What is still going wrong with Australian music, and are we heading in the right direction? We sit down with Ali Barter

Steeped in stylish nostalgia, uncompromising attitudes and poppier tendencies than ever, all signs are pointing to an Ali Barter success story come 2017. Not to say she didn’t kill it over the last year, dropping two shiny singles throughout.

With Far Away and Girlie Bits serving as teasers for her upcoming album, Barter embarked on a three day tour last week, hitting Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne in that order. After her soundcheck at the Brighton Up Bar in Sydney, we sat down for a chat.

Photo by Hannah Markoff
Photo by Hannah Markoff

With a single making the rounds and her debut album in the works, Ali Barter is kicking ass and taking names as Australia’s champion of the underrepresented.

HAPPY: Hey, how are you doing?

ALI: Great.

HAPPY: How was last night?

ALI: It was good, it was sweaty, it was loud and there was lots of fun people there.

HAPPY: Sweaty in the good way?

ALI: In a good way sweaty. Really hot.

HAPPY: Awesome, and I guess it bodes well for the rest of the tour.

ALI: Yeah, it’s only three shows so last night, tonight and tomorrow night.

HAPPY: So quick! You only got into Sydney at 4pm today right?

ALI: Yeah.

HAPPY: Is it tough touring like that?

ALI: Yeah we run around a bit, but we know to… shit this reminds me I haven’t checked into my accom.

HAPPY: Ha! If you really need to, you can do it now.

ALI: No, it’s all good! I’ve done that a lot this tour, like in rehearsal two days before we left I was writing a song and thought “oh shit we haven’t booked a van”.

HAPPY: It’s all working though?

ALI: It all gets together in the end.

HAPPY: Well since you’ve been pretty caught up this may have slipped by, but we actually published our top 100 songs of the year today.

ALI: Oh, I saw one, but it was in a bracket of ten.

HAPPY: It was ten at a time. Now, Girlie Bits was in there.

ALI: Yep.

HAPPY: I won’t make you guess. It was 16.

ALI: Shut up! That’s really nice, thank you!

HAPPY: I heard you on FBi Radio today, you said Girlie Bits wasn’t as much of a girl power song as it’s become in it’s lifespan.

ALI: Well I think when you hear the words, it was obvious that it would become that, but in it’s essence, as most songs are, they come from a feeling or an emotion and even though it’s a universal theme it was a very mundane feeling that I was having. It was me on that day.

HAPPY: What was that feeling?

ALI: Frustrated, angry, uncomfortable, ashamed, all these feelings that I feel and that everybody feels but they were to do with parts of myself as a woman. You know, I was feeling uncomfortable with the way I look, and self concious. It was my experience as a woman, you know what I mean?

HAPPY: Well it’s been picked up by so many other women. Was it strange watching the song evolve out of that mundane feeling?

ALI: I played it to some of my friends and they just reacted so well to it. They were just like “Yes!” Everyone gets their own little piece out of each line, whatever it meant to me at the time. It’s really nice nice when you write something that’s personal to you and…

HAPPY: It resonates with a lot of people?

ALI: Yeah, exactly.

HAPPY: Well, Yoko –

ALI: Yes!

HAPPY: What was that like?

ALI: It was pretty weird, I was at worked and someone texted me saying ‘Yoko Ono has retweeted your article’ and I was in a bit of shock. I rang my manager asking if it was really her, if she really did that and she said yep, that was Yoko.

HAPPY: It definitely sent a great message, and one that needs to be heard. How do you think Australia is faring in terms of representation of women in the arts?

ALI: I mean, I don’t know about it compared to anywhere else, but I think it’s just changing. The more we notice things, the more we say “why do we look at women that way?” or “why do we use this word when we talk about a woman?”, it’s everywhere and it’s shifting and moving, people are learning not to get defensive or aggressive.

HAPPY: Moving in the right direction?

ALI: Yeah, I think so.

HAPPY: Any movement like that, you need to see the wrong thing before you start doing the right thing.

ALI: Totally.

HAPPY: With the ARIAs and the Hottest 100 getting smashed every year

ALI: Yeah, and they get smashed for other reasons too. Any institution of music, or law, or whatever it is will. The same thing happens with indigenous people and Australia day. People just notice now, people say “huh, probably not right that we call them a girl band, because they’re just a band.” It’s changing attitudes.

HAPPY: On a less profound note, how’s the album going?

ALI: Great!

HAPPY: Is it finished?

ALI: It’s almost finished. We’ve got a couple of days of tracking to do some extra guitars. I can’t think of anything else to do. I don’t want to touch it too much, I’ve been hearing these songs for 18 months now so I just want to finish them and send them out.

HAPPY: Awesome.

ALI: But I’m really happy, and excited. It’s gonna be fun, it’s gonna be loud, it’s gonna be obnoxious at times and it’s gonna be good.

HAPPY: Was it a big shift moving to a full-length for the first time?

ALI: It was definitely a commitment. I’ve done three EPs and I didn’t want to do another one, and I think I did those EPs because I wanted to find what worked for me, what sound I liked. I’ve tried a few things… I can’t believe people do them over and over again.

HAPPY: Not thinking about the second one then?

ALI: Look, I have started writing because I am who I am and I can’t not think of these things, but I think I need a little break in between.

HAPPY: Is the album going on tour?

ALI: Definitely, we’ll do one next year.

HAPPY: Are we hearing some songs tonight from the album?

ALI: Lots of songs. The more I write, the more fun and upbeat it gets so I’ve let go of a lot of the songs from other EPs because I like the fun-ness of where I’m going now. That’s what I wanted to have in a live show.

HAPPY: But it is different from what you’ve done in the past. Are you worried about how people will react?

ALI: I think I’ve given them enough precursor with Far Away and Girlie Bits. It was a lot moodier, a lot darker – the stuff I was doing before – and I wanted to get straight to the point. This stuff is coming back to rock, catchy hooks and guitar solos. Not so much moody metaphors, production and blah blah blah.

HAPPY: Now I also saw you were selling your gorgeous old Silvertone.

ALI: It’s sold!

HAPPY: You found someone?

ALI: It sold within an hour, and I sold it to a musician in Perth. It found a good home. I had lots of people wanting to know about it and this girl had sent me some music and introduced herself a while ago. I’m happy to pass the torch, although when she said she’d buy it I did go “oh no, am I making a huge mistake?” But you know what, someone sold that guitar to me and now I’m passing it on.

HAPPY: What are you playing tonight?

ALI: I have a brand new SG, so I can’t be greedy.

HAPPY: How long had you owned the Silvertone?

ALI: I bought it when I was on holiday in Japan in 2012, so not that long, but it was my first electric guitar that I bought for myself. And it was beautiful.

HAPPY: Sure you’re not regretting it?

ALI: Nope. I’m good! I haven’t actually given it to her, it’s sitting at home.

HAPPY: Well, thanks very much. Looking forward to the gig!

ALI: Thank you!

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