With a new album on the way and her first homecoming tour in years hitting the country's arenas in the New Year, Brooke Fraser talks to Lydia Jenkin about reinventing herself and her music.

She has an immediately recognisable face - those dark eyes with a cheeky glint, and distinctively large lips that break into a wide smile as she emerges through the doorway of the Auckland Art Gallery.

Brooke Fraser, one of New Zealand music's favourite daughters, looks great. Strong, sleek, eye-catching in her willowy-ness. And yet her friendliness is the overwhelming impression - she greets everyone with enthusiasm, and is chatty and inquisitive, asking almost as many questions as she answers.

She seems happy to be back in New Zealand, albeit briefly - her life over the past two years has involved making temporary homes in various parts of the world - Stockholm, London, New York - and now she has set up once again, with her husband Scott Ligertwood, in Los Angeles.

It makes sense when you're launching a new album internationally, assembling a new band, and working out a new stadium-sized live show, to be somewhere like LA.


"It's not the most inspiring city in the world, she's not a great beauty looks wise, but if you persevere, you find some gold in her. It's very sunny," she laughs, as she sits down with TimeOut in the atrium, ready to reveal the story of her new album.

That's the Brooke Fraser we're all familiar with - positive, thoughtful, charming, award-winning singer-songwriter, daughter of former All Black Bernie Fraser and, yes, Christian.

None of that has changed of course, but with her fourth album, entitled Brutal Romantic, we're about to see a whole new side of her.

"I really felt that Flags [her third album, released in 2010] was the end of a trilogy for me as an artist. I felt like I'd explored the folk pop singer songwriter world. I knew that I had always set my voice against really warm organic sounds, and I really wanted to experiment with setting my voice against different textures - spiky things and cold things and mechanical things, and bring out the tension and contrast and balance that could be enjoyed if I did that."

That experimentation took her on a rather unusual, ear-opening journey, through many different cities, and cultures, writing with a wide array of collaborators, trying to discover exactly what this new Brooke Fraser would sound like. One in particular who she found very compatible, was Tobias Froberg, from Sweden, who lives on Gotland, an island in the middle of the Baltic Sea.

"Basically, I'd asked some of my musician friends to send me lists of kind of obscure musicians I should try working with, and one of my Swedish friends recommended Tobias Froberg. So Tobias is a Gotlander, who lives in this converted farmhouse, with a well in his living room, and he's actually a very strange Swiss Army knife of a man -- like he was the editor of Swedish Elle, he was a professional soccer player, and then he's also an amazing songwriter and producer, and a farmer. Those damned Swedes, they just do everything well!" she laughs.

"But we just hit it off, which is rare for me, so I ended up going back there twice more, and spent a couple of weeks writing with him at the farm."

Another of her successful songwriting collaborations was with her husband, who also helped her out with Something In The Water, the hit from Flags, and helped bring her first official single from this album, Kings and Queens, to life.


Listen to Kings and Queens by Brooke Fraser:

App users: Tap here to watch the video

"He's quite good with the singles - he's very handy with the pop stick for sure."

Like Kings and Queens, which is an empowering ear-worm - "It is a bit of a good running song I think. I had it in my Nike Run app as one of my 'power songs', for when you need to push to the finish" - the whole album is more anchored in the world of deep electronic beats and synths, and is bolder, sharper, less polite, more cynical, and imbued with an entirely new rock 'n' roll attitude.

"I think on first listen, people might feel that Brutal Romantic is a drastic change, I think as it grows with people and they listen to it more, they'll find the same Brooke Fraser DNA in the songs. They still come from my heart, my creativity, my imagination, but they're just wearing different sonic clothes."

The main man responsible for helping her make this leap into this new soundscape is David Kosten - he's released several albums under the name Faultline, as well as working with acts like Bat for Lashes, Everything Everything, and Gabrielle Aplin.

"Initially I thought I was going to make an organic album with electronic elements, but that really turned on its head over the course of time, so it ended up being more an electronic album with organic elements. I knew I needed help to do it though, because I don't come from the electronic world, and so I needed someone who was skilled and schooled and really comfortable in that area.

"When David's name came up, I thought he might be perfect, so I actually took a bit of a leap, and I just rang him, and basically asked him out on an album date, and said, 'Will you make an album with me?'


"I think he was so shocked that he said yes. I tricked him, and we did it!"

The album title, which helps to signal that change in sonic direction, landed in Fraser's lap quite early on in the process, but she immediately knew it was right.

"Randomly, I was doing a photo shoot in Sweden, and the photographer had a friend who was a Swedish fashionista in the 70s. And she's a bit spiritual and a bit of a hippie, and we'd been hanging out, talking about the music, and she goes, 'I think it will be brutal romantic!' And I was like, that's it! Brutal Romantic. I loved it.

"There's a lot of ambiguity in it, but there's tension and balance within the words, there's juxtaposition, and also I felt like it could reference an era, like the Jurassic period, the Renaissance period, the brutal romantic period. Or it could describe a person. So I liked all the different applications of it, and I liked that it says everything, and it says nothing.

"There's a part of me that's really enjoying playing with perception a bit on this album, and so that trickles through from the album title I guess, to songs like Psychosocial or Magical Machine, where I'm kind of examining that strange dynamic of how we see each other, how we see artists, and celebrity, and people in the public eye."

Watch the music video for Psychosocial by Brooke Fraser:

App users: Tap here to view the video

Fraser knows all too well about the strange dynamic of how people see her, of fan expectations, and endless commentary on whether she's too Christian, or not Christian enough, and how she should behave/dress/what she should write about. The release of her first two singles from Brutal Romantic - Kings and Queens and Psychosocial, are a case in point. Comments on her Facebook page and YouTube account make for interesting reading - there's plenty of people who love the new direction, but also some odd accusations from a certain demographic.


"Yeah apparently I'm the Illuminati, and I'm wearing black in the video, so obviously I'm a Satanist - don't know if everyone knew that," she laughs.

The slightly baffling comments and continuing closed-minded criticism can be frustrating, but Fraser has gotten used to it, and doesn't take it to heart.

"I think it comes with the territory really. But that's where the genesis of Psychosocial came from really, and then to be honest, one thing that I did really enjoy, was that the way we released Psychosocial and then the reaction to it, all of it kind of feeds into the initial premise of the song, so it all adds to this piece of art, this statement. Every single comment, or like, or dislike, that all becomes part of the same loop, and that was kind of my goal, so the irony was quite delicious."

She's a serious artist, though, and doesn't take her role lightly. She posted on Twitter not long ago, a quote from Cesar A. Cruz: "Art should disturb the comfortable and comfort the disturbed." She explains, "I like the idea that music can both bring comfort and solace to people, but also to shake things up, and perhaps questions things."

Literature is often an inspiration for her music. "With Flags, I'd been reading a lot of classic American authors, John Steinbeck and Flannery O'Connor. This time it was books like Just Kids by Patti Smith - I adored that, and a book called The Return Of The Prodigal Son by Henri Nouwen, which basically draws its philosophical conclusions from the Rembrandt painting of the same name. The War of Art by Steven Pressfield, that was a goodie for me, and always Alain de Botton over the past couple of years. He sneaks into my reading list often. I actually went to see him do a talk at The Met in New York when I was there, so that was a bit of a treat."

You can bet just as much thought and research is going into her new live show, too, which she promises will be completely different.


"In the past it's all been played by the instruments that you see in front of you on the stage, but that won't be possible with this new music. So we'll be finding players, or maybe we'll call them artistic technicians, who can play things and trigger things, and create all the samples and rhythms and textures live.

"There will be a lot of things going on, so it will be me and a few musical technicians on stage."

And hubby has signed on as creative director, helping to translate that new musical soundscape into a visual world.

You can tell 30-year-old Fraser has really found her groove, and is immensely proud of this new work.

"In your 20s, you're exploring and your testing yourself and finding your way, and I think, I hope, I navigated my 20s with some grace and some semblance of wisdom, but I think I also felt the need to apologise a lot, and so many things that frustrate me about my career and how I'm perceived, was because I wanted to be nice.

"It occurs to me, that in the next couple of years, maybe I'll get a reputation for being difficult, but I think now I recognise that the responsibility lies with me, and I think turning 30 was part of that. I went, 'Okay, put on your big-girl pants.'


"Not that I wasn't taking responsibility before - every decision I made in the end was mine, but I think I didn't fight as much as I perhaps should have.

"I think I've got a bit more fight in me now."

Who: Brooke Fraser
What: Fourth album Brutal Romantic, out November 14.
Where and when: Fraser's 2015 NZ tour dates are:
• Friday, March 20, Founders Theatre, Hamilton
• Saturday, March 21, Regent on Broadway, Palmerston North
• Monday, March 23 at Civic Theatre, Invercargill
• Tuesday, March 24, Regent Theatre, Dunedin
• Wednesday, March 25, Horncastle Arena Christchurch
• Friday, March 27, TSB Bank Arena, Wellington
• Saturday, March 28, Vector Arena, Auckland
• Monday, March 30, TSB Showplace, New Plymouth
• Tuesday, March 31, Municipal Theatre, Napier
• Wednesday, April 1, ASB Bank Arena, Tauranga.

* Tickets will go on sale on Monday, October 13.

- TimeOut