Triple j Unearthed winner Ali Barter is a hard presence to ignore. Her debut album A Suitable Girl was a critical and commercial success, and in recent years she has become an in-demand artist, touring nationally at sold-out venues and festivals.
But despite all that, Barter prefers to spend her free time focusing on the women who have forged their own path in the music industry, posting a kind of informal history of female-centric rock’n’roll on her Facebook page as part of a project she calls The History Grrls. “Every week people comment and really get involved in whoever I do a post about,” she smiles. “I love it when people send in suggestions, and I believe these are topics readers really wanna talk about.”
From Kylie Minogue to Carole King, to inequality and double standards within the industry, nothing is off limits for Barter – an op-ed she wrote on discrimination was even retweeted by Yoko Ono. “It’s really important to recognise that there is inequality, and that we need to be more balanced when we talk about our musical history. I also just really enjoy researching a different woman every week – it’s great to be able to listen to their incredible music.”
We’ve chosen some really great bands to open the shows. It’s going to be a real mix.
Indeed, Barter’s so dedicated to paying homage to the game-changing women of the past that she’s still posting regularly, despite being in the middle of the One Foot In national tour. “New Zealander Kane Strang is supporting me for the Sydney gig at the Oxford Art Factory – he’s a wonderful artist,” Barter says, before adding that fellow Unearthed alumni Moaning Lisa will also appear in Sydney. “We’ve chosen some really great bands to open the shows. It’s going to be a real mix.”
If the chance to hear Barter’s ‘Girlie Bits’ and ‘Run You Down’ up close and personal isn’t enough of a draw card, you’ll also have the opportunity at the shows to get your hands on a one-of-a-kind tea towel designed by Lily Gloria, a Western Australian artist who has also worked with Barter on her A Suitable Girl zine.
Sold exclusively at her headline show, all proceeds from the tea towel sales will go to Gift Box Organic, an Australian initiative headed up by Saskia Hampele. “I get a bit of a bee in my bonnet when it comes to things like paying GST on tampons,” Barter says by way of explanation.
By becoming a subscriber to Gift Box, your membership fee will go directly to providing free tampons to homeless and vulnerable women across Australia. Simply put, for every box you buy, Gift Box Organic donates a box, making the charitable organization one of those rare not-for-profits that actually produces practical, observable good in the world. “These items are non-negotiable for most women every month, so when Gift Box approached me, I was like, ‘Yes, I love it.’ It’s exactly the kind of thing we should all support.”
My husband and I love all the same music and although he helps me in the song writing process, I often write without him.
While Barter takes philanthropy in her stride as she heads around the country, you can also catch her at The Small Ballroom in Newcastle, and at this year’s Yours and Owls Festival in Wollongong at the end of the month. “It’s funny because my husband, Oscar Dawson from Holy Holy, is playing there the day after us. I would like to hang around but we have to go play a show,” she says.
“Also, one of my all-time favourite bands, At The Drive-In, are on that day as well, so I’ll have to miss them. It’s so annoying, but I’ll just have to get him [Dawson] to make a video on his phone for me. Oh well. I’m sure I’ll see them somewhere else, and I’ve seen Holy Holy a million times before, so it’s no big deal,” Barter laughs.
Barter and Dawson married last year after first working together on her second EP Community in 2014. “My husband and I love all the same music and although he helps me in the song writing process, I often write without him,” she explains.
“I’m constantly writing songs, but A Suitable Girl took about 18 months. I put out three EPs and an album in five years, and I’m working on my second album now and it really is a labour of love. But the more I record music, the less time I wanna take doing it. The more time I take doing it, the less it sounds like me or like what I want. It’s like, the more time I have to tinker and fix and change, the less I like the end result.”
As a result, her plan for her eagerly-awaited sophomore release is to get the thing pumped out as fast as she possibly can. She doesn’t want to linger; she wants the album to be the purest possible expression of her inner life. ”For my next record I wanna have it written by December and I wanna record it in two weeks and go straight to mixing.
“I am very hands-on and I very much want it to be me, and it’s really important that I can play those songs without a band and without production. The songs need to stand up without all the stuff that you hear on a studio recording: that’s everything to me. But we demo everything together and [Dawson] produces it. It’s very much my vision and he knows that now. I think the first couple of times we worked together it was a battle of the egos, but now he knows I’m the boss.”
Ali Barter plays the Oxford Art Factory on Thursday September 28.Write a Letter to the Editor