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Zacho Fraser

Zacho Fraser

Interviewed by
Martyn Pepperell
Wednesday 11th September, 2013 9:14AM

Eight months ago, Zachary Fraser Baxter, a twenty year old singer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist from Devonport in Auckland started periodically slipping out singles on soundcloud and bandcamp under the alias Zacho Fraser. Folding together minimalist folk informed melodic music, barbershop quartet/gospel vocals and the experimental songwriter electronics associated with the likes of James Blake, he's found a gorgeous musical interzone between these influences. This week Baxter releases his first EP as Zacho Fraser. Martyn Pepperell caught up with him at a soda bar in central Wellington to talk about his background, influences and processes.

How did you start singing, playing instruments and recording music?

In year twelve [in high school] I joined the choir. I got introduced to barbershop music from through there, then I started singing in some quartets. I probably started guitar in year eight, just like every young rocker starts off, I guess? After that I got interested in piano, which would have been in year twelve and thirteen.

When you were younger, there were a lot of rock bands coming out of Devonport right?

Yeah. Like, The Checks, White Birds & Lemons and stuff like that. Everyone was pumping off that sort of vibe. Everybody wanted to be in a band. Everyone wanted to play and stuff. Musically, White Birds & Lemons would have been a pretty big influence with their more experimental sound.

What did you go through musically before you started your Zacho Fraser project?

I played in a band called Neeze and the Space Cadets. That was a hip-hop band, where I played drums and sung. One time in year twelve my friend came out and started rapping at a party. Everybody was like, "Yo! We should start a band." So we did that. That was cool, but it didn't reflect my musical personality very well.

When did you arrive at the idea of this Zacho Fraser stuff?

Last year. I wanted to release something that represented myself musically rather than just being a piece of a band. So I set about making an EP. The four songs on this EP are the first solo songs I've actually ever written. I've only ever written songs as part of bands before. I record with my friend Morgan Allen at Nomad Sound Store. I'll usually have only a couple of musical ideas, I won't really have it fully formulated. But then when I go into the studio with him, that is when the development happens. We play around a lot with reverbs and delays, then finish and polish up the sound.

You're talked about the songs on this EP as being an ongoing cycle with an overarching storyline. What made you want to come swinging out the gate with something conceptual like that?

I really like the idea of concept albums. I think it is really cool when people listen to an album properly, and take the time to understand an overarching story. It makes the album closer to an artwork, and less like a collection of songs. So that is why I was interested in the conceptual thing, both lyrically and instrumentally.

Walk us through the EP, in terms of what each song represents in the story?

'1Track/Helix' is metaphor for how human DNA gets more intricate and complex, but at the same time, minds do as well. Sometimes that can be bad, because you can over think things and get yourself into a space of mental frustration. The DNA helix is a metaphor for evolution.

'2Track/Material of My Own'
is on the same vibe. It more about trying to write things, it's about trying to capture feelings. It's based off the same theme of mental frustration, but more about trying to get things down onto paper. The dream-catcher metaphor is about trying to put what you're thinking into words, and understand what it happening to you and around you.

'3Track/Making Fiction'
is about the interpretation of events. The only way you can see things is through your own eyes. Parts of the lyrics are about misinterpreting everyday situations. There is no truth in anything, there is only interpretation.

'4Track/Spitting Bullets
' goes a little bit off the theme I suppose? It's about trying to be more self-aware, and realising how you come off to other people. It was more of a critique of myself than anything. I was thinking about what I say, how it is perceived, and how I come across as a person. Interpretation is a pretty big theme across the whole EP, because my lyrics are pretty ambiguous really. So interpretation plays a big part in the whole process, so when you listen to the music, the music is about that.

You have been representing yourself online with images of Charlie Chaplin. What is your relationship with Charlie Chaplin?

When I made '1Track/Helix' I couldn't think of a piece of part to put with it. I thought he was funny, so I put him on. He seems to represent the feeling of my music pretty well, all black and white, with his drained persona. In the photos I've got of him, he seems pretty disillusioned, which is similar to the music.

Yeah. He looks existentially exhausted.

I went pretty deep into that stuff for awhile, but I've tried to lay off, because you don't really get anywhere thinking about it.

What made you go down that particular wormhole?

My sister got really into existentialism when she was about fourteen. I followed the same path without realising she went through the same thing. In my family there is a tendency to head towards the big questions, and put a lot of thought into them. It's weird, cause nothing really set it off, I just got into it, much like my sister did.

Aesthetically speaking, your music folds together an interesting set of influences. Can you walk us through what is going on here?

I'm really into electronic musicians like Bonobo and Burial. I'm not a producer though, so the best I can do to have that sound is through using production techniques. I suppose that is why I have that experimental feel with the heavy use of delays and stuff. With the folk inspired bits, I think that is because when I come to the studio, I bring ideas that I originally wrote on my guitar. That is where that comes from, just be playing guitar. The church inspired vocals are definitely inspired from barbershop singing. I wanted to give it more of a sad feel. I really like choir and church harmonies because they have a powerful effect.

As part of all this process, you've work with a producer named Morgan Allen. How did your working relationship start with Morgan?

I played in a jazz band with him in school. I knew he had done a SAE course, so once I made it a goal to release some solo music, I just hit him up and asked him if we would like to work with me. He's not just producing, he actually has a big part in the writing as well. We both play music, so he helps with musical ideas as well.

On your soundcloud page, '2Track/Material of My Own has had over forty seven thousand plays, while the other songs on your page have only had a few thousand each. What happened here?

It's only really had lots of plays because Lorde shared it on her social media pages. She liked it, so she showed her fans. Since she is pretty famous, a lot of people listened to it. It was a pretty ridiculous feeling, I don't know how to explain it. If you've been playing music since you were a kid, you don't really hear of people you personally know getting that many plays. It seems pretty out there. So, when I got that many plays, it was really exciting. It was quite weird as well. I'm just a small time musician, you know? Just like ninety five percent of the other musicians, just making music at home, and hoping it will get heard. It was mean. I'm really really thankful for it, because it means that more people get to hear the music, and I got some really positive feedback from some people. That was real cool.

You've finished your first EP and released it, what comes next?

Musical plans for the future? I'm not really sure. I haven't gotten that far really.


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