Wellington City Libraries

Te Matapihi Ki Te Ao Nui

Artists on Wellington Music: Alistair Fraser

We’ve been checking in with some local artists to get their thoughts on what makes the Wellington Music scene unique, and to get their take on some of their favourite Wellington sounds…

Here’s a recent RNZ National article on ‘Te Ao Marama’ at Wellington’s Museum of City and Sea, presented by Chamber Music NZ that Alistair was involved in, and here’s what he had to say on Wellington music:

‘Wellington’s geography and compact nature has a lot to do with its creative music output. Musicians living in close proximity to one another means that rehearsals and jams can happen without the transport hassles and so it means that musicians don’t have to be so ‘cut throat’ as they may have to be in larger cities. They can rehearse for free if they choose to and try out different ideas without having to worry too much if there will be a paying project that will come from the time invested. Coupled with musicians who have varied tastes, influences and some with musical training, it makes for a vibrant community with a massive creative output.
Some of my favourite Wellington produced albums include:
Chant Darling – Lawrence Arabia
City Chorus – Age Pryor…’

Also here is an earlier interview Alisrair was kind enough to do for us during New Zealand Music Month a while back….

In 2009 we talked to Wellington musician and taonga puoro craftsman (and librarian!) Al Fraser about The Woolshed Sessions project, the music industry, and advice for young musicians just starting out. Woolshed sessionsOriginally posted on our library blog, you can read our interview here again. Enjoy!

How did a collaborative project such as the ‘Woolshed Sessions’ come about?

Many of the Woolshed musicians had been having a very social winter, having potluck dinners and cosy get togethers that also involved having a wine or two and a sing song. We thought it was worth a crack recording some of the songs, and so Justin and Age sorted out a good venue, being a friend’s bach in East Takaka that they used to go to for holidays as teenagers.

What part did you play in the band?

On the album I play taonga puoro (Maori musical instruments), backing vocals, acoustic guitar and bass on two tunes (Peter had a gig so had to shoot off early from recording). When we play live that’s what I do too, minus the bass. I’m also going to start playing a bit more 12-string acoustic guitar at live gigs.

How difficult was recording a large ensemble in a ‘live’ setting?

Not too difficult. We had around 20 tracks going into an old Mac using ProTools on OS 9 which is quite an old but stable operating system. No crashes or freak-outs, which was great considering the age of the gear with the amount of simultaneous audio tracks. We recorded seated in a rough circle which allowed us to all see and hear one another acoustically. As we didn’t have individual monitoring, like headphones, we had to get a good sound balance in the room so we could all get a good idea of one another’s parts. When it came to Lee (Prebble) mixing the tunes, there was a lot of drums bleeding into the other microphones which would have made his job quite difficult, but he is a clever bugger and sorted it out good and proper. If we had been acoustically isolated it would have solved that problem, but would have detracted from the feel of the recordings I reckon. We really didn’t have the space to take baffles with us anyway!

Were the songs pre-composed or did they evolve during the recording process?

Both actually. Meaning, that a song that was pre-composed was partially developed, arranged and evolved during recording. It may have been the first time that some of the musicians had heard it, so the harmonies, bass lines, fiddly bits etc had to be developed on the spot. Some tunes were written down there, and of some were already written, sorted out and jammed on before we arrived. I think we aimed for 3 tunes each from Andy, Age and Jess. Andy and Age had an extra tune each and Justin had a tune too.

In today’s musical climate is being on an independent/self released label better than being on a major label?

Never been signed up to a major label so wouldn’t really know for sure. Independent seems good to me from what I have seen. You can keep exact tabs on what is going on and you don’t have a scary corporate breathing down your neck telling you what to play and where/when. But you have to have someone who will take the bull by the horns and manage the whole shebang, which is generally yourself. Downside of self-management is that some promoters don’t take you as seriously as if you had a manager. This can be remedied by going by a pseudonym when managing e.g.”Hi, its Bob Feltex here representing Alistair Fraser for a gig. Give him a gig. Show me the money. More money. Thanks”. Problem solved. I guess in a sentence, being independent gives you autocracy, whereas being aligned to a good label would give you contacts and industry experience.

What advice would you give young musicians just starting out?

Have fun practicing and learning your instrument(s) as much as possible and play with as many musicians in as many musical settings as you can. Also try to play with musicians who are more experienced, even if it is scary. Do any gigs you can. A gig is worth many rehearsals and a bad one even more!

Who would you cite as your biggest musical influence/influences?

Bill Cosby.

Do you have any future projects/new recordings in the works?

Mostly the same old, but my daughter, Ngaio and I are starting a project involving voice, guitar and beats. I suppose you could call it kind of avant-garde, with lots of high pitched grunting vocal techniques, random rhythms from whatever is lying around, and general experimentation with the acoustic environment at hand. She is the driving force with this project, I just sit back and play guitar. I’ve also been contributing to movie and documentary soundtracks with taonga puoro recently, so those should be out soon. Watch out for ‘Sound of Water’ being released later this year. It’s a beautiful NZ movie! A new album from Rosy Tin Teacaddy, ‘The Homeward Stretch’, has just been released and I am playing bass on that. It’s grouse.

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