Alison Wonderland talks ‘Loner’ and more, live from HARD Summer [Q&A]
Rarely does one encounter an aura like Alison Wonderland‘s; both on and off stage, the Sydney-born musician is a source of galvanizing energy. On July 30, Wonderland lit the fuse of said energy, igniting sentiments of community, love, and fiery rage as she gracefully dominated the main stage at HARD Summer 2022. Wonderland performed songs from her May LP, Loner, incorporated fan-favorite throwbacks, pulled sounds from fellow dance/electronic tastemakers, and even debuted a brand new Whyte Fang ID during her headlining set at the Insomniac festival.
With shows spanning mid-November, Wonderland is now gearing up for a range of North American tour dates. Following appearances at Breakaway Music Festival and Life Is Beautiful in August and September, respectively, Wonderland—alongside Valentino Khan, Jon Casey, and others—will return to Morrison, Colorado’s world-renowned Red Rocks Amphitheater on October 7 to host 2022’s highly anticipated rendition of Temple of Wonderland.
Prior to her main stage set, Alison Wonderland sat down with Dancing Astronaut in San Bernardino, California, for an on-site interview at HARD Summer. The “Something Real” singer touched on her latest album, her highly anticipated headlining show at Red Rocks, and her recent effort to raise money alongside The Brigid Alliance, a non-profit travel fund dedicated to facilitating reproductive care for those affected by the overturning of Roe v. Wade. Sign up to be notified when Alison Wonderland’s “Pro Choice Tee” will be restocked here, purchase tickets to Temple of Wonderland here, and read the exclusive Q&A below.
How long had Loner been in the works prior to its May release?
Alison Wonderland: “I was weirdly planning to take 2020 off to write an album. I’d released ‘Bad Things’ in 2020 and then was writing a bunch throughout the whole pandemic. I was just in my studio taking advantage of that time ‘cause usually I’m touring so much. I like to be in my studio to create; I find it really hard to write on the road, actually. Weirdly, a huge chunk of the album that made it, I wrote last.”
It sounds like the pandemic strangely aligned with your career timeline. Would you agree?
Alison Wonderland: “Yeah, I planned to take off 2020 to write the album. And it’s weird…the whole story of this album was being written as I was going through it. It wasn’t as related to the pandemic as you might think, but I feel like everyone started to relate to being a loner. I’d had the name in my head; I usually dream my album names. For ages, I’d be like ‘I don’t know what this is going to be called,’ and then I’d have a dream and it’d be like ‘Loner, ’ or ‘Awake.’ On ‘Run,’ I had a limited merch thing where I had a crossword of all the song names. I didn’t even know this happened…but someone who bought a long-sleeve pointed out that it included both ‘Run’ and ‘Awake’, like accidentally. Yeah, weird.”
Had you been crowd testing music from the project beforehand?
Alison Wonderland: “Yes, I had been testing it out. ‘Eyes Closed’ was an early writing [that] I tried out during the Proximity mix I did. That’s the beauty of being an electronic artist; you can just do that! The files are on your computer, like who’s going to stop you?”
What’s your favorite track on the album and why?
Alison Wonderland: “Oh, come on…it changes all the time. I associate such strong memories with each track that it depends on what mood I’m in. I also don’t really listen to it. I would say the track I still resonate a lot with, lyrically, would be ‘Forever.’ It’s a really powerful mantra to me. You know when you’re stuck in a part of life, trying to move forward, and the universe just isn’t giving that to you? That’s kind of what I was going through, and my friend said to me, while I was crying in a Starbucks drive-thru, ‘it will feel like forever until it doesn’t.’ And I’m just like, ‘yo, I’m writing a song about you.’ That’s probably the best thing someone’s said to me in years.”
You have Temple of Wonderland coming up at Red Rocks in October. Can you expound on the effort going into the show?
Alison Wonderland: “Every year I spend months working on visuals, musically directing the show, I add strings…I don’t know if you know this, but I was originally a cellist; that’s what I studied, so it’s really cool to be able to put string quartets in there. Last year, we had a choir as well. It’s really cool to give life to my songs, and for so long I was scared to sing live. Then one day, Trippie Redd came up to sing ‘High,’ a song that we did together, at Coachella. And he was just out there belting it out, giving zero fucks. And I’m like ‘yo, if he can do it, maybe I’ll try and do it.’ And that’s kind of what made me snap out of being too scared to sing. All my songs since the beginning of time have been my vocals, so why not?”
Are you bringing any live elements/new visuals to your HARD set?
Alison Wonderland: “Yeah! We’ve got live drums and I’ll be singing. The visuals are obviously really important to me… I’ll see a video clip as I’m writing and be like, ‘fuck, that’d be sick.’ Half of them never get made…I’m surprised the ‘New Day’ video got made ‘cause I was like, ‘I want to be riding a horse and killing people, but with lasers for my eyes and then shooting them into flowers.’ It’s weird seeing an idea in your head materialize into real life, exactly how you saw it. At the show tonight, there’s a visual I saw while on shrooms. I accidentally took too much of a micro-dose, and that’s how I got the ‘Forever’ visuals.”
You boast a prolific, long-spanning career. How would you say your sound has evolved over time?
Alison Wonderland: “When I listen back to my earlier stuff, I can hear how much I’ve learnt, what my voice can do, and what it can’t. I really feel I’ve pushed myself vocally. Musically, I try to incorporate more organic instruments. I really like when you have something non-electronic layered over something electronic; there’s a warmth to it that I don’t hear when layering synth upon synth…My whole idea for this album was ‘order and disorder,’ and I wanted to do this minimalist, rich, organic sound [during] the verses, to then go into something a lot bigger. I just love strings, harp, piano, all that stuff.”
What’s your take on the future of electronic music?
Alison Wonderland: “There’s actually an act [booked for] my Red Rocks show… He’s in my trailer now, and he makes me really excited… in a platonic way! Jon Casey is incredible; he’s so interesting to me as a producer. As soon as I knew I was doing a Red Rocks show, I don’t even know if Jon Casey knows this… I called my agent and said ‘get me Jon Casey.’ What also excites me about the future of electronic music is the fast-growing technology. It’s so much easier now to get to where you need to go sonically as a producer; everything is a lot more accessible. People who may not have had the opportunity to learn music production in the past are doing it now. When I play a set, for the most part, if I’m not using my drops, I’m using drops from people who are more underground, less mainstream, up-and-coming…I think they’re making better music. You’ll hear that in the set tonight as well. I listen to the up-and-coming kids more than I listen to the established people.”
Who’s your dream collaboration?
Alison Wonderland: “Fuck anyone that hates on me for this answer, but Kanye. He’s my favorite artist. I don’t agree with everything he does as a person, but he is by far my favorite artist. He inspires me every time I put on a show, like go big or go home, you know? He gives so much of a fuck that he doesn’t…Every album sounds like Kanye, but he’s bringing elements that no one else would have the fucking balls to [bring.] I could do a TED Talk on how great I think Kanye is, as an artist. I doubt it would ever happen, but I’d literally cry to work with [him]…”
You recently launched a fundraiser with a new pro-choice t-shirt. How has that been received?
Alison Wonderland: “Really good! It’s been amazing; we’ve raised a lot of money. I have really strong opinions on that, which I will happily speak about… It’s funny, I tweeted ‘My body my choice,’ which is very true. And people will say, ‘What about COVID?’ And I’ll be like, ‘Yo, shut the fuck up. That’s everybody’s body, your choice.’ It’s a different thing. You can’t ‘catch’ an abortion, you can’t ‘catch’ pregnancy, it’s not contagious… The other thing people don’t understand is, not only is it about people’s own fucking business, but it’s also about more than terminating an unwanted pregnancy. There are people who’ve miscarried, and the baby is still in there. They need to have an abortion. There are people who have ectopic pregnancies; they need to have something called a D&C [dilation and curettage], which is basically an abortion. So if those rights are taken, it can actually be deadly to women. It’s really disturbing to me, and I get pretty emotional about it. It’s just the most fucking backward thing…I can tweet about it as much as I want, but what is that going to do? It’s going to show I stand with the cause, but if I can raise money and help people who are going through this right now? To me, that means 20 times more. The charity we’re donating to is called The Brigid Alliance, and I love what they’re about. They provide funds, travel, and accommodations to people who really need to go get procedures like that. If I didn’t do anything…I’d look back and be like ‘why the fuck didn’t you?’ Even if it’s not the biggest amount of change, I had to at least try and help. And fuck man…that photo’s tight.”
Featured image: Ivan Meneses