Postponed or completely canceled shows, a needle spiking attack in Berghain, burnout, the temporary escape from Germany, trouble with Spotify and an online bank: 2021 and 2022 were not easy years for Alison Lewis a.k.a. Zanias. Activities with Linea Aspera were discontinued, her label Fleisch Records had a lull in releases for months, but at the beginning of the year she finally announced a new album – and then everything got much better.
With Chrysalis, the Berlin-based Australian shows her vulnerable side, lyrically and musically. Delicate melodies, electronic chirping, shimmering sounds, subtly set beats: Alison wants to bring eight dazzling new songs to the stage. As the headliner of this year’s MUK.E festival she and her live musician Neu-Romancer (Laura Bailey) are already in Dortmund's FZW in the late afternoon. Make-up artist Eavan Derbyshire makes the two even prettier, there is a bottle of red wine, details for an upcoming photo session are discussed with Polaroid artist Julia Beyer. And VOLT also squeezes in-between to conduct an interview with the charismatic all-rounder.
This is your third gig on this leg of your current tour. What were the first two gigs like?
It’s been really fun. And it feels a bit like a continuation of the gigs from earlier in the summer. We had a short break since Wave-Gotik-Treffen and then going to South America, so it’s been one big blur and lots of fantastic gigs and lots of great audiences. Berlin was a great way to start because I was surrounded by friends. The SO36 was technically such a perfect setting for us, really good sound, really good lights. And we’re really impressed with the venue tonight.
You currently played Wave Gotik Treffen with Linea Aspera and – what does it mean to you playing there?
As a 15-year-old, living in Malaysia, where I was really the only goth in the village if not in the country, I would go on the internet and see photos from the WGT, of all these people who are into the same thing as me. It seemed that something so far away was so exciting and I never even imagined that I would play there once. And now I’ve played there – I’ve actually lost count, with all my different projects. Including Gothic Pogo Party, five times or something. It’s really cool and makes me feel proud of myself.
Your tour leads you to Georgia, Armenia, Greece, France etc., to really exciting countries and venues. What are you looking forward to the most, regarding this tour?
It’s really hard to decide. I love playing in and visiting Greece so much, but also Khidi in Georgia is maybe my favourite club on earth. Playing there is such a dream come true, so I think Khidi might be the winner for that one.
You’re on the road pretty much and living in Berlin for years now, do you sometimes suffer from homesickness?
I suffer from a lot of homesickness and I find the distance from the ocean very difficult to live with. It does get me a little bit depressed sometimes but what keeps me in Berlin is the community there, the music community that we have and the group of friends that I have is like something I’ve never had before. Having this life in Berlin now is such a dream and really keeps me there, despite the homesickness and how much I miss my parents and my sister.
Talking about your homecountry: how famous are you there?
Barely anyone there knows who I am. In Germany, live in Friedrichshain, where so many people in the scene live. I do find when I leave my house I will usually bump into someone I know or someone who at least knows me. So going to the supermarket in Australia is way more chill. I can leave my house without bumping into someone I know. People there don’t know my music but I also don’t really have many friends there because I only lived there for two years. Where my parents live I have never lived. So it’s just like I am a stranger to everyone and that feels amazing. Total anonymity.
On previous Zanias releases, your sound was prepped with hard-edged EBM elements, which made your solo project famous in the EBM and harder electronic music scene …
I think it makes sense because so much of my musical history was in the Goth and EBM scene. EBM was the genre that I used to enjoy DJing the most. But it’s also a very masculine genre and very male-dominated. It kind of makes me feel particularly accomplished to be able to introduce music that isn’t pure EBM to a scene that can be a little bit anachronistic sometimes. That is something I am actually very proud of. I really like the thought that I am bringing a feminine edge to a style of music that is otherwise so hard and masculine.
Was EBM a source of inspiration to you?
I really love these bands, particularly Skinny Puppy. Skinny Puppy was probably my favourite of all of those acts from that era. And Front Line Assembly, of course, back when I was about 21, 22. That was my favourite style of music.
You’re a true workaholic: musician, DJane, label owner – and you are doing most of your business all by yourself. How to you compensate that? Did you ever come to a point considering stopping all this?
Oh yeah. I’ve been through multiple burnout cycles. And I have finally come to this place where I really have stopped worrying too much about perfection. And I very much protect my freetime and my sleep. I protect that above everything else and I don’t allow anything to mess with those two things. I know now that when I come home from tour, I need a week in which I absolutely do nothing and I won’t feel guilty for it. Now I protect that freetime and I think more people should do this because it’s really helpful. Then you become more productive when you are working. It’s kind of magic. I actually get more done and I feel way more at peace with myself and I have way more fun doing what I am doing. It took me a long time to get to this place. I used to be very scattered and very stressed all the time and I did not enjoy it.
Chrysalis is the scientific term for the hard shell a butterfly is pupated in before getting its wings. An intermediate state, so to say. Is it your personal intermediate state, or does it refer to your musical journey, your acoustic shapeshifting?
Definitely to both. The last few years have been a period of immense personal growth and a lot of really hard lessons that I have learned. I almost feel that this has been the phase in which I have really gone from being a juvenile to an adult. Like a caterpillar to a butterfly. It definitely feels like the transition that I have made. The album was made during that phase, when I really was in the chrysalis. I had gone home to Australia, I was completely burned out. I wasn’t sure if I can even keep making music. That really violent process that a caterpillar goes through – they basically dissolve before growing into a butterfly, it’s horrifying what happens. Imagine that happening to you. That is sort of how I felt over the last two years. The number of things that went wrong, the number of traumas that took place. I just felt at times like the universe was really trying to end me. It was crazy.
Did music help you get out of it?
I became like one of that memes like “that friend that can never catch a break”. “Oh yeah, I am just in the hospital”, “Oh yeah, my grandma just died” – so many bad things happened. Coming through that and realizing how that stupid expression ‘if it doesn’t kill you it makes you stronger’ is in fact true. I’m feeling like I have become myself. Finally I am at peace with myself and really happy with what I am making. Particularly musically. I used to feel very lost in terms of my artistic direction, because I just hadn’t put in the time yet to know. And I didn’t know myself well enough, but now I really know who I am and really know the music I will make, like this sound is me. It doesn’t mean I gonna stay the same but I certainly feel like things will gonna have a consistency they didn’t have before.
What’s coming up next? What about a new Linea Aspera release, for example?
Linea Aspera is on hiatus at the moment. It is a bit too much for me to do more than one project. I’ve got a sort of more experimental album coming out very soon, that are all the songs I’ve made during the Chrysalis sessions which were not quiet like songs, in fact they have no words. That’s coming out hopefully before the end of the year. And I also have a track on a huge compilation that was curated by Curses, I think it’s a 49-track-compilation. Both, me an Neu-Romancer, have two original tracks on that, coming out in October. And I am also going to be relasing Kris Baha’s new album on Fleisch, I am putting a lot of effort into that. And meanwhile, I am constantly working on new music. I also do have another project with someone who people in the EBM scene are going to be very excited about.
Interview: Catrin Nordwig
Photos: Julia Beyer, www.juliabeyerphotography.com
Live photos: Katja Pfennig