Like a bit of quirk in your folk? Well with a title that goes, ‘Life is Magic, Where is my Rabbit?’, Fraser Ross’ new album will surely hold appeal. Not that Ross and his 04 bandmates play it for laughs, exploring afro-beats, electric-folk and singer/songwriter styles their album is as serious as it is smart and flowingly diverse. Megan Gnad talked with the Christchurch/Wellington folkster about his wide-ranging creativity.
Poetic folk musician Fraser Ross has previously released two long EPs /short albums, 2009’s ‘And Birds Do Sing’ in 2009 and ‘To Places’ in 2012. ‘Mongrels’, which definitely qualifies as an album, arrived in 2015. In March he released a single entitled Life is Magic, Here is my Rabbit, prefacing the August arrival of charming new album ‘Life is Magic, Where is my Rabbit?’
Though based in the Christchurch port of Lyttelton, the album was produced at Wellington’s Surgery Studios where it was recorded and mixed by Lee Prebble, mastered by Mike Gibson then released through collective label Home Alone Music.
Ross has built a name for himself touring throughout NZ, supporting bands such as The Phoenix Foundation, French for Rabbits, The Nudge, Newtown Rocksteady and Glass Vaults. This release is actually badged as being by ‘Fraser Ross and 04s’, and Ross says there’s nothing quite like being part of a band again.
The chemistry was instant when he teamed up with drummer Olivia Campion, bassist Jacqui Nyman and long-time friend Jeremy Desmond (playing lead guitar), who he also plays alongside in Newtown Rocksteady and Cumbia Blazera.
“The Wellington music scene is such a big Venn diagram of musicians,” Ross explains of the 04s’ formation. “Jeremy and I have been playing together for ages and I know what he sounds like. He has quite a distinctive guitar tone, iridescent, and very pure. I heard about Jacqui and had a jam with her and thought she was amazing, the chemistry was amazing, and then she got me onto playing with Olivia and it all felt good.”
All that happened about 18 months ago and Ross says their new music is rooted in the folk tradition but also introduces more “dancey stuff” and afro-beats.
“I like just playing and then seeing what they come up with. The songs have all been arranged by us as a band, which is what I want. I want it to be collaborative because that’s the joy of playing in a band.”
Alongside making music, Ross also works as a builder, poet and comedian – and has been described as ‘New Zealand’s best kept musical secret’. Much of his performance skill and talent was honed during a three-year stint living in Scotland where he found work playing covers and original material as a pub singer.
“They’re such storytellers and I think it gave me more tradition to my folk writing, I think,” he says of his Scottish experience. “I played a lot. It was great, and it did get me writing songs that would sound good in pubs. I also worked in a care home in a dementia ward singing old Scottish folk songs to people, it was quite an enriching experience.”
Following a three-week run at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival with a comedy show he wrote called ‘Another name for Thesaurus’ in 2015, he returned to NZ, and between musical projects has been rebuilding a house damaged in the Christchurch earthquakes.
Directed by Melbourne photographer Hamish Pattison, a video for the new album’s second track, In the Rain, takes the viewer on an epic journey through fog-covered Central Otago. Fraser Ross & 04s are touring locally (Pidgeon Bay, Kumeu, Queenstown etc) throughout September, and when we talk Ross is in the process of booking Australian dates.
“I’m hoping to get back to Scotland in 2019 and Europe, and my biggest dream would be to go to the States to play music.”