It is a rare occasion that one gets to sit down and really pick the brain of an artist whose style and sound they truly admire, so when I was offered the chance to interview Alison Wonderland, I must admit that I had a small fan girl moment.
As I sit in East London's super kitsch "Cereal Killer Cafe," I can’t help but hope that she thinks my choice of meeting place is cool and not "creepy and weird," as one of the label team keeps repeating, whilst staring at the beanie babies stapled to the walls and boxes of vintage Pokemon cereal. I had my reasons behind choosing this particular spot, in a moment of Wonderland Stanism, I remember Alison once saying that she wished someone would open a restaurant that just served breakfast all day (a woman after my own heart). So here we are.
I can confirm that Alison Wonderland is, indeed, the smallest human I have ever met, but that doesn’t matter. She has a presence that fills the room. “This place is fucking cool,” is the first thing to escape her mouth, and I breathe a sigh of relief! We order our respective cereals, some sort of Oreo-flavoured hoop for me and some sort of cinnamon-flavoured hoop for her, both with almond milk. I literally love this girl! We also order tater tots, because it’s lunch time, and our camera woman has never tried them before.
I have an hour, and I’m trying to work out how I can fit in everything I need to ask this producing/DJing/singing/songwriting/classical cellist (yep) in such a small pocket of time. So obviously I started with the most important things on the list, like which Harry Potter house she would be in…Slytherin, of course, “but I’m only here for Snape,” she assures me. Apparently, she’s on the cusp of Slytherin and Gryffindor, just like Harry Potter himself.
As a fellow dog mother, I also need to talk at length about her dog, Molly. When I mention Molly, a wave of sadness crosses her face and I sympathise immediately. Missing your pooch is something that only other dog owners can truly understand, but it’s OK, she get’s daily photo updates when she’s on tour.
Then on to the music side of things. That is, after all, why we are here. Awake is Alison’s sophomore album and has a lot to live up to following the success of Run. When I ask what the story behind Awake is she explains that it is about waking up and feeling self worth again, after feeling defeated for so long and being around toxicity, starting to believe and trust in herself again. Self belief and trust is a battle for any artist, especially in this age of social media, where every single person with internet access has an opinion or a critique, and while she is ever present on her brimming social platforms, Alison tells me that she needs to be able to walk away and switch off from the cyber world sometimes in order to preserve her sanity, but also to make the music we love her for. “As a creative, you have to be bored to come up with ideas,” she muses, “and nowadays, what do we do when we’re bored? We pick up our phone and we scroll, so yeah, I do need to put my phone down sometimes to stop my mind racing with feedback.” Amen to that.
“My lyrics are my diary, so it’s hard to not take things personally,” she continues. This comes shortly after I mention a review of Run where it was suggested she should not sing as much. But instead of holding back on Awake, Alison took her diary and opened it up to the world. She has laid everything bare with this album, from her struggle with anxiety and depression, to how bad she "just wants to fuck you all the time" in "Cry" (which one can assume is dedicated to a love interest in her life.)
If you followed Alison on Twitter for the past year, you will have witnessed the ups and downs she has experienced during her writing process. She has tweeted more than once that she has put all of herself into this album and that she just hopes people like it. This sort of hope and want for acceptance speaks loudly through the opening track on Awake, tentatively named "Good Enough?"… almost likes she’s asking us, is it? Is it good enough?… Happily, the answer is a resounding "Yes." Yes it is. Awake showcases Alison's vocals and song writing ability in a way we never experienced with Run, her lyrics are more mature, her voice stronger and clearer than ever. Her production tight and distinctive.
Every track is so completely different from the next, but in the best possible way—and not on purpose, either. I am interested as to if the diversity we hear throughout Awake is an important factor to her when creating, but she confirms that she just writes what she feels and vibes at that particular time, or with whomever she has in the studio with her. Each unique song takes you on a journey and has its own story to tell, like an EDM opera, each track different in genre and style, but each a definite ‘Alison Wonderland’ track.
My own personal favourite, Church, almost didn’t even make the cut. After handing in the finished album and scrapping ‘Church’ completely. Deleting the project file from her laptop and almost giving up hope, she decided to give it one last try. “I just couldn’t get the music right,” she gushes, “and then I thought, I’ll have one more go, I produced it on Instagram live to my fans and handed it in as the rest of the album was being handed back to me," and it’s a good thing she did! "Church" became a single and has already racked up over five million Spotify streams.
On that note, we finish our now soggy cereal, as I’m seeing hand gestures behind the camera telling me I need to wrap it up before heading to The Nest for Alison’s London album launch. For those that don’t know, The Nest is a sweaty, dingy East London club, known for pioneering bass music. But on a rainy Wednesday night, you wouldn’t expect to see a line down the street and a sold out show—especially for an artist that hasn’t done much in the UK yet, but there it is, a queue of fans waiting in anticipation… and she didn’t even think us Londoners would know her music!
The opener, "Good Enough," which features Alison playing her cello, gets the crowd hyped, and it seems everyone already knows the new material (despite it yet to be released at the time of writing this) either that or they are INCREDIBLY enthusiastic about this new sound. Either way, it’s a win. She goes straight in to "Sometimes Love," another personal favourite from the album, a track with Slumberjack, who she previously collaborated with on Run. The latest single, "High," get’s a lighters-in-the-air response, and old favourites like "I Want U" are met with loud cheers.
For "Church," she leaves the safety of the decks and steps into the crowd to sing with them. This is my first time seeing her live and I have to say the moment she gained the most respect from me was when she mixed "Refused" into her heavy EDM setlist.
During the madness, she grabs the mic and shouts out a particular Twitter handle. An ecstatic young woman is pushed forward, and Alison invites her up to the DJ booth. “This girl tweets me every day! I wouldn’t be here without people like you! You’re staying up here with me for this next one,” she tells the crowd, before playing the emphatic ode to anxiety and depression, "Easy." With lines like ‘Walked into the bathroom/just so I could cry/Wish I knew why/ Wish I knew why/ Oh baby, why don’t you find someone easy?’ I can’t help but feel a rush of emotion. As a sufferer of intense and all-consuming anxiety and depression myself, I understand the hopeless sense of drowning and dark cloud of worry that constantly follows you with no rhyme or reason behind it. When an artist as influential as Alison vocalises the pain she feels, anxiety sufferers that feel alone realise there are others out there that feel just like them. They can throw on her music and relate. They can be inspired to follow their dreams, knowing that musicians and artists and influencers they respect can push through the pain and do amazing things.
I left that night feeling inspired, what an amazing woman and what an incredible piece of art Awake is…
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