Friday, April 19, 2024

How Are You, Today… Brooke Fraser? The Kiwi Singer Talks Motherhood, Turning 40 and The Magic of The Creative Process

In our story series ‘How Are You Today?’, we have a meandering, mental-health focused chat with some of our most well-known New Zealanders. Check out previous chats with people like Hayley HoltKiri Allan and Jacinda Ardern. Today we chat to Brooke Fraser about becoming so famous, so young; how getting older has increased her confidence in what she says yes – and no – to and why becoming a mother has changed her creative process.

It almost sounds like a joke from the internet designed to make us feel old, but somehow it’s been 21 years since a young Brooke Fraser stormed onto the music scene with her debut album, What To Do With Daylight, making her one of our most well-known singer-songwriters both at home in NZ and abroad.

Many successful albums followed – and there are a lot of weddings that owe their soundtrack to Brooke – and in the two decades since, Brooke has lived in LA and Australia, got married, had two daughters and continued to have an incredibly successful music career under her married name, Brooke Ligertwood, which includes winning multiple Grammys and a music catalogue that has had 7 billion streams (!)

On June 22, Brooke is coming back to NZ to perform with the Auckland Philharmonia, with all new arrangements of her beloved solo music with the 70-piece orchestra (can you even imagine what Arithmetic is going to sound like? Someone hold my hand immediately).

She talks to Capsule about being so famous as a teenager, how motherhood has changed her writing process and how being 40 has meant reaching new heights in her creativity and confidence.

Kia ora, Brooke! How are you today?
Today I am powered by coffee [laughs]. And I’m whiplashing between all of my different roles today – my mum roles, talking to you… all of the roles. But today I’m good, and I’m grateful – I’m a little scattered, but I’m good.

I wondered about your two different creative roles, because you have your Brooke Fraser Instagram account and then your Brooke Ligertwood Instagram account; how does it work having these two different Instagram personas?
[Laughs] Well it’s pretty easy for me because I’m just the same person everywhere, but I do make music across multiple audiences, that do overlap in some places but in other places they don’t. It’s not so much that I have multiple personas, I’m one person but I get to have multiple expressions, musically. Which is a gift, and I really enjoy it.

It must be such a gift as an artist to have different ways of expressing yourself.
When you get to this stage of adulating, you’re settling into yourself a bit more. In years past, I felt the need to try and explain to everyone what was what, and now I’m kind of like, ‘You know what? It is what it is’. As an artist, one of the things that I get to do is bring art into the world and I understand that other people might need to label it, but I’ve never felt that need – I just want to make all of the art that comes out of my life. Why shouldn’t it come in as many different forms as it wants to?

Your debut album, What To Do With Daylight, came out 21 years ago – which feels absolutely impossible to me! How long does it feel for you?
It actually does feel that long [to me], when I think about all the life that has happened [laughs]. Around the 20 year anniversary, Sony went into their archives and dug up a bunch of videos of old performances and interviews, and of course I watched them with a hefty dose of cringe, but also a sense of ‘good on you, little Brooke!’ I had to wade through a lot, but she was a stubborn little thing [laughs]. And I’m grateful for that.

I’m grateful for the things that I didn’t compromise on and I’m grateful for the lessons that I did learn, when I did make mistakes or do things very imperfectly. I think that’s part of the journey of growing as an artist, it parallels the journey of your growing as a person.

What compromises are you grateful for that you stuck to your guns about as a teenage artist, that have paid dividends for you as a 40-year-old musician?
I’m grateful for the unique context in which my music started reaching the world – in New Zealand, in my home country, at a particular age where social media wasn’t a thing. I’m so grateful I didn’t have that to contend with, which it’s a whole thing that young artists are having to navigate.

It wasn’t until I started to travel more and eventually moved overseas that I started to be exposed to more all of these different mindsets about women and music… I was never pressured by my label to be anything other than myself, so as a result I felt like I didn’t have to dilute the person that I was, or compromise on that… it stood me in good stead, as I went out into the world and was able to retain a strong sense of my own personhood.

You are a mother now to two young daughters. How has becoming a parent changed your creative process?
I would say that having children increased the creativity which with I would need to approach my days in order to be creative [laughs]. I’ve got so many voice memos of me at the piano – because I’ve been doing something in the house and gotten an idea – where I’m putting down a song idea and then there’s a [yells] ‘Muuuum’ in the background, because they need me. It becomes part of the story of your creativity, but it’s a creative balance, for sure.

So you’re coming back to New Zealand in June to perform with the Auckland Philharmonic Orchestra, which is a fantastic reason to do a one-night only kind of show.
I’m honestly so honoured, it was such a no-brainer when I was approached with this opportunity. I’m so excited to get to come back and play these songs on home turf, with a lot of people who hopefully, like me, grew up with these songs and have them interwoven into their lives, and marriages, and childhoods, and adolescence. It’s going to be such a special night.

It must be such a privilege to have your songs be picked for people’s biggest days of their lives.
It’s really lovely – I just got a text from my mum… my cousin got engaged recently and they’ve decided to walk down the aisle to The Thief, which is from my Albertine album. It’s so sweet that people are still choosing that, that the songs are still on people’s radar. I know for me, in my life, what songs have meant to me at certain moments of my life so that people would choose to bring my songs into their own stories, it’s the greatest honour as a songwriter.

Which songwriters do you look up to?
I’m going to show my age here, but the songwriters that I return to year after year after year are the greats: Joni Mitchell, Paul Simon… the people I’ve been naming in interviews for years, because you get that same sense of story when you listen to music like that. You can hear and make sense of the story in the lyrics, but you can also feel the story with everything else the music is doing.

How has growing older increased your power as a musician but specifically as a songwriter?
One of the benefits of time is that you’re really able to begin to understand and know your own process, in a way that I didn’t in my early 20s. I’m so much more aware of how and when my creativity flourishes and what I need for that to happen.

I’m always aware of the types of situations where I’m aware I’m not going to be a strong contributor – rather than squeezing myself into those situations, being like ‘You know what, I don’t think that’s going to be a great fit.’ Being more confident and comfortable to go, ‘there’s someone else who can do what you’re looking for a lot better than I can.’

Wisdom for the right yes’s, and the right no’s is something that comes with age and experience. I still have the song-writing bug, and I’m grateful for that – I don’t think I’ll ever get sick of that feeling when all of a sudden, that particular lyric comes and that particular phrase is ordered in just the right way, and the internal rhyme works with this sentence in this particular way. There’s so much mathematics in music, but there’s also so much mystery. And being a songwriter is to exist between maths and mystery, and that’s pretty wonderful.

Visit here for more information about Brooke’s June concert with the APO

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