She's got a voice that could make you cry, and her debut album called 'What To Do With Daylight' could well launch her as our next female superstar. Although this 19 year old is a fresh face for the most of us, Brooke Fraser has been anticipating this moment for long enough.
Fast Tracking Brooke Fraser
Author: Rick Hobbs
"I'm such a dick, I've always wanted to do this. Always. Like I can't remember a time when I haven't wanted to. And I remember when I was 14 I started hating my birthdays because I was like, 'I've got to get an album out before I'm 16'."
Growing up in the Wellington suburb of Nae Nae, Brooke's first foray in music was at the tender age of two, when she figured out 'Do Re Me' on the piano. Since then she has pursued music, teaching herself the guitar, taking piano lessons at seven, writing songs at 12, and performing solo in the rockquest at 15. Surprisingly though she's never received any singing lessons, and considers her voice a gift she takes for granted.
On a trip to Auckland last year, her friend and Elemeno P drummer Scotty Pearson set up a meeting with talent scout Matthew Ruys (better known as Matty J of Colour Blind fame).
"I did this gig, and Matty came along and the next day I met up with him over a coffee and he just said all the things I didn't expect him to say. Like, 'Your songs are great, you're great just the way you are, I wouldn't want to change you. Give me some demos or whatever you've got and I'll start talking to people.' Basically it was within a very short space of time from that, that we had offers starting to come in," says Brooke.
Ruys was genuinely enthusiastic about her solo performance.
"It's a freak talent. She went on stage with an acoustic guitar in between two pretty hard out rock bands, and I thought, it'd be a hard one for her. She started playing, and a couple of lines into her first song the crowd just went dead silent - they were transfixed by her. She just blew them away."
Immediately after making the connection with Ruys as manager, Brooke found herself being chased by a host of labels, including some from overseas, and admits it was a nice position to be in. Ruys remembers the response they got from Sony when Brooke first met with them.
"I sat down with Malcolm Black, and Brooke was there with her guitar, and we chatted for a while. Malcolm was kind of like 'Oh yeah, that's interesting'... two lines into the first song, I looked over and his jaw had dropped, and I thought to myself, 'That's exactly the response I felt'."
Sony signed her on a multi-album option deal in late 2002, after which Brooke moved to Auckland.
"We were searching for a producer for ages, because the songs are not of one particular musical genre," says Brooke. "So we had to find someone who could do what we needed, and that meant we had to look outside of NZ."
Listening to some of the then unfinished Dean Chandler album, they found their match in American drummer cum producer Brady Blade. While Blade was back in Auckland to do some finishing touches on another production, the Brooke camp grabbed him for a week to record a single as a trial run.
Better was initially deemed unsuitable for her first single, given its heavy lyrical content, but according to Brooke it was at Blade's insistence that they recorded it in their first session in May.
"Brady came over and we thought we were doing another song but he said, 'I can't get Better out of my head, I want to do it'. It's quite a full on, heavy song and I didn't think it was radio fodder, so I can honestly say I didn't expect this."
The success of Better has been runaway, becoming the most played song on NZ radio for three weeks running, and spending more than eight weeks in the Top 10 of the singles chart. Ruys says its success has surpassed all expectations and has nearly become a hindrance for the next single Lifeline, as it just won't die.
"The album is quite revealing, it's quite a confessional, and we thought that song was a good reflection of that."
After producing debut albums by Dean Chandler, OpShop, and now Brooke Fraser, you might get the feeling that Blade can't bear to be away from NZ. The album was recorded during a five week stint at York Street Studios, engineered and mixed by Nick Manders, and mastered by Andy Van Dette at Masterdisk in New York.
"The moment I met Brady we just clicked," enthuses Brooke. "He's a wicked guy, and we had so much fun. It felt like we had a five-week party and an album came out of it at the end. You hear all sorts of things about albums and how stressful it is and how much hard work it can be, but I had so much fun, I wasn't stressed at all. I had an awesome time."
The album is a mix of styles. The only parts Brooke did not write were the string arrangements, which were put together by Godfrey de Grut. Joining him and Brooke were Sean Sturm from Eye TV on guitar, Daniel Irvine on bass, and Blade on drums as well as producing.
"Musically, I'm not doing anything ground-breaking but there's a lot of emotion in my songs and I really do mean it," says Brooke.
"I might not execute a run or whatever perfectly, but if I mean it, then that's much better than having something that sounds contrived. I would like to be remembered for being a person of integrity and for never saying anything I don't mean.
"And it's just really the right time for me to be doing this. This sounds really airy-fairy, but any earlier I wouldn't have been ready. I had to basically spend my teenage years going through crap and doing some random things and learning a lot. Any later I probably would have become bitter and twisted."
Feedback, according to Ruys, has been united in its theme.
"People hear her lyrics and know it's real. It's not like she's writing some fairytale story about someone else. Everything that comes through has said 'I heard your song, it blew my mind, it touched me in my heart, and I've been playing it over and over again'".
Of course being a young woman coming out of her teens, there is one subject particularly close to her heart.
"There's a few songs about boys that I haven't met," Brooke concedes. "I often write songs and then a few months later they'll happen, or I'll meet the person in the song. The next single Lifeline, I wrote two years ago, and at the time I didn't understand it, but the words are what I'm living now. There's a song called Scarlett on the album and I still don't know what it's about, and I don't think I'll know what it's about for quite a while."
Without You is about my husband. I don't know who he is, but I'm sure I will when I meet him," she jokes.
"Songwriting is something that I really want to get better at. Songwriting lasts, great songs last, and I would like eventually to write a great song."
Ruys thinks she already has. "The amazing thing is that although Brooke's 19, she writes like she could be 40. I'm not afraid to admit that the first time I heard Scarlett, it hit me so hard, I had tears welling up. She just has a power to her songwriting."
The album 'What To Do With Daylight' is released early November, and there will be a summer tour, currently planned from Boxing Day right through January.
"I haven't played since I went into the studio, so I'm definitely not where I think I could be or should be as a performer. But I know that will come with doing it, so I'm really looking forward to touring and getting better," Brooke admits.
"I guess I feel like I'm in my element on the stage. I feel almost to a degree more myself when I am on stage, than when I'm off, and I just really enjoy it, I really love it. And I still find it amazing that people want to listen to me. So I have a lot of fun."
Ruys agrees. "You're not getting anything that's manufactured in any way, or been tidied up. Brooke is Brooke. And after spending the last year and a half with her I don't think anything's going to change that."
But catch her while you can, as next year is being earmarked for introducing Brooke Fraser to the rest of the world, and if Ruys has his way, it won't be long before David Letterman will be introducing her on his show. Brooke can't wait.
"I'm gonna ride it out as long as I can. I love this. I love it. In terms of releasing the album I'm really scared, but I'm really excited as well."