Producer, DJ, songwriter and singer Alison Wonderland had to get out of the darkness. As she explains here, the solution was telling the truth, changing her life and, maybe, a shot or two of the good stuff. Her new album, her appearance at Coachella, and a healthier mind and body suggest it’s working a treat.
Alison Wonderland - less flamboyantly known by authorities at passport desks around the world as Alexandra Sholler - does not have medical training like her cardiologist father. Her training began with cello, achieving a spot in the Australian Youth Orchestra, then bassplaying in some nondescript indie bands, and more recently production and DJing. She is not Dr Wonderland.
Nonetheless, as a world traveller, as an artist who has not had a band to pick up the slack, and latterly as a singer whose voice has become as important an instrument as her cross-fader, she knows a thing or two about staying alive, staying healthy, staying upright.
Banana in the morning, colloidal silver, oregano oil, sleep – all are near the top of her list. Anything else Doctor?
“Vitamin B shots actually,” says Wonderland. “A big stab in the bum with vitamin B is really good with mental … keeping yourself feeling a little more positive when touring. It also helps with your immune system.”
Decadent ‘70s rock stars used to be the primary market for those shots, the antidote to a life of Peruvian cocaine, Beluga caviar and scarves. But while the tiny framed, nose-ringed, multi-hued Wonderland may have the style (and the name) for such a lifestyle, that’s not her playground.
“I’m pretty together,” she says. “It’s more because I tour so much and I’m on so many planes, early mornings, late nights, having to be on at all times. Making sure that you have little remedies is very important.”
Late night gigs have been a staple for her since turntables took over from the cello as her preferred instrument, but becoming a songwriter, then a singer, and consequently a fully-fledged solo artist, has taught her one significant thing. Something in fact that those 70s rock stars might have warned her about before she came to write her new album, Awake.
“What comes with the highest of highs, you need to balance that out with some lows. There’s always going to be, when you’re doing something amazing, something to balance it out,” Wonderland says. “When you’re travelling by yourself, for months on end, and you haven’t had a real hug in week, it’s very mentally taxing. Getting up on stage to thousands of people and giving everything, then walking off stage and going to your hotel room alone and feeling the polar opposite in one night, isn’t right for your mind.
“Also there is that adrenaline that you get from playing and when you’re off stage, especially when you’re sober, you feel it really heavily, your head is spinning for hours and hours because you’re so high off the feel of playing live.”
That insulated life of an artist - alone when writing, isolated when on tour and then making yourself vulnerable in front of thousands, mind racing long after, up the next morning to fly somewhere else and do it again. Well, that’s never done anyone any good really has it?
“When I started touring more and travelling the world more I realised that I had to be very responsible for my health and my body because I was going to deteriorate,” says Wonderland. “I really felt like I have almost done so a couple of times.”
Along with the form of madness induced by being a performer, another thing she didn’t expect was success.
“If you’d asked me three years ago I would not have said that my first American show would have been Coachella. I wouldn’t know that I would be running a music festival. I wouldn’t have known that I would be playing the main stage at [giant electronic dance music festival in Las Vegas] EDC and [Belgian electronic dance festival] Tomorrowland, Lollapaloozas, all that.
“I remember watching the Lollapalooza episode on The Simpsons and that being such a cool festival, and I’ve played that now twice and I’ve been asked to play three more. It’s so strange.”
If that sounds disingenuous when career plans and plotting world domination during classes in Year 7 are the norm, it’s worth remembering that she was a cellist first of all, and that a woman in electronic music not that long ago was as rare as making your way through Future Music Festival without running into a ‘roid rage bloke.
Music it turns out, was a way for her to feel better, “a sort of medicine”, that kept her solid and centred. Even now, actually, especially now, with a second album which comes with the kind of lyrical openness that might be considered adventurous, if not brave, that remains music’s most potent effect.
“I found with this album, writing about how I feel, I felt 10 times better after Awake, and I had felt 10 times better after writing [first album] Run. It was a weird type of therapy where I was detoxing myself from myself.”
Not just detoxing but repurposing.
“It’s so amazing power of pen on paper and realising how you are actually feeling because your subconscious comes out there. I made so many changes because of the lyrics I had written, honestly. This is not a joke. Even with Cold, which is one of my earlier songs, I left a relationship because of it.
“I’ve had these realisations because thousands of people can tell you what’s going on in your life but it needs to be you that realises.”
Which may take longer than a stab in the bum with a vitamin B shot. But probably lasts longer.
Awake is out today through EMI