Alison Wonderland is the stage name of Alex Sholler. The moniker was meant to be a temporary name, one that she employed for a DJ night early in her career and assumed she was going to discard soon enough — but the name stuck. Before making electronic music, Sholler was a cellist playing classical music in Germany. But she found that world of music not very creatively satisfying.
“I think because it felt too much like an institution rather than art,” offers Sholler. “In my head, it's always been if something is art and it feels too much like work, then you shouldn't really do it, because that's not why you're an artist.”
Sholler subsequently returned to her native Australia and joined local punk/indie-rock bands as a bass player and also gigged as a DJ. Around this time, she became aware of Swedish experimental pop band the Knife — in particular, the 2006 album Silent Shout. “It's what got me wanting to make electronic music,” says Sholler. “I'd heard a couple of tracks off the album and thought, 'How do I make that? Because it's making me feel something even though it's electronic.' That's where I started with producing.”
She may have started her DJ career carrying around wallets of CDs from which to cull her sets, but Sholler gradually built up her rig, using Ableton as a compositional tool. Beyond playing other people's music, she became more interested in the technical side of being a DJ. By 2014, she had enough cachet in the world of Australian electronic music that she toured warehouses, often drawing crowds in the thousands. She put together genre-less set lists, and that eclectic sensibility informed the original music she would go on to make. By the time of her 2015 debut Run, Sholler had carved out her own sound.
Run debuted on the Billboard dance charts in the U.S., and Sholler booked a set at the Coachella festival — the accidental fulfillment of a less-than-dreamy first experience of the fest.
"The year before, I had saved up some money to buy a plane ticket to go see the Knife play at Coachella," she says. "I'd never seen them play. And I got food poisoning and couldn't make the show. I was so upset I was in tears. I have a tattoo of a knife on my ribs, I love them so much. So I was crying and throwing up and said, 'Next time I go to Coachella is when I play!' A friend reminded me the next year about that."
After her time at Coachella, Sholler toured limited dates in the U.S., including a stop in Denver at the Bluebird Theater. While in Denver, Sholler indulged in some of the Mile High City's specialties.
“I actually got obsessed with YouTubing airport conspiracies,” says Sholler. “I did quite a lot of Denver touristing that day. I bought a weed cookie, which was the biggest mistake of my life, because I ended up in a coma after my show. Not a real coma; I just couldn't move. Never again.”
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Run represented Sholler branching out as an artist; she reached out to Flaming Lips singer Wayne Coyne to do vocals on “U Don't Know,” and he agreed. Sholler also conceptualized her music videos, storyboarding and giving drawings to collaborators. The videos have a modern film-noir quality reminiscent of atmospheric psychological thrillers à la Hitchcock and horror movies like The Shining. In the video for "U Don't Know," Sholler recruited friend and actor Charles Mintze-Plasse (best known for his role as McLovin' in Superbad) in the lead role. The visual aesthetic provides an added dimension to Sholler's upbeat yet lush and moody pop songs. But it's the video for "I Want U" that perhaps best reflects Sholler's visual sensibilities.
“I was watching a lot of Twin Peaks at that time,” concludes Sholler. “And I wanted to do something in a hotel. It turned into something crazier than that. Twin Peaks is my favorite show of all time.”
Alison Wonderland, with Golden Features and iowno
8 p.m. Monday, February 29, $22/$25, Bluebird Theater, 303-377-1666, 16+.