Brooke Fraser

by Felicity Monk / 06 March, 2004
Brooke Fraser, 20, began writing music at 12, performing in public at 13, and at 16 she taught herself how to play the guitar. She signed to Sony Music in 2002 and that same year shifted to Auckland from her hometown of Wellington. Her album What to Do with Daylight went double platinum in the first month of release and has now sold around 40,000 copies. She opened for David Bowie's concert in Wellington last month. This year, she is focusing on promoting her music in Australia. It is Fraser's Kiwi, Scottish, Samoan, Fijian, Spanish heritage that accounts for her exotic looks. She is the daughter of ex-All Black Bernie Fraser and mother Lynda, and has two brothers.The Listener visited her at the Sony offices in Auckland.

Do you come from a musical background? No. I have a great uncle who was a one-armed trumpet player, but my immediate family? Definitely not, they are not musical at all. I remember growing up and seeing all these records [at home], but one of my younger brothers had broken the record player so I never actually heard them. I remember seeing the artwork to Carole King's Tapestry, but I only heard the record for the first time last year. So I kind of grew up completely ignorant, really. But I suppose I was lucky in a way - everything that I listen to now that I love, I own it a bit more because it wasn't bred into me.

When did you realise you could carry a tune? I said this to someone the other week, I said it in a joking manner, but I really wasn't kidding: "I've just always done this and no one has ever told me to shut up." I mean, I never had a revelation, I've just always enjoyed writing and playing and singing, though it was a very private thing for a long time. My mum actually only heard me sing for, like, the third time in my whole life last year. I was fine with the public, but with people who were closer it was too embarrassing.

So, you gigged a little, met your manager Matty J, he played your demo tape to a couple of people, they liked what they heard and the next thing you know you are off to Auckland to meet with record labels? I think I had about five different labels offering me deals and it was really great for me, because I was able to be in this position of not going "please sign me", because that was never my motivation for doing music. But I was able to go into these places and go, "This is me and these are my songs, this is what I am about and this is who I am and if you don't like it, don't sign me."

You opened for David Bowie, but you were unfamiliar with his music? Hey, I was born in the 80s, what do you expect?

I didn't expect to meet him at all, but I had finished the sound check at the stadium and I turned around and he was right there and he goes, "Hello Brooke Fraser", and I go, "Hi", he goes, "I was listening to your album ..." and he started giving me feedback on it ...

And? He just said that I had a lovely voice. The biggest thing for me was when he said, "I think it is wonderful writing", and obviously he's like the songwriter and I'm just a baby - what do I know? And to have someone like that say that what you do isn't crap is ... I often think to myself: are you sure no one has made a mistake? Are you sure you want me to be doing this?

Just before I went on stage he came up and grabbed me by the arms and said, "Mad, mad, mad, three times, good luck." It must be something they do - a British thing. So I was like, "thanks". He sent some flowers to my dressing-room and a card and stuff. He was really lovely and genuine and that gave me hope that you can be in this industry a long time and not get completely screwed over as a person.

You are a big fan of a lot of current New Zealand music - Goldenhorse, Eight, OP Shop - what about the international artists who have influenced you? I guess my old favourites that I go back to time and time again are Sarah McLachlan, Marvin Gaye, James Taylor - he's been such a big part of my teenage years. I always felt like a bit of a freak. I grew up in Naenae, and so everyone was listening to Bone Thugs-N-Harmony and I would be listening to my James Taylor, but I knew I was cool!

Then there's John Mayer ... I love John Mayer, I am dangerously obsessed with him.

Tell me more ... When I first signed to Sony, he had a concert up here and I got to meet him. I'm really pathetic. He signed a poster to More FM Wellington and he wrote it incorrectly, he wrote, "To FM Wellington", and so they couldn't give it to More FM. So I took it and I put it on my wall and I told people that it's actually just his pet name for me and that FM stands for "Future Mayer". Of course, he is coming back here in April. My strategy - no, I haven't thought about this - is to be aloof. I'll be like, "Oh, sorry, what was your name again? David, was it? I think I've heard that song ..."

NZ Idol. Would you have gone there?

New Zealand Idol. I. Would. Never. Enter. New. Zealand. Idol. In. A. Million. Years. I know that is a very strong statement to make, but I can say that with complete honesty.

But do I think it is a good thing for music overall? No. Do I think it is a good thing for our country? Possibly. Where I grew up, there are so many talented people and, unfortunately, it's a really Polynesian thing where we just kind of go, "Oh shame", and I think we are never going to move forward if we don't begin to break out of that.

I haven't actually seen any of it yet myself, but I think it is a good thing for us to start taking risks and hopefully we can react with encouragement rather than, "What do you think you are doing up there? Who do you think you are to get up there?", because we are never going to make any advances if that's the attitude that we continue to approach opportunity with. So, I think it is not a bad thing.

Does the attention you now receive get a bit overwhelming at times? I am in a place now where I am realising that I kind of have to re-strategise a bit and figure out how to still give to people and be gracious to people but also set healthy boundaries, because if I am just giving and giving and giving, I am just going to be drained and be a useless empty blah.

And what about the fame side of things - have you become used to being recognised now? I don't know if you ever get used to it. I was in a dairy in Waihi and the funniest thing is when this happens: this lady said to me, "Gosh, you look a lot like Brooke Fraser", and I said, "Oh, that's funny", and she goes, "You must get that a lot", and I just go, "Yeah, I do", and that was all.

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