TMF meets Brooke Fraser

TMF caught up with Kiwi singer-songwriter Brooke Fraser in Manchester, as she wraps up the European tour for her third album and UK debut, Flags.

You’re coming to the end of a long European tour. How’s it been?

It’s been great, it’s particularly nice to finish up in the UK, we’ve normally started here. I feel comfortable here, and I get to come to Manchester.

Had you seen much of Europe before?

We’d done a lot before, and I’d been to a lot as a traveller but never played. It’s been very cool.

You performed here a couple of times when your first album came out, then you kind of dropped off the radar – what happened?

It wasn’t so much that I was here and dropped off the radar, as I was never on the radar. I never released any of the other albums here, so it’s the first time I’ve actually had an album to promote.

You described this as the best year of your life so far – what’s happened?

I think so! Things seem to be going very well in my career – it’s very exciting to finally be able to release my album in Europe, and I’m a good place as an artist.

Your last album was Albertine, and I heard that you found it hard to tour that album because of the nature of the songs. Did that inform writing these songs?

Albertine was inspired by my visits to Rwanda and meeting genocide survivors. It wasn’t so much performing the songs every night, as talking about it. Part of an artist’s job is to do a lot of talking about the songs, and the motives behind it and the stories. The stories and subject matter and personal experiences that formed the song were traumatic ones, so it’s a combination of touring those songs relentlessly and talking about them relentlessly.

So definitely with this album I knew that in order to survive this album I needed to write material that would bring balance and I could talk about and perform it from more of a narrator’s point of view than the main character.

Talking of writing the album, there’s a collaboration with Aqualung on there – how did that come about?

We have mutual friends in Los Angeles and one of them emailed us both and suggested we get together and see if anything happened. I’m not a good co-writer, and I don’t feel comfortable in those situations, don’t really enjoy it, and I think Matt was the same. It was one of those magical moments where you get together with someone and it does happen, and it’s natural and unforced.

What are your plans when the tour finishes? A new album?

I wish! Fortunately I have a lot more work to do on this album yet, so after this I’m going to Ethiopia to see some wells that have been built with money that my audience donated.

How did that come about?

For my last two albums, on tour I brought with me child sponsorship. I came across a charity called Charity Water and I connected with their work and approach, so I parternered with them for a birthday campaign – it was my birthday when the album came out. I asked fans to give me a birthday gift of a donation towards the charity. They were incredibly generous and gave $54,000 US and with that we’re building some wells in Ethiopia.

Are you nervous about going out there?

No. I’ve not been to Ethiopia before, but I’ve been to Africa a lot. I’m incredibly excited and I feel more at home in a place like that than I do on tour much of the time!

Do you find touring stressful? You’ve been away from home for much of this year.

It’s just not my favourite. As I get older I get a bit less apologetic. It’s probably just me, but I see my friends getting married and having children. I don’t want to give everything up and be a housewife, but you miss important things in the lives of people that are close to you. The distance and the time away can feel like a large sacrifice. But it’s a privilege and the opportunities won’t be here forever.

You’ve got a well established fan base back home. Was it hard to come back to playing smaller venues and building up a fan base again?

I’m really used to it. I’ve been touring in the US for years now. You start playing for 40 people, then 100 people. You keep doing it so I’m in a place where we can play to 800 in LA, but we did a tour in April where we went to smaller markets where we’d never been and small towns. Back to the 150-200 capacity club vibe, so my career does go in circles.

This is your least pop album. You said your music doesn’t reflect what you listen to. Are you tempted to move towards that?

I love Lykke Li, I love Fleet Foxes. They’re really cool, but it’s a lie to try and be like someone else. The job of an artist is to make art that’s true to themselves and provide commentary, however subtle or overt on the world around them, and be true to themselves. I have to live with myself and at the end of my life look back on the work I’ve created. Even now I cringe at so many songs that I’ve written, but I don’t cringe about the fact that I wrote what I believed in at the time. I wrote and played in a way that, at the time, captured where I was at as a person. That will continually evolve.

Does that make it hard to play those songs live?

I have successfully managed to (somewhat under the radar) eliminate those songs I don’t like to play any more. I'm making room for the new stuff.

Brooke's new album Flags is out now.

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