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The Welcome Return of Brooke Fraser

For the first time in seven years, Brooke Fraser is returning to New Zealand for a one-off show. She tells Rolling Stone AU/NZ about her journey to the special event.

When Brooke Fraser was just 12 years old, her music teacher asked her class to compose a piece of music for themselves and with it, write accompanying lyrics.  

It became her entry point into songwriting – a pivotal moment in the early days of her journey to becoming one of New Zealand’s best-selling singer-songwriters of all time. 

“I realised I didn’t just have to play what was just written on the page, but I could create a world with melody and harmony and lyric,” she tells Rolling Stone AU/NZ over a video call. “In discovering this new language, I was really able to start having conversations, quite philosophically just with myself… I felt like I didn’t really have anyone around me who was interested in having those conversations, so it did become this little escape.” 

All these years later, Fraser laughs at the thought of it – her younger self, working with not much material, penning her earliest pieces about insects and the biggest news stories of the time. 

As she thinks back, the memory triggers more giggles about the “very strange” setting of learning in a group with seven other young kids. “That teacher had to have remarkable resilience,” she jokes. 

Fraser has been looking back a lot lately, as she prepares for a special homecoming show at Auckland’s Spark Arena on Saturday, June 22nd.

In preparation for the concert, she’s been revisiting her earliest work – foundations which catapulted her to fame across Aotearoa – as well as the music in the years since which allowed her to achieve longevity in the music business.

She says it’s been incredibly special to think back on the real life that was happening in the background of some of those songs, and she’s also discovered intricate details of the pieces, like realising how her voice has changed and grown over the years. 

“It’s moving to reflect on – I don’t know that I would have had this project not come up,” Fraser concedes. “There have definitely been some moments of hearing the songs again for the first time in a long time and being surprised by a lyric I’d forgotten or the way I sang as a teenager.”

Fraser was just 19 years old when she released her first album, What to Do with Daylight, in 2003. It debuted at number one and would remain in the New Zealand charts for 66 weeks. 

Fraser was quickly embraced by audiences around the country, with her music becoming a staple thanks to the Juice TV and C4 music channels running her beautiful visuals: some showed Fraser exploring her homeland, others featured Fraser and her natural beauty staring down the camera lens singing her songs. 

According to Fraser, though, the videos were her weakest area – she credits instead the directors and local artists she got to work with on them. 

Music was always the easy part for me, the thrilling part and the fun part, [but] the visuals didn’t come super naturally to me,” she admits. “Now I think about the music videos that we got to make – “Deciphering Me”, we got to all fly to Japan – and when I think about the budgets we had back then when physical sales were still the thing…” 

Fraser’s subsequent releases received just as much critical praise, including her second album, Albertine, which took its title from her single of the same name written following a trip to Rwanda where she met a young girl orphaned by the country’s 1994 genocide. The song and album’s power created rumblings internationally, and Albertine was chosen as an ‘Editor’s Music Choice’ on iTunes USA upon its release. 

By that point, she had relocated to Sydney, and continued her pursuit of music with collaborations as a Christian artist. She says the decision to move wasn’t a business one – she found herself being drawn to a group of people she felt at home with. 

“I’ve never really been somebody that has massive 20 or 30 year plans, but just what feels right for the season,” she says. 

Fraser wed her husband Scott Ligertwood in 2008, and in taking his name, began toying with the possibility of releasing music under both her maiden and married name. 

She went on to release two more albums as Fraser, Flags (2010) – which found remarkable success around the world – and Brutal Romantic (2014), before later releasing as Ligertwood on Seven (2022) and Eight (2023). 

While music has taken her around the world, she credits her home country for giving her such a solid starting point. 

“Thank god for growing up in New Zealand and for this beginning the way it did in New Zealand, because I think there are so many healthy advantages to getting introduced to music in a place like New Zealand because it really is (sic) that community feel,” she explains. 

“It’s only [now] I’ve lived in various places that I can recognise how precious that [time] was, and how in many ways I did feel I was in this bubble. There were some challenging aspects to that, but some really beautiful ones.”

Ahead of returning to New Zealand for her upcoming show, Fraser says she’s fighting fleeting moments of nerves – it’s the audience’s experience that is at the forefront of her mind. “I wanted to make sure they get to experience everything they’re hoping for and more, and hearing the songs that they came to hear,” she says.

With Scott at the helm of the production, he’s able to help out his wife.

“I married the greatest creative director I know. I feel like we’re a good match in that I hear music and he sees what the music looks like. But back in those early years of the first singles and albums, I didn’t have that kind of person in my life who was able to help me understand how I could visually communicate the music.” 

So far, the pair’s preparation with their team for the big night has taken place remotely everywhere from Australia to North Carolina and Tennessee. 

“It’s a bit of a digital daydream so far. It won’t quite sink in until we’re in the rehearsal room in the days prior to the concert,” Fraser says. 

Despite her talents as a piano and guitar player, she’s decided to fully focus on her vocals, so she’s excused herself from playing instruments for a large portion of the set. 

“It’s thrilled me to release myself from the pressure of having to carry so much musically in the moment, to be honest, because I am in the company of literally dozens of musicians who are much, much more skilled than me,” she explains.

“Usually I’m playing something on every song, which really changes my personal experience of the music because of what that requires, so I’m actually very much looking forward to being able to hear more of the music as it’s happening.

“The imaginations of the composers that have worked on these arrangements have inspired me to continue to approach music with a sense of exploration and endless possibility.”

The added charm of the Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra is set to be a fitting match to help bring Fraser’s intricate songwriting to life. 

For the arrangements, they assembled a dynamic team of Kiwi composers: Mahuia Bridgman-Cooper, David Long, Claire Cowan, Jeremy Mayall, Daniel Hayles, and Hamish Oliver. Leading the night is the accomplished conductor Hamish McKeich, who is tasked with being a bridge between the orchestra and Fraser.

“They are absolutely brilliant and have done some truly astonishing work that I’m so excited for people to hear,” she says.

Looking back once more, Fraser feels truly blessed to have formed the career she has, and appears grateful, if not a little shocked, that it’s all led to this moment. 

“I find it astonishing and humbling that I’ve been able to call music my home and vocation for 22 years now,” she says. “For any of you who have been on the journey with me for any or all parts of it – I sincerely thank you.” 

Tickets to Brooke Fraser’s Auckland show are available here. Watch her INTROS episode here

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