When Ace Wilder tripped on the finishing line during Melodifestivalen in 2014, it was in a haze of fear and relief that it was over. Ahead of her return to the big SVT stage, Scan Magazine spoke to the singer about fitting in in Sweden, using an alter ego, and the coincidences that have brought her to where she is today.

“It was a real culture clash when we moved back to Sweden,” says Alice Gernandt, better known as Ace Wilder. “My mother was like, ‘you’re going to school here now, so we need to buy you some new clothes – it’s not okay to be different in Sweden’. She just wanted me to make friends and not stick out too much, but I actually think she was spot on. It was funny, because I obviously wouldn’t just adapt like that,” she laughs. “I was all, ‘if everyone’s wearing black, I’m wearing purple’.”

Having spent the majority of her childhood in Miami Beach in Florida, Wilder learnt early on to be independent and disciplined. “Miami Beach back then wasn’t what it is today – it was a melting pot full of different people from different backgrounds, all cultures in one place. One of my best friends’ dad, for example, was doing time for some big cocaine scandal,” she says. “In that kind of environment you learn quickly to figure out what you’re good at. You need to be disciplined, because there’s no other way.”

At 17, Wilder and her family returned to Sweden, barely speaking Swedish at all. Everything was new and different. But she had herself and her determination, and before she turned 20 she was in a band with two others and had a publishing deal. “We were going to conquer the world!” Wilder laughs. “And it didn’t, well, go to plan.” Such was the coincidence, dubbed a ‘mistake’ by the singer herself, that led to Wilder penning no less than three top-ten hits in Germany. “My publisher suggested that I’d try writing for others, and they had contacts in Germany so I just went for it. It went really well, which was completely just a fluke but really brilliant.”

An alter ego is born

Fast-forward to 2014 and Gernandt’s alter ego, Ace Wilder, was born as she took to SVT’s Melodifestivalen stage and, with 43,702 viewer votes, went straight through to the Swedish final. Again, this was somewhat of a coincidence if you ask the singer. “I didn’t watch Mello; no one I knew watched Mello – it didn’t exist in my universe. But then I wrote this song and my publisher swore I wouldn’t make it through as a performer,” she explains. So when she did, it was an unprepared and slightly shocked songwriter who received the news, and one who had, on top of that, just split up with her boyfriend. “If it wasn’t for the fact that I’d just gone through that break-up, I don’t know what I’d done,” she says. “But I was totally devastated, and I think I had a bit of that feeling of everything in life happening for a reason, so I just went for it. I had one goal: not to make a complete show of myself in front of three million viewers.”

The idea of an alter ego, she explains, was a tool to allow her to be more and dare more, like stepping into a character that was allowed to take up more space. “I’ve always been a bit shy and reserved, so I find it’s easier when I’m on stage to sort of be bigger if I think of it as not being Alice,” she says. “Ace dares to do things Alice perhaps wouldn’t… not that I’m walking around thinking ‘what would Ace do?’ or anything, but yeah, I think it helps. Plus, I just thought my name was so boring.”

And her alter ego took up space indeed, in the charts as well as in the hearts of Swedish music fans. In terms of the Melodifestivalen final, she tripped on the finishing line as she came second with her song Busy Doin’ Nothin’ despite winning the jury vote, just two measly points behind winner Sanna Nielsen. But the overwhelming feeling, she insists, was relief that it was all over. “I just wasn’t prepared at all, and the whole circus of everything was so overwhelming. I went into hiding for the whole week before it started and was just shocked at the thought of being interviewed. Then I did well, and even though I’m extremely happy that it did happen and I got the chance to do it, I just remember being really scared all the time.”

Wilder finds the idea of competing in music awkward at best. “The competition is pure hell! You’re sitting there in front of everyone as you’re given scores – it’s the worst thing that’s happened to me, ever,” she says. “Music is all taste, so competing in music is a bit odd – but I think everyone who gets up on that stage is totally awesome. The experience made me stronger, but I was really glad when it was over.”

Busy Doin’ Nothin’ went to number one in the Swedish singles chart and was certified three-times platinum but, as a result of the whole thing coming as somewhat of a surprise, Wilder faced a situation where she had to go on tour but did not have enough material. “I had no songs and I needed at least 40, so I wrote a bunch of tunes but it all felt quite thrown together,” says the singer. A much needed hiatus followed, during which she got the chance to, as she puts it, find herself and figure out who she was and what she wanted to be about. “I guess I should have done that before Mello in 2014, but we were always two steps behind then. This time, I’m going to be a step ahead.”

A mature comeback

Wilder is referring to Melodifestivalen 2016, which will see her return to the stage during the semi-final in Gothenburg on 6 February with the song Don’t Worry. And this time she knows what to expect and will not need to be scared. What the audience can expect is more of the up-tempo pop music she first became known for, but this time with an element of what she calls maturity. “I’m reluctant to refer to myself as a ‘mature woman’, but last time everyone kept saying to me that I was so young and everything and, you know, I’m not. I had a meeting with my agent the other day and very much just said that I need to show that I’m an adult and I have sex,” she laughs. “Seriously though, people kept thinking I was 17, but I’m 31 and I want to be 31 and talk about things you do when you’re 31.”

Whatever Melodifestivalen 2016 brings,Wilder’s biggest hope is to get to focus on music wholeheartedly and release music she loves, free from restrictions. But alongside this dream sits an urge to give something back and do something that makes a difference, something to be proud of. “I’d like to work with fashion and design as well, because I love that, but I can’t just work with the superficial all the time,” she explains. “I had a moment just before Christmas when I just felt like, you know what, I don’t want to think about presents, I don’t want any presents – it all just feels wrong. I did some songwriting and dancing workshops before, and you really get something back from that kind of work. It might be selfish, but doing things for others makes you feel really, really good.”

By Linnea Dunne | Photo: Daniel Stigefelt

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