We sat down with Ali Barter in the dingy green room of The Lansdowne Hotel to discuss her second record, Hello, I’m Doing My Best, pursuing okay-ness and finding solace in music.
On Hello, I’m Doing My Best, Ali Barter has grown into her own. It’s a bittersweet, driving, and reflective body of work that delves neck-deep into the nitty-gritty details of what it is to be human. Barter is the songwriter hero that we all deserve and the friend that we wish we had.
Your debut record, A Suitable Girl, was built on the backbone of empowerment, In this current music climate, where gender representation is a constant dialogue, how has it been witnessing such a strong response to your record?
It’s really interesting because I guess I didn’t write it as a feminist piece, but that’s how people took it. It’s called A Suitable Girl, and to me, that was my story.
I have a lot to say about my perspective as a woman, and it was a really interesting time to put out a record from that perspective. That song, I guess, became a symbol for feminism.
People with all this ammo behind them would ask me questions about feminism, and I guess I didn’t realise how much of a statement it was at the time. They would tell me that they really identified with what I was saying, and men responded to it as well. It was a really incredible tool for starting a conversation, rather than being another angry voice.
How did you feel approaching your second album, considering how well your debut was received. Did you feel any additional pressure?
To be honest, when I’d finished recording A Suitable Girl and just before it came out, I was like “I want to quit music.”
I really struggled during that time. I put so much pressure on myself that when it came out, even though good things happened, I had expectations of how I was going to feel. I was doing a lot of touring and feeling like a bit of a fraud. I think that’s a thing that people feel.
I really felt like for some reason I didn’t deserve to be there and I couldn’t back up what I was doing. Even though I was going out and I was playing shows, I just felt really empty inside.
I think it was because I put so much pressure on myself to be like my peers. To hit the same milestones they were hitting. This expectation meant that I didn’t enjoy it.
It wasn’t that I didn’t get the things I expected, I just didn’t feel the way I expected to feel. I expected that I was like “oh, I’m going to have a Triple J album of the week and that’s going to make me feel okay!” or “I’m going to play a sold-out tour and that’s going to make me feel okay!” and “I’m going to support Stevie Nicks and that’s going to make me feel okay!” and it didn’t make me feel okay.
At the end of that, I was like “why the fuck am I doing this if I don’t feel okay?”. I really wasn’t sure whether I was going to write another record.
I had to go inward again and really be like, “I’m just going to write songs that I like!”. This record was very much me just writing songs that are about exactly how I’m feeling.
This record is more brutal. I had to write it with no expectation of anything. I had to go back to being “I’m Ali and I write songs and sometimes I play them and I record them, and that’s not all that I am, but this is just something that I do and it’s just got to be. That’s all it has to be.”
I have a completely different outlook now than I did last time. It’s so freeing, it feels really free and really nice and a lot better than the first time.
So it was more of a therapeutic exercise, as opposed to you striving for success?
I’m just going to be Ali and sometimes I write songs and I record them and I put them out.
Exactly. I wanted to be the best — deep down that’s what I was doing it for. I wanted to be the best and the best is an arbitrary line, it doesn’t exist.
It doesn’t exist and so now it’s just like —this is going to sound really cheesy— but I’m just going to be me. I’m just going to be Ali and sometimes I write songs and I record them and I put them out. That’s honestly all it is and that’s why it’s different.
The best thing about a good songwriter — like Liz Phair or Courtney Love— was when they sang things and I was like “Oh my god! They’re in my head! I didn’t know anyone else felt like that.”
Watch: Ali Barter – ‘Backseat’
What do you hope people will take away from this next record?
I just hope people enjoy it. I hope people sing along and I guess I don’t need it to be a message or anything outside of that.
I’m singing about some heavy topics. I feel like my songs are me sitting around with my friends telling them how I feel, so I want people to hear it and feel okay because someone else is feeling the same thing.
I think that’s the best thing about songs. The best thing about a good songwriter — like Liz Phair or Courtney Love— was when they sang things and I was like “Oh my god! They’re in my head! I didn’t know anyone else felt like that.”
That’s the thing about music, it’s meant to make you feel less alone. When someone is telling a story about their life or whatever it makes you feel okay. So, that’s all I hope it is. I just hope it makes people feel okay.
If they feel bad about things, I hope that because of my openness with my experiences will stop them from feeling shame. That’s what it is for me — It’s me going I feel shame, and I’ve fucked up and bad things have happened but I have beautiful people in my life and I like guitars and big drums and let’s all be human and jump around together.
That’s one of my favourite things about music, that people can take these really ugly emotions and put them out into the ether and you kind of think to yourself, “I’m not really as bad as I think I am because there’s this really great person who does really great things and they’ve just written about how everything is okay..”
It’s true and I think people really appreciate that. I certainly appreciate it when I hear someone be honest and say I’m having a bad day. The thing is the more I talk to my girlfriends, we all feel like shit and that talking and laughing about it often makes you feel better. It’s a process I think.
Watch: Ali Barter – ‘Big Ones’
So, you have said previously that were heavily involved in music you’re whole life but you didn’t decide to pursue it wholly until your 20’s. What was it that pushed you to commit to doing music?
I was working in hospitality and I was miserable. I guess, music is one of those things that, if it’s in you, it’s going to get you at some point — you really have no choice in the matter. It caught up with me. I went back to Uni, I studied music, but I really wasn’t doing it. I did an open mic night here and there, but I was really scared to do it.
It wasn’t until I was about 24, and I met a boy who was a songwriter and he went to open mic nights every night of the week, and I followed him and thought to myself, “I’ll do it too.” I really wanted to do it, but I was scared, you know?
Eventually, all the excuses fell away and I realised, I have to do this now.
You can listen to Hello, I’m Doing My Best below.