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Music / Interview
Sarah Blasko & Ali Barter on music, life & Seven Songs
From her now-classic debut album, 2004's 'The Overture & The Underscore', singer-songwriter Sarah Blasko has built a passionate fanbase across a much-celebrated career. Eleven years later, pop-punk powerhouse Ali Barter burst onto the scene with her debut EP, 'AB-EP'.
Representing two very different generations of the Australian music industry, it isn’t often that Sarah Blasko and Ali Barter cross paths.
Blasko’s brand of indie-rock and art-pop has seen her entertain fans the world over, and her six-album catalogue has seen her receive countless accolades. Barter, while newer on the scene, has captured the ears and hearts of music fans around the global through her honest, powerful songwriting – it’s vulnerability but with an almighty punch.
Now fans will get to discover a new side to both these music loved artists when they come together to perform in Seven Songs To Leave Behind.
Heading to Arts Centre Melbourne, Blasko and Barter will team up with blues singer-songwriter CW Stoneking to perform the music closest to their hearts, deep diving into their musical lives. The trio have each selected seven songs – from the song they wish they’d written, to their favourite song from their own catalogue, and the song they want to share with fellow artists.
Before the show, we sat down with Sarah Blasko and Ali Barter to get a deeper look into their musical journeys, their lives, and how they feels heading into such a unique show.
What was your entry point into music?
Sarah Blasko: “My dad’s record collection led the way. I used to sit for hours at the record player. He had a pretty eclectic bunch of albums – everything from the Elephant Man soundtrack to Simon & Garfunkel and Stravinsky. Growing up in the church and singing a lot definitely had its place. I loved a lot of the hymns and the atmosphere in the church. I began writing poetry when I was a kid, and then started playing a little bit of piano and guitar and writing songs when I was about 18. From there, I realised it was all I wanted to do.”
Ali Barter: “I started in a choir and was classically trained. I then quit music for a few years until I started writing my own songs and playing open mic nights at the age of about 22. Then I started recording and putting out music. It’s been a pretty steady, unhurried process for me. It’s felt natural.”
Who were the artists that led you in your pursuit of music?
SB: “Paul McCartney (it took me a while to hear the Beatles, as my dad had a few Paul McCartney and Wings albums), Kate Bush, David Bowie, Eurythmics, and Simon & Garfunkel. The main songs I remember making an impression on me when I was a kid were ‘Bright Eyes’ by Art Garfunkel and ‘Eleanor Rigby’ by the Beatles. They made me feel sad, the emotion in the songs reached me.
AB: “I discovered Cat Power when I was 21, and she really pulled me back into music. That’s when I really came alive musically and started writing my own songs.”
Outside of your own career, what are some life highlights that involve music?
SB: “Travelling to London a few years ago to see Kate Bush play live for the first time in 25 years or something. It was like a pilgrimage, it was an amazing show – well worth the expense.”
Describe a moment in your life when music has been hugely important?
SB: “I went through a huge breakup, and ‘Sea Change’ by Beck literally kept me going from one day to the next.”
AB: “My dad was a huge music fan. He loves Frank Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong, so I grew up with a pretty strong songwriter appreciation in my household. Gershwin, Cole Porter, and Irving Berlin were standards in our house. I guess looking back, times with my dad listening to these artists was the most important in shaping me as a music lover.”
How did you come to find your own musical identity?
SB: “Gradually, over time. I can hear myself trying to work it out on my first few albums. I feel fortunate to have not felt rushed to do so. I think performing live really finesses that sense of musical identity and draws out those idiosyncrasies. I feel like I’ve worked out a lot of things on the stage, just by playing live over and over.
AB: “I tried out lots of styles and wrote millions of songs, and through that, I came back to the music I loved as a teenager – grunge and pop. I think the music I’m making at the moment is pretty indicative of that.”
How did you go about selecting the songs you are going to perform in Seven Songs?
SB: “It was tough, but the criteria really helped steer it. Luckily, there are only a couple of songs that sort of matched each one if I really thought it through.”
AB: “I decided on my songs pretty easily. There are a couple that have been pretty firm in my listing and playing repertoire since an early age. I’ve been listening to some of these songs since I was a kid.”
Were there any struggles?
SB: “It took a bit of time, to be honest. But Steven Richardson, the director, helped steer me on a few of the choices because we also wanted to think about what was best for the show and the dynamics of it.”
AB: “Pulling everything together in a couple of days is always an invigorating process, but it’s show biz. It’s challenging and stressful and exciting.”
What have been the highlights of preparing for the show?
SB: “It’s just wonderful to be able to finally do a version of these songs that are kind of in your blood. It’s quite emotional really.”
AB: “Choosing the songs that have inspired me and interpreting them with the musicians has been my favourite part. Playing music is always the best bit of this job.”
What is the experience like, working with the other artists?
SB: “I have loved seeing their choices and the diversity in them. It’s going to be great to get to know them and sing and play together. It’s a great way to get to know one another.”
AB: “So great. I’m a huge fan of both their works, so it’s been a huge honour to get to share the stage with them.”
Ali Barter and Sarah Blasko will join C.W. Stoneking to perform ‘Seven Songs To Leave Behind’ at Hamer Hall, Arts Centre Melbourne on Saturday 18 May. Tickets are available through Ticketmaster.com.au.