coachella. How was that experience for you?
Alison Wonderland: It was amazing. It felt like a dream, being my first-ever show in America, and it was Coachella. My parents flew to the States to watch me play. I had a really great turnout, and the crowd was amazing. I couldn't have asked for anything better.

During your tour so far, have you noticed any difference between American and Australian audiences?
Not really. I like to think both crowds are here for the music. That, for me, is pretty important. Both are really awesome and energetic crowds.

Do you tailor your sets to an American audience?
No way! I'm completely myself in every city. I think it's important, because that's why you're doing what you're doing — because you do it a certain way.

You recently released your debut album, Run. Putting together an album is no easy feat.
No, it was stressful as fuck.

What was the most surprising thing you learned while putting together the album?
That no one is going to finish it except for you, and no one is going to work as hard apart from yourself. I overthought everything and made sure everything was exactly how I wanted it. I put all of myself into it. I also learned that you don't sleep very much while doing this, and once finished, you feel amazing. [laughs]

Did you learn anything about yourself during the process?
Yes, it taught me a lot of things. Not only with the work ethic, but when you're writing lyrics, things come out that you don't realize come out. That was quite a cleansing process for me as well.

You sing on the album as well, along with doing the production.
I don't do all the production. I worked with other producers on this album.

Still, it's pretty rare for an artist to sing and do production as well.
I don't really push the fact that it's my vocals. I don't want this to become a pop-star thing. For me, it's all about the music, and the vocals are just an added element. Every lyric in there is very honest. As a whole package, I think it's very important to keep it it real. I made a decision very early on to write as naturally as it came to me. I didn't want to do anything contrived or preconceived. For me, knowing that that's what flowed out of me gives me self-peace. I feel more confident now, if someone does or does not like the album, that I can go away not feeling hurt, because I was honestly myself.

In you video for "U Don't Know," you had a lot of input in the creative behind it. Is that important for you?
Superimportant. I'm in every meeting when it comes to stuff like that. Every photo you see of me, I've done with a friend of mine in a backyard. And every video, like "I Want U," was my concept as well. The video I'm working on right now, which I can't talk about, is also my concept. For me, it's important; it's art. It's weird having a person who doesn't know you write a treatment for visuals to go with something you wrote. I'm very visual when I write music, and it's very important for me to have input in that as well.

Does the medium feed a certain area of creativity that music does not?
Totally! I think if you do write music and are a visual person like myself, of course. It was amazing when I watched the final product of "U Don't Know" I felt quite emotional, because that was a concept I came up with on an airplane, and I visualized it in my head. It came out exactly how I thought.

Seems like you're a huge 30 Rock fan — your past tour was called the Rural Juror Touror. I'm a pretty big fan of the show, and I'm hoping your next tour is called the Urban Fervor Touror. What is it you enjoy about 30 Rock?
I think Tina Fey is really funny. Anything that she's a part of is amazing. I like that story about how the show is written and what it's based on. I love how Tracey Morgan plays a version of himself. It's hilarious.

Have you watched Fey's new show, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt?
No, I haven't. Is it good?

I think it is. Add it to your Netflix queue.
I will!

The question you probably get tired of the most is “How is it to be a female DJ?" It's an unnecessary label because they never ask men how it is to be a male DJ.
Yeah, but also the fact that there is that label reflects that I don't need to even answer that question. I'm a DJ, and I don't need to be put in a category of "female." I usually never answer these questions. That's as far as it usually gets.

If I can, let me flip the question a bit: Do you think the dance music industry is welcoming to women as musicians and producers?
Yeah, I just think that there are a lot of egos. And some egos are stronger than others, and that can be intimidating. I can't really answer the question. Like, if I knew why there's an imbalance, I'd be a genius. But I don't, so I think the best thing to do, whether you're male or female, is never to compromise yourself and to speak to who you are. Sex sells, but there's no longevity in that type of shit. It's about the music, and more and more people are seeing that now.

There are groups like #NapGirls and Female:Pressure that are calling out hypocrisy in the industry. Are you happy to see those kind of movements happening?
I support any cause that inspires young artists to have the confidence to do what they do.

I read that you set up GoPros to prove that you're doing something behind the decks. There's always been that debate — most recently, here in Miami, Deadmau5 called out Krewella for a supposedly fake live performance. But why do you even feel the need to prove it to anybody and just not say, "Fuck you"?
Because it's something I care about. That was the reason why I started it, but now it's an added element to a live show. There is a big barrier between an audience and a DJ. Sometimes people even have a laptop screen in front of them and there's a disconnection. To me, a live show is about community and people connecting with each other. Why the hell should I have a barrier between us? It's so important for me that we're all on the same level when there's a show. And I genuinely think it adds a visual element, and people can see there is something going on behind that deck.

What do you hope American audiences take away from you when they see you live?
I have no idea. I don't want to preempt what anyone thinks of me. Fuck, it's scary enough. [laughs] I just want to do my thing and don't want it to be about what people think of me.


Alison Wonderland. Presented by Poplife and Thump. 10 p.m. Saturday, May 2, at Grand Central, 697 N. Miami Ave., Miami; 305-377-2277; grandcentralmiami.com. Tickets cost $15 to $25 plus fees via ticketfly.com. Ages 18 and up.

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