An Interview with Ali Barter / Campbell Mowat
Ali Barter is a choirgirl turned rock star, devoted to capturing the frank emotion of everyday human experience. Since the release of her debut album ‘A Suitable Girl’ in March last year, the Melbourne-based singer-songwriter has been turning plenty of heads; hitting the ARIA Charts and Triple J’s Hottest 100, while being celebrated as an artist who “struck a nerve with Australia” by Tone Deaf.
After returning from her most recent stint in South America, we were lucky enough to speak to Ali about her experiences in the industry thus far, ranging from her writing process, to her own zine, to the female presence within rock music.
Interview by Campbell Mowat
You just finished up a tour around South America, how did those shows compare to the rest of your performances in 2017?
It was a bit different. I was playing solo and in another country where they didn’t speak English, so I was telling my stories to people who didn’t really know what I was talking about. But they received it really well; South Americans love rock music thank god.
Did you find that there was a following for your music over there?
Yeah, especially in Chile people knew the songs which was great. At some of the festivals people wanted photos and autographs, so that was a really special to experience over the other side of the world.
From LA to Goa, the songs from your debut album - ‘A Suitable Girl’ - were written in many different parts of the world with many different collaborators, tell us about this writing process.
I write better when I’m either totally alone or far away from my home. If I’m at home I’m too distracted, bored and in my own routine, so its helpful when I get a chance to go overseas.
LA was especially great for me, but I often just take myself away down to the beach and write there. I need a bit of an extreme experience to write otherwise I’m too distracted, I’ll go and have coffee too many times.
Despite needing extreme experiences to write, lots of people have described your music and lyrics as very relatable. Why do you think that’s the case and is it something you actively pursue?
I write about my life. My life is no more special or crazy than anybody else and so people can identify with that. People hear the songs about my boyfriend or feeling like shit and they can relate. That’s also reflected in the kind of music I listen to, artists like Liz Phair, who make the mundane come to life.
Does writing so explicitly about your personal life ever become tricky?
[Laughing] Well… I never use any names. And if someone asks me if a song is about them and it is, I lie.
You’ve had a bit of time now since the release of ‘A Suitable Girl’, are there any challenges that you face in following up your first album?
Its definitely challenging. I have decided that I want to write with others less. I feel more confident in myself as a songwriter and I kind of want to push myself to see how it goes.
The more I make music, the more I get to hear people’s reaction to it and think about my own reactions to it. Slowly, I become more myself through everything I put out. It’s like stripping away all the stuff I hide behind and just being me; which I did a lot on ‘A Suitable Girl’, but I’m going to go deeper next time.
Do you think this will result in a different sound?
Yeah I reckon. My last record was pretty pop and I think that’s great, but now I want to make something a bit less polished. I love people like Cat Power because her music is very raw and honest. That’s something I’m going to do more of. Or try to do at least…
I’m guessing being an independent artist, like yourself, contributes to that rawness and honesty, do you agree?
Totally. I’m with an indie label Inertia and they are really supportive. I’m able to do some exploration with my music and they give me great feedback, so I am very lucky.
Is being independent something you would recommend to other upcoming artists?
Being independent is great because it gives you time to figure out your sound. Some people put out an EP which hits the mark straight away, but that wasn’t my experience. I needed time to try things without being locked into terms and agreements. It may be more expensive and stressful but that’s what separates the men from the boys… or whatever that saying is.
On another note, I understand you’re quite familiar with zines yourself, tell us about the zine that accompanies your debut album.
I got the idea after watching a documentary about Kathleen Hanna the lead singer of Bikini Kill. They released zines which expressed some of the band’s feminist punk messages so I thought I’d do the same to accompany the messages of my own music.
I’ve done five so far and I plan to release eleven in total – one for each track on the album. It consists of women who inspire me, interviews with peers and a general exploration into my music and who I am as an artist.
As seen from your upcoming show with The Preatures - alongside the success of artists like Courtney Barnett, Alex Lahey and Jack River – there seems to be a recent growth in frontwomen within the Australian rock scene; why do you think this is the case?
It’s a safe and a really awesome time for women to tell their stories. The gender disparities which have existed historically within the industry are becoming something people speak up about more and more. We offer something fresh; a different way of playing, singing and storytelling. And its important that we continue to share our experiences because at the end of they day; that’s the point of music.
Lastly, what’s next for Ali Barter?
I’m writing my second album out at the moment and that will be recorded this year at some point. As you mentioned, I’m supporting The Preatures in February. I’m supporting Tina Arena who is my all-time-childhood-greatest-hero-of-all-time, so that will be crazy. I’m also going on tour with Ball Park Music in February and March. So the year is filling up already but its going to be fun.