For her long-awaited debut LP, A Suitable Girl, Ali Barter wanted to create something that intrinsically reflected who she is as a musician, a songwriter, and as a person. Interestingly, it's for this very reason that one of the key ingredients of the album is its co-writing. A Suitable Girl saw Barter worked with a key group of collaborators, including Magic Dirt's Adalita Srsen, multi-genre multi-instrumentalist Jonathan Boulet and singer-songwriter Bertie Blackman. “I love collaboration,” Barter says.
“I write really simple songs, so it’s nice to bring the bare bones of a song to someone and build it up from there. If I write a song and reach a point where I don’t know where to go, that might be when I reach out to someone to collaborate. It could be a whole section that we write together, or it could just be one word that takes the song in the next direction. Sometimes magic happens in song writing sessions, sometimes it’s a disaster. It's always fun, though, and it's interesting to learn another writer's process.”
One of Barter's key collaborators is Oscar Dawson, a Melbourne-based producer, composer and guitarist. He's best known for his work as one half of folk-rockers Holy Holy, but he's also been working with Barter since around 2013. For Barter, it's the way that Dawson perceives and envisions music that has assisted so significantly in making her songs what they are. “He's a really generous collaborator,” she says.
“He's such an incredible musician, so he brings a lot to a song. The way we work is that I bring basic chords, melody and lyrics to him. He helps to fill it out from there. Parts like drums, bass, lead guitar lines... they're things I don’t naturally write, and they can take a song from being really simple to big and bodacious. I can have a basic idea of what it is that I want, but when I'm working with Oscar I have the ability to make those ideas come to life.”
Barter has been performing under her own name for around five years, releasing two EPs and a string of singles in the lead-up to the release of A Suitable Girl. Although the LP finally saw the light of day this March just gone, its writing was a long time in the works. “I went on a trip to LA in the middle of 2015, where I wrote a lot of songs for the record,” Barter explains. “That's where 'Cigarette' started, where 'Set Them on Fire' started and where I wrote 'Far Away.' That song in particular was a pretty big one for me, because I wrote it over there with two guys called Sydney Wayser and Harlan Silverman, and then brought it back home to work on with Oscar. It was really easy – we just kept things really simple.”
‘Far Away’, which was released as a single at the start of last year, laid the blueprint for how Barter and co. would proceed. “That process really felt like a catalyst for the rest of the production of the album,” says Barter. “In the past, Oscar and I have tinkered around with things a lot. It's taken us a long time in the past, because we've been going through all these guitar tones and synth parts and effects. By recording a song really simply over two days, that really influenced the direction of this album.”
It should be stressed, however, that just because the production and arrangement approach to A Suitable Girl was simple, doesn't mean it's a plain record by any stretch of the imagination. From downtuned riffs to bubblegum pop, it's a very diverse and sprightly album that is indicative of both Barter's inspirations and how she channels that influence through her songs. “I think I really wanted to explore fuzz in terms of my guitar sound for this record,” she says. “I've always been enamoured by bands like Nirvana and the Pixies, so I wanted to look at how they use dynamics – those quiet verses that make way for those huge choruses. The guitar plays a big part in that – playing very clean, very simple parts and then letting loose on the distortion. You can hear that in a band like Weezer, too, who I'm a big fan of. It all factored in.”
Fans of Barter's multifaceted indie stylings will have a chance to see her in action very soon on a month-long jaunt around the country. Starting in mid-April over in Bendigo and finishing in late May with a date in Newcastle, Barter will be performing with her full band; who, despite some recent line-up changes, are as strong as ever. “Last year, we toured as a five-piece,” says Barter. “It's shifted into a four-piece this year and for this upcoming tour. We did have a couple of beautiful girls that would alternate in being our fifth member – doing back-up vocals, playing keyboards and adding in a bit of percussion as well. We don't have that luxury this year, unfortunately, but thankfully the guys in my band are all very talented. Not only are they beautiful singers, they're able to take those keyboard parts and transpose them for the guitar. We've been able to make it sound really great – we've really gotten the hang of it.”
Ali Barter will be touring nationally from Thursday April 13. For a full list of dates head to alibartermusic.com. A Suitable Girl is out now through Inertia.