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What’s In Your Bag, Alison Wonderland?

Who needs to check luggage, anyhow?

Photography by Matthew Reeves

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What’s in your bag? is a recurring feature where we ask people to tell us a bit more about their everyday gadgets by opening their bags and hearts to us. This week, we’re featuring music producer, singer, and DJ Alison Wonderland.

Musician Alison Wonderland opens up the door to her hotel room with bombastic energy. “Oh my gosh! Hello!” she shouts, falling in for a hug. This is how Alison (real name Alexandra Sholler) always is. She’s a human bouncy ball, both in the literal sense (when she climbs all over the stage during performances) and in the emotional sense (expressive about her range of emotions, both on the way up and the way down). Part of how she’s built her massive fan base has been through this heart-on-sleeve mentality, where she openly discusses anxiety and depression to erase the taboo surrounding them.

If you’re not familiar with the Australian-born artist’s music, she’s a multihyphenate: DJ, producer, singer, and classically-trained cellist. Alison’s been releasing music under this pseudonym since 2013 and has built a reputation for a blasting blend of heavy trap and future bass. Earlier this year, she released her second album Awake and has been touring nonstop, including a prime-time set at this year’s Coachella.

To get a sense of where Alison’s music inclinations now lie, it’s best to look at one particular single from Awake. “Cry” is a particularly beautiful and dreamy concoction that is a complete flip from the trap-infused heaters she’s known for. It feels intensely personal, like a letter to a particular someone, with lyrics like, “I felt awake because you started to remind me / It’s no mistake that we both like space and David Attenborough / And lemonade and anime.” Alison recently tapped up-and-coming artist Rynx to remix it, plumping up the sonic landscape with wubby bits of electric guitar and airy croons drifting over the top.

We manage to snag an hour with Alison in her hotel room as she passes through Chicago, and she eagerly dumps out the contents of not one, but two bags onto the floor. She’s a self-described “Mary Poppins of packing.” As she spreads out her things, she grins. “Are you impressed with me right now?” she asks. Yes, we think. In every way.

Do you carry two bags with you all the time?

Yeah, all the time. These don’t leave me. My life is in here.

Where’d you get the big bag?

Urban Outfitters. Usually, I have a Tumi bag, but this one was softer and easier to fold up if I wanted to put it into a suitcase. It’s more low-key. And especially if you’re traveling places where people can rob you, I don’t like to walk around with my Tumi bag because then people might think, “Ah, she probably has something on her.” My passport holder and my wallet are Gucci and Louis Vuitton. I like nice bags, but when I travel, I’m not showy at all.

Mmm. It’s an unassuming bag. So we’re going to lay this stuff out.

I’m so excited to go into detail about everything in here because I’m a nerd with packing.

You have packing cubes! Pro packing cubes!

Literally this is what I travel with everywhere. I don’t have to check anything in. Carry-on all the way. I can do two months like this if I needed to. Are you impressed with me right now?

I want to talk about this little cutie. [points to stuffed animal]

Oh, Chickalobola? This is a very private thing. That chicken has traveled with me all around the world. When I was studying cello in Europe, he was there. He comes out all the time with me, but no one knows. He’s been to every single one of my shows. EDC, Coachella… everywhere. I got him from my grandfather when I was six, and I have never separated from him.

I’m surprised he’s still intact.

Well, actually, the black nose on the chicken is because a dog found him in Italy and ate his nose off. When I came home, I was so distraught, and my mum sewed this on. It used to have an orange beak. And I don’t even think it looks like a chicken anymore. I don’t know what it is. But he got a nose job.

Wow, you’ve got a lot of clothes in here.

I’ve got a pair of shorts, my long socks, a big T-shirt, overalls, and a normal T-shirt. So if I lose my checked bag, then at least I’ll have a change of clothes for going out, one for walking around, one for a show.

Has an airline lost your bag before?

It’s happened. It didn’t actually happen to me while I was DJing, but I have PTSD from when I was a cellist, and I lost my cello in Denmark.

Oh my god.

Yeah, so now I’m freaked out, and I have to have all my stuff with me that I would need if I lost a bag.

Why do you carry tote bags?

The totes are some of my merch. I’m relaunching my web store, and I’m doing limited edition drops every time instead of a constant web store. This was for the last drop. It was me as a tarot card. I love the design. It’s based on an actual Queen of Pentacles tarot card.

[Alison freezes, then grabs a pair of socks]

Oh, my compression socks! I really want to talk about compression socks. Seriously! I will literally cry over compression socks. They’re my favorite thing. If I could be sponsored by anyone, it would be compression sock people. I don’t really understand what compression socks do, but I definitely feel a difference when I get off a flight and I’m wearing them versus when I’m not. Everything swells up when you’re on a plane, and these stop that. They’re not super tight, but I have another pair that are medical-grade that I got from a hospital. They’re so good, but they’re in the washer right now.

Please. These need to be shown to the world because it’s changed my life, honestly. I’ve been flying with them for so long now, and I never feel gross when I get off the plane. It’s because of those fucking socks. Sorry.

Let’s dig into the makeup.

I am super minimalist when it comes to beauty, weirdly enough.

How is that weird?

I don’t know. I feel like people assume performers use a lot of makeup, but I actually find that less is more comfortable when I’m onstage.

I don’t like having to worry about how things look if I’m sweaty during a gig.

Exactly. This is all I take with me. I swear by all these products. This is the best concealer in the entire world. It’s by Clé de Peau. It literally changed my life. My breakouts are nothing now, and this hides it, and it doesn’t look like I’m wearing any concealer. That’s my Anastasia Beverly Hills eyebrow pencil… my lipstick… my perfume… and then my foundation. I swear by Smashbox. This is the best foundation ever.

The Elizabeth Arden eight-hour cream is the best. I put it on every night, especially because I’m on so many planes. It keeps my skin looking really good. It even clears up blemishes. I’ve been using it for years, and when I don’t use it, I notice a difference. And then I got the SK-II mask, which I have just in case I feel like my skin’s really fucked.

Is it like a collagen mask?

Um, I don’t know what it is. I’m not super detailed about that kind of stuff. I just noticed that my skin felt better after I used it. Also, dry shampoo is my saving grace when I travel. I don’t have time to constantly do my hair, so it refreshes it and gives it a bit more longevity when I’m on the road.

And then the glitter, obviously. That’s very important.

That’s very important because when you’re playing at a festival, you want to feel fun. I just like wearing glitter. It cheers me up.

What is this squishy bottle?

That’s shampoo. I don’t like hotel shampoos. So I just carry my own everywhere. I got that from CVS. It’s... squeezy, so it doesn’t leak or anything. If I wasn’t traveling so much, I wouldn’t be bringing my own shampoo. But I basically live half my life at hotels. I like to kind of have my own stuff.

This side bag is really, really, really good. It’s made by Condura, so it’s army-grade. Supreme uses this brand to make their bags. All the streetwear brands use it.

And the crystals?

Mmhmm. There’s this crystal... Um… Oh, there are two crystals! And another crystal… that’s weird. I always carry crystals on me for different reasons, and I always find them in random pockets. I was quite shocked, uh, just now, because I didn’t even know that amethyst was in there. Amethyst is actually really good for anxiety, and then the clear quartz is just good to have around.

Then I’ve got my passport holder, my wallet, and my keys, which have an alien and a Tamagotchi attached to it. I’m a really big animal lover, and I’m very in love with my dog. I get very sad when I leave her, so this is kind of like me having my dog with me. But I feel like I’m cheating on my dog when I play with it. [Alison presses the Tamagotchi] Oh look, he’s alive.

What’s the keychain?

It’s an alien keychain that I got at Roswell. They have a tourist store with alien stuff everywhere. I always stop over there when I’m driving back from Vegas. They have, um, a lot of jerky flavors. That’s the main thing at this store. It’s very strange. But the last time I was there, I got this little alien because I love alien stuff.

Do you believe in aliens?

Yes, of course I believe in aliens! It’s narcissistic to think that we’re the only people here. Even if they haven’t landed here, there are still aliens. There’s still other life out there, whether it be a cell or a fully developed, highly intelligent being. But we don’t know at all. And if someone did hide it from us, then fuck them. That’s not fair.

What hardware do you pack?

Usually, I bring my MIDI keyboard with me, but I don’t bring it on overnight trips like this. If I’m gone for a week or two weeks, I usually have an Akai keyboard as well.

That’s ambitious.

Well, I like writing, and I never know when I’m going to be inspired. So that Tumi adapter is the best thing I ever invested in. I didn’t know that I was going to have so many plugs, though. The 1 terabyte USB has all my drum sounds and stems on it. I use that when I’m producing on the road, and it has all my backups with my samples and my stems. That’s a really important USB. And then these other ones I use for shows. The others are just spare USBs. And that [points to USB dongle] is obviously a little Kylo Ren because I love Star Wars.

What phone is this?

[Picks up phone] Aw, look at all the notifications. I look lit right now! This is an iPhone 8 Plus. I got the 8 Plus because I wasn’t sure about the X at the time. I feel very weird about the facial recognition thing. It completely freaks me out. I know they’re going to force me to do it anyway, I’m just trying to hold it off as long as I can.

The back of the phone case is so cute!

It is cute, right? Little googly eyes. I got it in Mexico. I’ve got a black dog, but I couldn’t find a black dog one, so I got a black cat one.

Is there a reason you have an Apple phone over Android?

I think it’s just more intuitive with my brain. I’ve always used Apple products, and they talk to each other, so it’s just easier for me. I tried using an Android, but I just don’t… work with it. I’ve always had my iPhone, my MacBook, my Apple Watch, and it all syncs up.

What kind of MacBook is this?

That’s a MacBook Pro. It’s one of the new 13-inch ones. I make a lot of my music on that computer, actually.

And the stickers?

I just got this laptop, so it’s pretty bare. One of the stickers is mine, obviously, and there’s an Insomniac Night Owl Radio one that Pasquale [Rotella] gave me. The Intoxica sticker is actually really sick. It was given to me by a DJ called Howie Pyro, who is a legend in the punk scene. He gave me that when I was at a baby shower for a drummer who was in Queens of the Stone Age. All these rockers were there, so we got talking, he gave me his sticker, and I thought it was really cool, so I kept it. Usually it’s a lot more busy on my computer, but because it’s new, it’s completely barren. I’m a little bit embarrassed.

I didn’t ask you about your headphones!

These are just UrbanEars, and the only reason I use them is because they fit my head; I’ve never gotten a sponsorship with them or anything. I don’t even think they know that I use them. Also, the cord pops out, and you can change it to a normal headphone jack. I always forget and lose my headphone jacks! I also have the Sennheiser HD 25s, and I go in between those two. Occasionally, I use Beats, but I’m a creature of habit. So if I’ve been using HD 25s or UrbanEars for years, then that’s what it is.

Seriously, how did your bags just throw up all of these things?

I know, I’m the Mary Poppins of packing. I think the reason I’m obsessed with packing is because I love Tetris. I used to obsessively play Tetris. And I was living out of a backpack from 17 years old onward, traveling a lot, and staying on people’s couches.

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