Ali Barter: “Women are an incredible force”

Hot on the heels of releasing her debut album A Suitable Girl, the Melbourne singer-songwriter talks to us about her creative process, sexism in the music industry, and the expectation that women remain ‘perfect, complaint, cheerful and small’.

By Grace Jennings-Edquist

Photo: Supplied/Ali Barter

You’ve previously said that while growing up, you “learned that a woman’s chief purpose in music is to play the supporting role to men.” To what extent has that changed over the years?

I have learnt through my own research that this isn’t true; it’s just what we’ve been told. Women are an incredible force and always have been, it’s just, they had to fight harder to be heard and get their ideas across.

Today women have a stronger place in the world. Increasingly they are acknowledged for their contributions and the way society talk about and includes women has changed. It’s no longer as accepted to use words like ‘muse’ because it suggests passivity.

Which artist inspires you to make music? Who do you listen to when you need a push to be creative?

I love listening to Liz Phair. She sings so honestly, about all subjects. The mundane and the extreme; the extremities in the mundane. I listen to her songs when I feel like I have nothing to write about and I realise I have a million things to write about. Taking a long drive and listening to a favourite song, smoking a cigarette with an old friend, the fight I had with my boy last night, an uncomfortable sexual experience I had when I was 22. The everyday is rich with inspiration.

What’s your single “Girlie Bits” about?

I had the words ‘girlie bits’ in my phone last year because I was thinking about soft bits on girls; rolls, and fleshy parts, softness, and I was thinking about how beautiful and lovely I think they are on other women and how much I hate them on myself. I wanted to talk about these parts of being a woman because I felt so uncomfortable with my own female-ness. So not it’s not about body parts, it’s about the idea of woman that we have been expected to present. Perfection, compliant, cheerful, small. It’s a battle with this idea and the anger, ambition, and ugliness that I feel on a daily basis.

You’ve previously talked about how women have always been musical pioneers, but their contributions weren’t acknowledged like men’s. What female musicians have been under-appreciated or overlooked that you admire?

Sister Rosetta Tharpe, who was a pioneering blue guitarist in the 1930s and 40s. She is largely unknown (and certainly not acknowledged by history books) but the male guitarists and musicians who were influenced by her are household names, Chuck Berry, Elvis Presley. She was buried in an unmarked grave until about 10 years ago. She was incredible.

Buy Ali’s new album here, or see upcoming Aussie tour dates here. Also check out Ali’s hashtag #thehirstorygrrrls, where she regularly shares tributes to famous women in music.