Tony Cummings charts the rise and rise of one of the Southern Hemisphere's most gifted songwriters, BROOKE FRASER
To Radio Two listeners Brooke Fraser is the singer of the delicious "Something In The Water" turntable hit. To church worshippers Brooke is the composer of the classic Hillsong anthem "Hosanna". And to swathes of CD buyers in her native New Zealand Brooke is a multi-Platinum selling pop star. With Brooke's catchy "Betty" currently enjoying major Cross Rhythms airplay, a look at the life and times of this multi-talented singer/songwriter is long overdue.
The lady was born Brooke Gabrielle Fraser on 15th December 1983 in Wellington, New Zealand. The eldest of three children born to rugby star and member of the famed All Blacks, Bernie Fraser, by the age of seven Brooke had begun taking piano lessons, by 12 was writing her first songs and taught herself acoustic guitar at age 16. Brooke's strong Christian faith found expression both in her music and in articles she began writing, at the age of 15, for Christian magazine Soul Purpose. She was also a presenter of a cable TV show. At the age of 16 Brooke made her first of what were to become annual appearances at New Zealand's huge Christian event the Parachute Festival. By then the precociously talented singer/songwriter had already been named the "Most Promising Woman Musician and Overall Winner" at 1999's Hutt Valley Pepsi Smokefree Rockquest regional finals.
At the tender age of 18 Brooke became the editor of Soul Purpose. But journalism wasn't to have the talented teen for many months. Relocating to Auckland, she met with producer Matty J, the meeting having been set up by the drummer with the band Elemeno P, Scotty Pearson. Matty J became Brooke's managr, liaising with the major labels who had shown interest and compared their offers. Fraser had about five different labels offer her deals and chose to sign a multi-album deal with Sony Music.
Brooke's first album 'What To Do With Daylight' was released in New Zealand in late 2003. It was an instant smash in her homeland, debuting at number one and achieving Gold status in the same week. The album eventually went seven times Platinum, selling over 105,000 copies in New Zealand alone. It remained on the album charts for 66 weeks. All five singles from the album reached the top 20 in the New Zealand Singles Chart.
The Cross Rhythms reviewer enthused, "Strong songs like 'Lifeline' and 'Saving The World' stand out from the crowd with their crisp production and perfect poppiness. What I really love about what Brooke does is the way the songs reflect her worldview and she's not afraid to write songs about her faith. Outstanding in that department is the fabulous 'Indelible' which is a delicate ballad reflecting on the fact that when she comes face to face and looks into the eyes of Jesus, the impact of his truth will completely change her. It's a gorgeous moment on an album packed with gorgeous moments."
Following the release of 'What To Do With Daylight', Fraser toured Australia and New Zealand with American artist John Mayer and then toured New Zealand with veteran UK rock icon David Bowie. Whilst on tour with John Mayer, she met with his guitarist and keyboardist Michael Chaves who, after recording Mayer's album 'Heavier Things', Fraser enlisted to play on her album and future concerts.
In 2004 Brooke relocated from New Zealand to Australia. The pop fame she had found in her homeland ironically played a part in the singer/songwriter's decision to relocate. She told the nzgirl.co.nz website, "You're a kid and then suddenly everywhere you go everyone is staring at you. I'm a girl, I'm insecure enough as it is! I just needed to go to an environment where people didn't know me, and what I did. A place where people would just love me for who I am."
After two years of exhausting touring the singer made a life changing trip to Africa. She told the nzgirl.co.nz website, "I've always had a thing for Africa. I've been so intrigued by it. Being this slightly naive and crazy girl that I am, I booked my ticket to Africa and jumped on a plane by myself."
Brooke described the things she saw in Rwanda as "so overwhelming that you almost go into coping mode. I would see these horrific things, but it was like I couldn't cry." It wasn't until she left Rwanda, during an eight-hour stop-over in Kenya, that she decided to write down everything that she'd seen. Journaling her experiences was very emotional. "There were moments when I just needed to stop, because it would start to hit me. There are times in your life when you physically feel pain, when you've had your heart broken or been betrayed. In Rwanda the first time, it was like that; I could physically feel this ache and this compulsion that I must do something. The selfish part of me thought that it would be much easier to just tuck this into my book of lovely life experiences and go on my merry way. But that wasn't an option, I had to do something now. I'm still trying to figure out exactly what's happening and I definitely don't have all the answers and feel quite out of my depth. But I'll do what I can right now."
For the 'Albertine' album Fraser had enlisted a new band comprised of American musicians who'd worked with an array of notable artists, both live and recorded. On 4th December 2006 'Albertine' was released in New Zealand, achieving double Platinum status less than a month after its release and remained in the Top 20 for many weeks. The album was released in Australia and internationally on 31st March 2007. In Australia, it achieved Gold sales status.
In 2007 another dimension to Brooke's wide ranging talent - worship songwriter and leader - became evident. Joining the Sydney mega-church she contributed songs "Lord Of Lords" and "Hosanna" to the 2007 Hillsong album 'Saviour King' and "Lead Me To The Cross" (a song later covered by America's Chris & Conrad and the Newsboys) to the Hillsong United album. In 2008 Brooke was featured with "Desert Song" on Hillsong's 'This Is Our God' album and also guested on 'Holding Nothing Back' by British worship leader Tim Hughes.
In view of such involvement Brooke expressed some surprising views when interviewed for Australia's aboutchristianmusic website. "I'm vehemently opposed to being called a Christian musician in terms of the CCM [contemporary Christian music] industry. And I know a lot of people, particularly people making worship music, who feel the same way. They're pretty disturbed by what CCM has become - the merchandising of the Gospel. There are those who are actually abusing the name of Jesus, making money off what is sacred and turning the temple into a marketplace. And at the same time you have to acknowledge that there are those who have genuine hearts and who are truly doing what God has called them to do... you can't tar everyone with the same brush. So my position is that I refuse to be associated with that part of the industry, but am I a Christian? Absolutely I'm a Christian - I'm a Christian before I'm a musician! But like with anything we do, we should approach our work, whatever that is, with a willingness and a desire to be led by the Holy Spirit... that the labour of our hands would result in giving glory to God and furthering the Great Commission... whatever that looks like. It could be in music, or in a construction company. But I definitely acknowledge that music is a tool - that it is a heavenly language. There's actually no music in Hell... the Bible confirms that... but music has this ability to override, or bypass people's intellect and go straight to the soul. So I certainly recognise the responsibility of being a musician and a songwriter who knows Jesus and has the Holy Spirit living in them. It means I'm required to have a much greater perspective..."
Brooke continued, "There's a stirring happening in God's Church, through the creative arts, creative ministries and other things too... and as time moves on we get closer and closer to Jesus coming back. God has a plan for the whole earth and it involves every one of us doing our part - it's not necessarily going to look like something we can easily understand on the natural. I write worship songs that are for the building up of God's people in the Church, and I love that because I'm able to express really clearly and declare uncompromisingly my love for Jesus. But at the same time I recognise the importance of my other songs as being like parables... taking Church to people who would never walk into a church [building]..."
In March 2008 Brooke married Scott Ligertwood in Sydney. Also in 2008 'Albertine' became Brooke's debut release in the USA and entered Billboard's album charts in July. After a bit of a break from music, Brooke set up camp in East West studios in Hollywood to create what many critics have called her best album yet. The recording of 'Flags' (released on 12th October 2010) was documented in a series of videos that can be found on the singer's website. 'Flags' was produced by Brooke herself. She spoke to the Dyson web blog about taking on the producer's role. "In some ways I think it was probably inevitable because we had no clue how long it would take. We went to LA knowing we were going to stay there until the record was done. I didn't know if that would be three months, six months, or three years. As the songs were evolving I felt like they had particular stories to tell and there was no producer I thought of who could treat these songs how they needed to be treated. Fortunately it worked. It's not a perfect album and it's not the most cohesive album I've ever released or will ever release but I'm really proud of it."
One of the many outstanding tracks on 'Flags' is "Betty", co-written with Switchfoot frontman Jon Foreman. Brooke told website coupdemainmusic.com, "When I was on the road in 2008 I was getting really exhausted. One of the musical collections that got me through the tour were Jon's solo EPs: 'Spring', 'Summer', 'Winter', 'Fall'. I would listen to them every day and it was like a breath of fresh air. Towards the end of the tour, our tour manager had to go and do something else, so we got a substitute in and he was one of the Switchfoot crew and so I was saying how I love Jon Foreman's stuff, and he said: 'Well, you've got a gap between these two shows, in about a month they're playing a show there, why don't you guys hook up?' I went to a small show that Jon played in Santa Barbara, he asked me to jump on the stage and sing a song with him, so I did and I was so starstruck. That's where I also met Aaron the drummer. The drummer on Jon's solo stuff is the drummer on my record. So we [Jon Foreman and I] exchanged emails and kept in touch, then we decided to write together and now we're friends."
One of the album's more intriguing songs is "Jack Kerouac". Explained Brooke, "I'm a bit of a book worm, so a lot of the songs I write are inspired by books. I'll look back on a song once I've finished writing it and be like: 'Ahhh, I think that chapter of that book that I read made me think of that, which led me to think about that,' or whatever. 'Jack Kerouac' - I wanted to write a song that was just a really pure musical moment, and I had been reading On The Road by Jack Kerouac. Also driving through this remote part of California with all these fields and farmland and ocean, whilst pumping Paul Simons' 'Graceland', so I just remember driving on the highway, I remember stopping off at a general store to get petrol or firewood. So it's kind of a song about roadtripping and the people that you meet along the way."
Through all the acclamation Brooke's undeniable artistry has brought her, she remains strongly focused not only on her art but on the life of the Church. "I absolutely love church and this community that I'm a part of... God's people here. I'm so happy, and I've never been more excited about life... and God's done this work in my heart where I have a love for God's Church, not Hillsong particularly, but God's Church all over the world, that I never had before. I just love being a part of the Body of Christ... all the incredible things you want to see happen in your lifetime, you recognise very quickly that you won't do them by yourself, but together we can - like, all of us just doing our little part, it's incredible... I LOVE IT!"The opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily those held by Cross Rhythms. Any expressed views were accurate at the time of publishing but may or may not reflect the views of the individuals concerned at a later date.