Annika Schmarsel, known professionally as Alice Ivy, is almost bouncing with enthusiasm on her end of the line. Although she has played in touring bands since high school, the Melbourne artist/producer has only been crafting her brand of electronic pop music for a little over two years. That time has seen her quickly gain national prominence and February will see the release of her debut album, I’m Dreaming. “It feels really good to finally release a full body of work,” grins Schmarsel. “Some of the songs on there are some of the first I ever produced, so I’ve been sitting on it a while.”
The album is typified by a laid-back, positively sunny vibe that balances its pop radio moments with an unassuming soulful quality. “When I first started making music I used to play in an all-girl 25 piece soul band,” says Schmarsel.
“I used to play guitar and I’d be used to playing small parts; when you listen to soul music, especially off the Motown label, the guitars are very limited but effective. That’s sort of how I learned how to play, so I guess when you listen to that genre of music you’re listening to a whole collage of sounds and instruments, and that’s had a huge influence on how I write music today. I think of different sonic textures and elements that make up a wall of sound – whenever I write a song I always end up with like 60 tracks where I’ve got a whole bunch of stuff happening. I totally feel like that comes from that passion for soul music.”
It makes sense that Schmarsel cut her teeth playing live, as anyone that has seen her perform in the last couple of years can attest to her onstage energy and charisma. “Being a producer, people think of you as being a studio person and label you as that, but live shows is probably my biggest strength,” says Schmarsel. “I focus a lot on my show, so I guess the word producer blurs that a little bit. I’m a very collaborative person, especially when it comes to live performance.”
Far from the image of the solitary bedroom beatmaker, many of the tracks on I’m Dreaming feature guest vocalists, including E^st, Georgia Van Etten and Bertie Blackman, the latter on the single ‘Chasing Stars’. “I want to make music that helps people feel really good about themselves and gets people to dance and is uplifting to people,” says Schmarsel.
“That’s the kind of music I like to write and it’s pretty interesting going into the studio with different artists who write completely differently. Bertie Blackman told me that was really interesting writing such an uplifting song for her because she generally writes sad music. It’s also really funny if you don’t know the people you’re collaborating with being like, ‘Hey, so we’re working out of my home, don’t mind my pile of washing.’”
Although she has now shifted operations into a shared studio in Melbourne’s north, I’m Dreaming was recorded in the aforementioned home environment. “At the time I had a small four channel interface, (and for) most of the synths I generally used the Korg Minilogue, which is a synth that Korg released a couple of years ago and it’s the best thing I’ve ever bought because it’s so easy to use, you can literally do anything on it,” she says.
“Then I got the Prophet 12, which I purchased a couple of years ago when I broke my leg. I was writing a lot of music, and that’s when I wrote ‘Get Me a Drink’ and ‘Be Friends’. I had one leg up on a cushion and I just decided to buy a Prophet 12 because I had nothing else to do. I’ve got a MS20 that I recorded a lot of the bass on, but generally my studio setup at home is ridiculously simple. I used a Bluebird mic, which wasn’t very expensive, and everything I mix and perform using Ableton Live.”
When it comes to her live show, Schmarsel’s setup is similarly designed for simplicity and ease of use. “I run my tracks out of Ableton, but I sample and loop everything on a APC40, which is an Akai MIDI controller,” she says.
“There’s eight by eight squares of pads that you can assign, there are faders, there are knobs; it’s like several controllers built into one. It’s got everything that I need for a live set and have all my channels reduced to eight. I sample and trigger all my loops and tracks off that, and then I do live vocals. I use a TC-Helicon vocal pedal, which I trigger a bit of tune and reverb and delay on certain parts of songs, but I don’t use it that excessively.
“Then I do live guitar; I’ve got an overdrive pedal – it’s called the Organiser pedal by EarthQuaker Devices – it’s essentially an octave pedal, but it’s got a chorus on it so it sort of makes it sound like an organ. That’s really sick for those top, piercing guitar lines. I’ve got a Roland SPD-SX, which I hit to sample radio samples and some percussive instruments; it’s also a really good visual thing, because there’s something about just hitting drums that looks amazing onstage and it feels really good as a performer.”
With a busy touring schedule and album number two already half in the bag, Alice Ivy is just getting started.
Originally published in Mixdown Magazine.