Much of the country is still in the midst of winter, but over in Australia, Alice Ivy is spinning summer all year round. Her debut record I’m Dreaming is a surreal pool party, hazy with liquor and puffs of the finer stuff – its collaged snippets could easily invite remixes by the DoLab at Coachella or blare over the soundsystem on a rooftop at some fabulous (and oh-so-elite) LA party.
“I suppose I’ll be taking orders from Dinah next!” A soundbite from Alice in Wonderland leads us into the laid-back dance club that is I’m Dreaming. One of the album’s introductory singles, “Chasing Stars,” is a gorgeous example of how delicately Ivy works with others; it’s catchy, clean, and absolutely on point for today’s pop EDM landscape. “Get Me A Drink” stands out as another potential hit, with tight lyrics and an easy swagger: “My ex just walked up through the front door/I really don’t wanna care anymore/WTF did he bring that girl for/I really don’t wanna care anymore.” They’re the kind of tracks that make you wonder what else the country of Australia’s been holding back (don’t worry, Alice has some Aussie producer recommendations). SXSW has a lot to look forward to when Alice Ivy hits the stage this week.
We sat down with the 24-year-old Alice Ivy, née Annika Schmarsel, to talk about what life’s like as a female producer and how she manages to pare down her work to just the right mix.
AF: You were raised in Geelong, Australia. From a quick Google I got: seaside city, famous for its Wool Museum. Give us a glimpse into what life is like there.
AI: Hahaha, wool museum. I haven’t even been there to be honest! I had a really good upbringing down here. Geelong is super close to the best surf beaches in Australia, so whenever I was on school holidays I would kick it at the beach all the time. It’s a very quiet town, but living so close to the beach was awesome. Geelong itself had a really good punk/rock scene a few years ago so when I was young I used to sneak out of the house at midnight and go see punk shows all the time
AF: What were some of your favorite punk bands from back then?
AI: When I say punk I mean punk and rock. This massive band called King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard came from Geelong and used to play at this place called the National Hotel all the time; I went to most shows. They are now selling out massive tours around the world. I grew up listening to a lot of Motown and Soul Music though.
AF: Love King Gizzard! You sound pretty cool for a high schooler (a lot cooler than a certain Minnesotan who only listened to oldies).
AI: So cool! They literally played in the tiniest rooms in Geelong when I was growing up, it’s insane how well they are doing now.
AF: Tell us about your high school band, Sweethearts. I’m very intrigued by this all-girl group that got to tour Europe at age 12.
AI: So I auditioned to play in this all-girl school band (twenty-five 12-18 year olds). We would cover old soul Motown classics by Marvin Gaye, Etta James, etc. We would also play originals. Playing in this band was super cool because it gave me proper touring experience at such a young age. I toured Europe a couple of times playing the Montreaux Jazz Festival and the Poretta Soul Festival. Also understanding how shows work, writing with other people and getting used to performing at such a young age has had a massive influence on where I am at now in my music career.
AF: You’ve said you’re a fan of “sitting down and listening to whole records”. I’m Dreaming really does have consistent tone and pacing throughout. It’s an album that infuses a room with mood, a mezcal cocktail of a record. Did you end up leaving a lot on the cutting room floor in order to give it this particular feel?
AI: Sitting down and listening to a whole record is the best thing in the world. I feel like today everyone just listens to singles through play-listing and of course radio, so I wanted to create something that would make real sense if you sit down for 35 minutes and listen to the whole thing. So I chose my big songs on the record, and once I established those I wrote [new songs] or decided on the [existing] songs to fit in between. Songs such as “Bella” I revisited and re-worked a little bit so it would fit nicer. I wanted to keep the album super dynamic, so it flows up and down, and feels as if you are being taken on a journey. Choosing the songs was the hardest thing in the world.
AF: I absolutely love all the sound clips from films you interspersed throughout. Was that a concept you had or did it just sort of happen organically starting with a particular song?
AI: Thank you! Honestly it happened organically with the songs! Sometimes I even start a song with a radio sample and work my way around that. A good example is “Charlie.” The radio samples on there are old commercials from the 1950s, soon after the second world war, talking about makeup. I loved this period of time because it was like we won the war! Everything is perfect! Technology was evolving! Yet the Cold War and nuclear disaster was a very big thing. “Charlie” has that feel to it; the horns are so perfect they are almost fake. The feel of the song is like you are on top of the world, nothing can stop you. Not sure if this makes sense in words.
AF: Was the Alice in Wonderland intro a last minute add then? It seems like such a perfect way to encompass the overall feel.
AI: On ‘Touch” I actually also started with a little vocal sample and then mucked around with chords and a drum beat. Then I worked with Georgia Van Etten in the studio to work on little top lines. I really loved the idea of creating something that would take the listener down the rabbit hole.
AF: In 2017, you listed your Korg Minilogue as your favorite new piece of equipment. Not gonna lie: my husband and I just got one. We’re definitely in the beginning stages of figuring it out. Do you normally just jump in writing songs on a new piece of equipment or do you find there’s a lengthy experimentation phase you go through?
AI: I always need a bit of time getting used to a new bit of gear. It’s cool though; working with new gear also influences the kind of direction you are taking your music in. I bought the Korg Minilogue and then I wrote heavy synth driven songs such as “Get Me A Drink” & “I’m Dreaming,” stepping away from more of the ‘soul’ kinda stuff. You are gonna have so much fun with the Minilogue! It’s actually the best thing ever. You can do so much with it.
AF: What artists are you listening to right now?
AI: I’m listening to a bit of Australian stuff. Nai Palm just released an amazing record, Flight Facilities are great. But I’ve also been thrashing that new Mr Jukes record – the features on it are mind blowing. And I can never really walk away from SZA, Frank Ocean and Flying Lotus.
AF: I’ve heard rumor you’re coming to the U.S. for SXSW. Are there any other U.S. tour dates we can expect on that trip?
AI: Yeah, I’m hitting up SXSW! I’m super sad though because I have two Australian festivals either side of SXSW so I don’t have time to play any more shows. Will be back later during the year though!
AF: You currently run an all-female production class at Melbourne’s Arts Centre. Why is heading up this class important to you?
AI: Melbourne has been so good to me. There are heaps of youth organizations that help young producers start off their careers, there are amazing government funding bodies. About a year ago I realized that I may be a bit of a role model to young producers, especially females. I think that it’s super important to put back into the community and so whenever I have the time, I try to do as much as I can. The Arts Centre classes are a safe open space for young females to express their art. Music, especially electronic music, is so male dominated – the only way to change this is to put your time back rather than just talk about how hard it is being a ‘female producer’ making electronic music.
AF: What female producers are you seeing out in the scene that are really rockin’ it right now?
AI: I’ll list some Aussies who are smashing it right now. Ninajirachi, Nyxen, Saatsuma, Eilish Gilligan. Especially Ninajirachi; she’s 18 years old and doing massive festival circuits around Australia… so cool.
AF: What advice would you give a high-school age girl looking to become a producer? What are some of the first steps she should take?
AI: I’ll send a list of dot points!
- Take your time with everything. Don’t feel like you ever have to rush art.
- Collaborating with other people is the best way to get better at your own craft. Give it a go!
- If they are in reach, reach out to the people that inspire you. They will generally make the time for you and you can learn so much.
- Be patient. Every artist needs to do the hard yards first. Good things will always come if you put in the good work.
Alice Ivy’s new album I’m Dreaming is out now on Spotify and iTunes. If you’re headed to SXSW this week, be sure to catch her LIVE!