Watching Ali Barter play at the Hibernian House last Saturday reminded me why I still go to gigs.
The venue was a bit of an oddity – a steel door on Elizabeth Street you’ve probably walked past a bunch of times that makes you think you might be in the wrong place. A few dodgy stairwells later
and suddenly you’re in a cosy, gritty New York-ish apartment with an intimate crowd huddled
together in dim lighting and hushed reverence with complimentary rums in paper cups.
Ali’s voice is equal parts fresh and haunting. Her songs seem to start from a small place inside her that slowly grow to envelop the room in its rawness and honesty. Ali’s music has been making
quiet rumblings on YouTube, Soundcloud and Triple J’s Unearthed, but she’s known for taking an
old school approach to her craft. Rather than singing into Garage Band from the confines of her
room and developing internet infamy, Ali went to open mic nights, sought out like-minded
collaborators and created a musical community around herself to test whether this was the right path for her.
During her performance, she quietly reveals little things about herself. Like how she wrote songs to keep herself from going crazy when an operation on her vocal cords stopped her from singing for a year. Or how she’s slowly getting used to playing without her band (“So go easy on me if I f*** it up!”). Or how the Foo Fighters were her favourite band in high school – which was a sweet-natured lead-in to her cover of ‘Tired of You.’
I love going to gigs where you discover someone new and raw like this. Ali’s style is described as
folktronica and when you listen to her stuff, her synths are wicked, but at the Hibernian House we
were treated to the stripped back beauty of Ali and her electric guitar.
After seeing her performance, we had to know more about her! Ali kindly took the time to answer a
few of our questions about herself and her musical approach…
1. Introduce yourself.
My name is Ali Barter, I am a singer/songwriter from Melbourne.
2. What was your big a-ha moment (if any) when you decided that you wanted to pursue a career in music?
It was more a gradual progression. The more I wrote, played, and produced, the more I thought, ‘Hey I can actually have a crack at this’.
3. Your Triple J Unearthed profile says you did an “almost old-fashioned musical apprenticeship” – what was this like?
I came to music rather late. I didn’t start playing guitar and writing songs til my early 20’s so I threw myself into writing and playing open mic nights. I felt like I had to make up for lost time and I knew I wasn’t as experienced as other people my age so I guess it was a bit of a crash course in playing music.
I suppose that’s “old fashioned” – I didn’t have a laptop and produce music privately in my bedroom, I got out on to stages by myself and sang my awkward songs and figured it out from there.
4. You mentioned during your performance at the Hibernian House that you went a little crazy not being able to sing for a year after your vocal cord operation. What did you do in that year to keep yourself sane?
I wrote lots, mucked around with pro tools. Wrote songs with other people. I moved to Daylesford
with my partner Oscar and we set up a studio in our house and we had heaps of bands and musicians come stay with us while we recorded them. It was really fun. I also went spent 6 weeks in India and spent some time in an ashram outside of Daylesford.
I still went bonkers though.
5. Your style has been likened to that of Cat Power and War Paint. What other artists do you take influence from that might be a bit more surprising to your fans?
I love The Smashing Pumpkins and Father John Misty. I also listen to lots of traditional Indian
music and French music like Serge Gainsbourg and Edith Piaf.
6. You did a kick-ass cover of the Foo Fighters’ ‘Tired of You’. What made you choose this song?
COS I LOVE DAVE GROHL.
The Foo Fighters were my favourite band in high school. It’s actually really easy to play and I don’t know many covers so that’s the real reason. And people seem to like it.
7. Who has been your favourite collaborator/musical partner in crime to date and why?
Oscar Dawson is my music buddy. We have been working together for a couple of years now and
it’s so easy and fun. Not only is he a freak musician, he’s super supportive and encouraging – he
gets me to play things and write things [that] I didn’t think were possible. It’s always fun and exciting writing with Oz.
8. How did ‘At Sea’ come to life in your mind? What was the process of translating it from inspiration to song?
I made the chords up one day and started writing. I was at the end of a relationship and I guess
subconsciously I could feel the love slipping away and it was really painful. I felt ‘At Sea’ cos I was devastated but I knew it wasn’t working. This ex-boyfriend even helped me with the chords so it was kinda intense singing the lyrics to him as I was writing. My process is usually: write chords, write the melody and build words from there.
9. Your Hibernian House audience got to hear you perform ‘Hypercolour’ without your band for the first time. How does playing with and without the band change the performance dynamic of a song?
To start with, it’s scarier, because I have no-one to hide behind! I’m getting better though. When
playing solo, it’s just about singing and playing honestly. There are no bells and whistles so it’s about being true to the song in its simplest form. It’s a really nice way to play and to hear an artist perform.
10. What advice would you give to the would-be musos of Australia?
Write all the time! And practise any chance you can get. Go to open mic nights and meet other
musos too. Get a community around you. Oh, and be yourself!
Connect with Ali Barter below:
*Much love to Ali Barter and Secret Service PR for the invitation!
Words by Claire Benito.
Photos by Ali Barter.