Interview: Multi-Instrumentalist + Producer Alice Ivy

Out tomorrow, "Don't Sleep" features countless collaborations and amplifies less-heard voices

Two years ago, Australian musician, songwriter and producer Alice Ivy (aka Annika Schmarsel) released her acclaimed debut album, I’m Dreaming—an ethereal, textured, synth-heavy record concurrently tranquil and dynamic. Tomorrow she shares Don’t Sleep, her second full-length album, consisting of songs crafted all over the world—from London to Los Angeles, Toronto to Sydney—with an endless parade of rappers and singers. Featuring the gauzy “In My Mind” with Ecca Vandal and “Better Man” with Benjamin Joseph, plus cameos from Thelma Plum, BOI, imbi the girl and others, the album furthers the concept that Alice Ivy is a collaborative project rather than Schmarsel’s moniker. We spoke with the multi-talented artist ahead of the release about her writing process, amplifying unheard voices, and what she hopes the album brings to listeners.

As the album was mostly written last year, did you set out with a specific intention when making it—or did you just want to make music and let the record become whatever it would become?

When I started writing this record I didn’t have a specific concept in mind, I just wanted to make music that made me feel good and moved me emotionally. My feelings can vary day-to-day so I tried to go with the flow and capture whatever it was I was feeling at the time, as opposed to trying to channel it in a particular direction. The beautiful thing about collaborating is no matter what genre you come from or what your background is, when it clicks you create something so wonderful. 

What do you hope listeners achieve from those collaborations?

Don’t Sleep is a body of work that features an abundance of voices that need to be heard and generally aren’t heard from enough. Some of those voices belong to women, some are non-binary, some are people of color and some identify as First Nations people, some are members of the LGBTQI+ community and all of them have important stories to tell. I would love for people to listen to Don’t Sleep from start to finish and immerse themselves in the different voices that combine together to make this colorful body of work. I hope it moves them like it moves me.

Your childhood was filled with all genres of music. Can you tell us a little about where you pulled some inspiration or influence from for this record? 

The record has some elements of sampled hip-hop, which is the sound I was chasing when I first started producing. It has elements of pop on it, which I think naturally came from writing pop music for other artists over the past year and also feeling more confident in my production. A couple of years ago I would have been too scared to delve too deep into pop as I felt like it was easier to rely on samples and hip-hop drums, and focus on making my beats sound good. This album also has some electronic dance influence, which I think came mostly from listening to Jon Hopkins’s record Immunity a million times over. 

This album was written mostly away from your home in Melbourne. How do different surroundings—whether countries, cities, even climates—affect your songwriting?

I think it’s a combination of the different climates and where I felt like I was at as a producer that’s affected my songwriting. “Sunrise,” “My Turn” and “All Hit Radio” were written a lot earlier on a writing trip to the UK, Canada and the States. It was the middle of summer, I had just finished a million shows on tour and I was so excited to explore different parts of the world and write with artists outside of my Melbourne bubble. I feel like the sound of those songs still links to the earlier sounds of my first album, I’m Dreaming. Whilst the newer songs—”I’ll Find It” and “Ticket To Heaven,” for example—were written at home, during quieter periods. At that point I had the time not just to try and create the biggest sound I could, but also to explore the rawness of sound and experiment with different songwriting methods. 

Don’t Sleep is more focused on sophisticated songwriting and pop sensibilities

Was your process different, or the subject matter, or the sound itself?

The process this time around was similar, but I did a lot more writing and producing on the fly while traveling, in makeshift studios at Airbnbs! In terms of subject and sound, Don’t Sleep is a more lyrical record, whereas there were instrumental moments on I’m Dreaming and overall it probably spans more genres/styles. The first album was more beat-heavy, sample-influenced soul whereas Don’t Sleep is more focused on sophisticated songwriting and pop sensibilities. 

Has your process changed again during lockdown? Have you found yourself writing more music, making more remixes, avoiding it altogether? 

During lockdown I’ve found personally that it takes twice as long to do something compared to just a few months ago. I’m a very collaborative person. I love being in the same room as other artists, so I haven’t been writing nearly as much new Alice Ivy material during this time. But I have been working on a bunch of remixes and some production for other artists as well, which has been great!

Don’t Sleep is available to pre-order now, and will stream on various platforms tomorrow. 

Images by Michelle G Hunder