ENTERTAINMENT

Melbourne Rocker Ali Barter: 'It's A Great Time To Be A Female Artist'

Ali Barter talks gender expectations and 'girlie bits'.

08/03/2017 1:22 PM AEDT | Updated 09/03/2017 12:52 PM AEDT
Hannah Markoff/Supplied

Ali Barter and her guitar have been kicking around Melbourne's music scene for a few years, collecting up rave reviews and 'one to watch' labels like playing cards. Perhaps fittingly for a bold, brash, ball-tearing feminist rocket, it took a song called 'Girlie Bits' -- a song about how women are treated in the music industry, relationships and life in general -- for her to burst into the heart of Australia's music scene.

It set her up for a mega 2017 which started with her debut on Triple J's Hottest 100 countdown at #58, a few hit singles, an imminent album release and a big national headlining tour of her own.

"It's a great time to be a female artist," Barter simply tells The Huffington Post Australia.

Brandishing a white guitar, in a polka-dot dress and big boots or ripped cut-off jeans and a denim jacket, Barter's tomboy style in her music videos is an embodiment of the conflict in 'Girlie Bits' -- a clash between what is expected of a woman, and what she actually wants to do.

'Give us a smile princess, it's better for business. None of this angriness, show us your girly bits,' she croons.

'What's a woman meant to look like?'- 'Girlie Bits'

Comparisons to the likes of Hole and Garbage are easy to make, but Barter's tunes veer more to a sweet pop-infused dollop of grunge. She's cited Billy Corgan of Smashing Pumpkins as a big influence, not hard to spot in the soft verse and loud chorus combination in latest single 'Cigarette'. Barter regularly posts photos on Facebook of some of her favourite female musicians -- Nina Simone, Kathleen Hanna, Chrissy Amphlett and Patti Smith have been recent posts -- and long, heartfelt personal blurbs about what each one means to her, linking to a Spotify playlist called 'History Grrrls' she made herself.

Australia's crop of incredibly talented rising female musicians has arguably never been stronger -- at least, definitely never been more widely recognised and appreciated -- in the likes of Tkay Maidza, The Jezebels, The Preatures, Thelma Plum, Little May, KLP and Montaigne, Camp Cope, Sampa The Great, Tash Sultana, and Alex Lahey. If you know even half those names, it's easy to see the wide gamut of the musical spectrum they straddle, which Barter says she is thrilled by.

"The best thing is there's so much diversity. That's the problem with this idea we have of women, in any industry, is that they have to be one thing or another," she said.

"Now the spectrum is so huge, of female artists and what they're doing and saying and how they're saying it, we don't have to fit into some cookie cutter mould of what a woman is meant to be.

"It's so freeing and great and I'm so proud to be in this time with all these women. There's all this support on social media from musicians I haven't even met, Lisa Mitchell and Jack River and Bec Sandridge, all reaching out to each other, these beautiful women saying congrats and yay and I can't wait to see you play and hopefully we're on a lineup together. It's so nice to have this solidarity with these other women."

Close your eyes boy it's a fantasy,
Cos I'm not the girl you wanted me to be
- 'Cigarette'

Barter's debut album, A Suitable Girl -- taken from Vikram Seth's novel, A Suitable Boy -- is out on March 24. After a string of EPs, the album has been several years in the making, stemming from a trip she took to the USA.

"I had a rough couple of years in my head. At the end of your 20s, you have to grow up and realise some of your reactions to things are immature, you're not as grown up or together as you thought you were, and I had to be really honest about my feelings in life," she said.

"The message I wanted to get across is we all have these crazy, irrational, immature feelings and it's OK. It's me coming to terms with myself, it's about a girl growing up and accepting life and herself and her choices."

'Girlie Bits', her breakout single, led the charge of hype toward the album. With lines like 'Give us a smile baby, act like a real lady' and 'call off those battle lines, flash us your panty lines', it's not hard to work out what it's about.

"I didn't write it to specifically be a feminist song, it was just writing my experience. I'm a girl, I'm frustrated how I get treated, how I can behave in a relationship," she said.

Barter's latest radio single 'Cigarette' continues the run. Perhaps even more instantly catchy and hum-able than its predecessor, her sing-song sweet vocals lilt and sway in a quiet verse above a stuttering drumbeat and softly strummed guitar, before bursting out into a huge grunge-rock chorus.

It's a song, again, of discontent about gender roles. She sings about a partner valuing her looks - her 'big brown eyes' and hair -- and treating her as a 'prize', but not treating her as an equal.

'I'm so tired of standing next to you, with nobody caring what I do', Barter sings. 'You can ignore me but I'm not the only girl who wakes up trying not to feel this way.'

On the flipside, it is writing these songs, speaking out about the way she feels, that has connected her to other musicians across the country. Barter says there's a tangible support network stretching around Australia, with women banding together in an industry that has, at times, not been kind to them.

"It'd be so easy to be suspicious or scared of someone doing better than us or taking our place, it would be so easy to be like that, and when we don't have so much diversity it is like that because there isn't enough to go around," she said.

"But it's getting bigger and bigger, there is enough to go around, so let's all do it together!"

Ali Barter's album A Suitable Girl is released on March 24. She will tour around Australia in May. See her website for more information.

More On This Topic