INTERVIEW: Ali Barter gets raw about doing her best ahead of Hotel Cafe show

“I love you ’cause you’re fucked / But baby don’t give up / Your life is a mess and so is mine” Aussie rocker Ali Barter sings on the main single “Ur A Piece of Shit” from her sophomore record Hello, I’m Doing My Best that dropped last year.

Talk about don’t judge a book by its cover. The Melbourne singer is responsible for some of the most unexpected yet satisfying expletive-shouting female musician since Jenny Lewis in the early Rilo Kiley days.

“People say that to me in real life,” Barter said in a phone interview with Pass The Aux. “They’re like, ‘Oh, you look so sweet and so nice and then you say all this really nasty stuff and you swear so much.’ So I think that’s kind of just me and who I am. I put out a song a couple years ago called “Girlie Bits” and it was sort of like a fuck you message in a sweet song. It’s become my schtick kind of, I guess.”

Barter has a really great singing voice, but even more, she uses her voice as an extra instrument that she can manipulate with different tones to reflect the griminess of the tunes. She can inflect a more grating song like “Ur A Piece of Shit” and “History of Boys” when she wants, or go full Sixpence None The Richer vibes on sweeter tender songs like “This Girl”.

“I really love Cat Power for her vulnerability so I like showing that really crackly vulnerable side but also I have this big instrument inside of me and I love Gwen Stefani so I really wanted to bring it out and yell it out” Barter told PTA.

Barter plays the Hotel Cafe on Thursday, March 5. She’s been to Los Angeles many times to write songs and I even caught her playing a private gig at the cool hClub in Hollywood. If ’90s pop rock with an edge is your wheelhouse, I highly recommend checking her out. It’s no surprise that some of her influences come out of that era.

“When I was thinking about production style, I was thinking about Pinkerton a lot. I really like how raw the album is. I know my music is still quite polished but it was definitely rawer than the last record. I wanted it to sound more band-in-a-room. I listened to lots of Weezer, I listened to The Breeders especially. Because I like the space in their songs and the bass lines.”

Following in the path she created with her breakout song “Girlie Bits” from her first record, Barter is extremely revealing lyrically. She doesn’t put on a facade and a lot of the album has to do with accepting your past and your current self, warts and all.

“A lot of it is my perspective now since I’m a bit older, I’ve learned to accept myself and accept my fuck-ups and how they’ve made me the person I am today,” Barter said. “So it kind of jumps through.”

I love the sentiment of “Ur A Piece of Shit”, which I talked about at length with Barter. To me, it comes across as a song about how everyone has that group of friends or a friend who they’ve known forever, and you each know each other’s darkest secrets and most embarrassing moments, and how that can give you perspective on your current situation and to not be so hard on yourself.”

“I love growing old with these women,” Barter said of the group of women she’s part of that is the inspiration for the song. “We were girls, now we’re women. Because when I compare myself to girls that are younger than me who don’t have lines near their eyes, then I hang out with my girlfriends and I see how crazy and full of life these women are because they’ve lived their fucking lives and they’re a bit older. And those lines near my eyes don’t bother me so much.”

“It’s a touchstone for why it’s incredible to get older and live through shit and see life. I wouldn’t want to be 20 again because fuck, being 20 was a nightmare,” Barter laughed. “That’s why I wrote that song, too. It’s weird, we live in an age where there’s so much comparing and trying to be this and we’re trying to be that. So many conversations with my friends I just say to them, ‘You’re doing fucking great! Don’t be so hard on yourself.’ I have to remind myself to say that to myself sometimes.”

When I saw Barter perform, a standout song from her set was “January”. It’s a song about how the start of a new year always has us telling ourselves we need to be better or do things differently. But the way she explained the song was by telling this really funny story about waking up one day desperately wanting to go get a tattoo and wound up just getting a sandwich instead.

“I knew where I was gonna get the tattoo, and then I chickened out of walking into the parlor,” Barter recalled. “But there was a sandwich shop across the way, so I walked into the sandwich shop and ordered a sandwich and I ate the sandwich and I was like, I don’t need to get a tattoo anymore. I just had low blood sugar and my head was on backwards.”

“It was just this big moment realizing I’m always trying to make these huge changes because I think it’s the answer and then I realize it’s just taking things a moment at a time. That’s what ‘January’ is for me too. Like, it’s January, I have to change everything about myself! When I don’t, it’s January, it’s another fucking day. Just show up to work and be a nice person.”

Listening to Hello, I’m Doing My Best, you come away feeling really positive. Maybe it’s just me, but there aren’t a lot of albums I listen to that have me feeling better about myself in an almost therapeutic manner the way Barter does. It’s just a 30-plus minute reminder, “You’re doing great!”

Photo by Justin Higuchi