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Interview: Brooke Fraser plays Charleston

Hailing from the island nation of New Zealand, Brooke Fraser is a singer-songwriter unlike any other – from her accent, to her pleasantly dry sense of humor (much like her Kiwi compatriots Flight of the Concords), to the fact that she’s almost as tall as I am. At age 27, she’s already had a prolific career in the realm of contemporary Christian music and has released three solo albums, all of which have received critical acclaim both in New Zealand and in the U.S.

Brooke is currently touring the U.S. on the “Something in the Water” Tour in support of her most recent album, Flags, and was kind enough to sit down with Cayla Fralick, my photographer and bandmate, and I for a interview before her show at The Music Farm in Charleston this past Monday.

This is the second part of the “Something in the Water” Tour. You guys ended up selling out the first leg and had to schedule more dates, correct?

Yeah, we toured in November and December; that was major cities. This part of the tour is more college towns…places I’ve never been. This tour is all about going places that I’ve never been to before and Charleston is one of those places, so it was cool. We’re in the second week [of the tour] now and we’ve got two more after this.

“Something in the Water” is off of your newest album, Flags. What would you say are the main differences between Flags and your past albums (What to Do with DaylightAlbertine)?

This new album was different because there was kind of a big gap between the writing and recording of this one and the last one – it was four years. The reason for that was because I toured the second one for three years and the material was really personal and pretty heavy. It was really shaped by my trip to Rwanda in 2005 and meeting genocide survivors and hearing their stories. It was kind of a crazy thing, night after night – because you don’t want to sing that kind of thing liberally – and so to revisit that raw kind of thing…over and over again for three years was really emotionally exhausting. So I got to the end of that and I was in a bit of a rut. Coming into writing the next album I knew that I needed to, for my own sake, write material that was more survivable on the road – material where I was still telling my stories, but where I was almost taking a step back and telling them as a storyteller rather than as the protagonist of the events. That’s probably the main difference. I think my sound has evolved and this was the first record that I produced as well, so I was able to do everything that I had always wanted to do – have horns, use body percussion, get all my friends involved. It was fun.

There’s a difference between Albertine and Flags in that you produced this past one and it sounds like it has a lot more pop/indie influence in it. Would you say that your songwriting has evolved into that realm and where do you see your songwriting going in the future?

Yeah, I think it’s funny – I suppose I think of myself as a songwriter first and and artist kind of second. I’ve always struggled to figure out exactly…I don’t know what my genre is really. I write the songs that come to me and try to interpret them the best way I can. I’ve always felt like Flags is the third of a trilogy, like the completion of a phase. I really wanted it to be a bridging album between now and what I do next. This album is the album that sounds most like what I listen to. It’s kind of funny – I don’t listen to the type of music that I make. It’s kind of weird.

You wrote most of Flags while spending time in North Carolina, correct?

Not most of it, but that was the place where the songs first started to come together.

Why did you choose North Carolina, of all places?

I know, so random right? I was travelling around on a tour and I’d done a stop in Atlanta, then I’d asked for two weeks off until the next thing. A friend of mine, who lives in Atlanta and who is a songwriter, said you’ve got to go to Highlands, N.C.; he would go out there a lot. So I found a cabin about nine miles out of Highlands, which is a tiny litte village anyway up in the mountains, and it was amazing. I want to go back. You guys have done your research, it’s amazing (laughs).

By producing your album, are you able to fully show people what you’re hearing in your head? Is that what people get on the record?

Well, that was the idea (laughs); that was the attempt anyway. Because we had such tight deadlines with the record, it’s not perfect. There are still songs that I know that I didn’t manage to completely get across what I wanted to sonically. But it was an amazing journey and an amazing thing to capture a moment in time and because I honestly didn’t know if I could do it. I didn’t know if I’d collapse in a heap of freak-out like in the first week. For me, it’s just a rewarding things that it even exists and that it happened. I was able to play with things that I wanted to play with for ages. I always wanted to have horns on my album and no producer had ever let me. I didn’t want slick, perfect vocals – I wanted to keep it in the cracks and keep in the character and the emotion. I’m kind of heading more that way, but I also know that I have a responsibility to my audience to anything too shocking, so I’m trying to ease into a new thing I think.

What was it like having friends like Jon Foreman (Switchfoot, Fiction Family) on this album?

Some of the best times, in terms of being in music, is when you’re making music with friends and the community that music creates and the community of musicians. That’s one of my favorite things about being an artist, just meeting such interesting people and forming really great friendships. I wanted to reflect that on the album and have my friends get their touch on it, so that’s what I did!

Do you already have plans to record the next album?

Well, I need to write it first (laughs). That’s the key. To do that, I need to take some time off the road. I’m hopeless at writing on the road – I don’t find green rooms very inspiring. Hopefully there can be a bit of a balance between touring and also spending time off the road and writing, but I’m hoping next year to make another record and get it out.

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The rest of Brooke’s tour takes her through the Midwest and Southwest parts of the country, including stops in Cleveland, OH; Milwaukee, WI and Denver, CO. If you find yourself in any of these cities with a chance to see her – DO IT. You won’t be disappointed.

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