Ali E steps up to the microphone and through her fringe, her almond eyes observe. "I've never liked being too rigidly set in my ways," says Melbourne based songwriter/guitarist who's recent solo work Creatures are the kind of projects walking her labyrinth into this decade. "I like the journey and seeing where it is going to go," she says of her new stripped back sound that's, "not so sweaty." It's a move to the left from her days with post punk, high energy bands like Little Athletics, Damn Terran and Heavy Beach and into a new collaborative era. "If you like it, cool, let's go" says Ali.
On stage in her default black she has a glow to her, the slow burn kind. Her quasi grunge-rock sound with Joan Baez sincerity, Chrissie Amphlet attitude and a 'come-and-hang-out-and-play-some-tunes' spirit has a sniff of sea air and an emotional current that pulls you towards good rather than gloom. Finding your flow through the creative seasons that pass by and decay is something Ali E just seems to knows how to do.
She chats out the back of a Brunswick pub with a door you have to shove to open. It's one of those warm Melbourne days. Ali E takes a beer and lets it settle in her hands, her belayage hair sits comfortable around her face. As her words unfold in reflective, animated bursts the impressionist painting emerges, there is no shoving in Ali's life, Que Sera Sera.
"I love the recording process, the intensity of getting to the end product. When I work with musicians I want to see what they come up with and say, 'just go nuts, we will do a few takes and see what happens'."
She used to put her melodies onto piano, and for a while bass, but now mostly guitar. After all, when the heart and mind lead the tunes the instruments become tools in the medium for creative expression. "When I'm coming up with the guitar part I like playing around with different tunings and notes and then I mould the lyrics and melody around that. But then I get distracted and start playing for ages and end up with random bits that I have to put together. I really envy people that have the song, words in their head, I've heard of a few that can do that, how do you do that?" But that is the point, for Ali, knowing would ruin the artistry. Besides, what is it to be creative? "Well how long is a piece of string?" says Ali.
When she opens her mouth to sing and strum she places her warm, earthy voice into the space where it can go, settle and take refuge. Whether collaborative or solo, in every setting she is constant, assured, a role model of what it is to be a female as life swirls around today. Collaborative themes are always lacing her ideas and fuelling her lyrics which have been getting more brave into her 30's.
"In the last eighteen months there has been a rise in protests, people getting off their asses and going and doing something, I think it is really good for social cohesion."
She is not afraid of a bit of dirt and grit and she likes the salt that comes from her pours and the sea. "I have definitely already had inklings to move to the coast. That is why I wanted to start my own business so that if there is internet connection and I have the software I can work from anywhere," says the ex-book editor, publisher and now graphic designer. "I always carry around a note book and a pen and will scribble things down. I have always been so enthralled with words, words are what spur on my songwriting. I go through phrases where I have a million things going through my head all the time. The outlet is i've got to write it out, play it out, perform it out." She is not afraid to cry tears but doesn't get to that part of the drama much, she has other things to do, "I take it with a grain of salt and tend to fight it from within." She's a realist, an optimist.
"Young people and our social generation have to put the word out and rally the troops to stand up and do something."
On land she continues, "is one of these songs." Her lyrics show the observer within, the diplomat with perspective, the ability to process and let go without resentment, "I feel like I should be more forthright, firer in the belly...if people ever thought of me as a pushover." Certainly not.
Her voice counts in a sea of chatter and she shows you don't need to hold a flag to have your point heard. She is a wave that rolls with energy, purpose and an understanding that to truly collaborate there is an oscillation between awareness of self and empathy for others. She honours the idea that music is greater than the sum by being a part of the 'When You See Her Say Hello' choir, a breathtaking collaborative project of female Melbourne singer/songwriters who break down the harem mentality that often crushes female achievement and recognition.
Some towns have pockets of soul but Melbourne, has an overall soul and it's creatives like Ali that keep Melbourne's heart beating. This metaphorical heart sits just to the left of the Yarra River spine and CBD lungs. It's here where like minds converge and create, for lots of reasons or for no reasons. Pockets like this are reminisce of the best international scenes. Like Ali, a lot of folk don't grow up there but there is a "gravity that keeps you coming back." It doesn't matter whether you are white, black, red, pink, have boy bits or girl bits, it's about what you do with those bits. But it's not a promised land, people work hard, they are not complacent. "I think it's just funny, It's blurred and merging, it's a done thing really," Ali says of the word 'hipster' which has been hijacked, stereotyped as a marketable image by many, least of all the people who are in it.
"I saw this headline and apparently rose is the new hipster drink and I thought 'come on', if you want to drink rose, drink rose, it's just a label."
"It's a cultural way of living but some people take it to the nth degree," she says of the implications of the designer op-shop and manicured manes, where certain affordable Melbourne suburbs have become draw cards for wealthy freedom seekers. It's meant the ones that "don't care much" have had to shuffle slightly, spreading the bravery that transcends the stereotype and the "why-don't-you-just-concentrate-on-what-your-doing" attitude. But this distrust and avoidance of stereotypes comes at a cost, there is momentum that you need to ride or else you can fall behind, which is more the sin than it is to fit in.
When she first moved to Brunswick as an 18 year old pup she found herself at the Tote. The fire for what hooked her in the beginning has evolved but, "at that time it was definitely the live energy, every weekend is what I lived for." And then the penny dropped, "I thought, I know how to play music, maybe I can do that and then it developed from there." On reflection Ali realises it wasn't a new idea, she always knew.
She's a libra, she seeks out relationships, but the ones that are productive, not the ones that cause internal combustion. Her style comes from somewhere and essentially, it's Australian, it's collaborative and if you don't like it or it's not working you go outside have a beer and call it a day. If true creativity is a sphere it should have room to expand and breath. Ali doesn't restrict her sound and musical direction to a certain size or weight. She puts her cards on the table through her honesty and is setting the bar on what it is to be female today. Ali E is one to know.