Born: August 29, 1963 in Grangemouth, Scotland.
Liz is the vocalist and lyricist in Cocteau Twins, and co-founded the group in her hometown in 1981 with her long-time companion Robin Guthrie and their friend Will Heggie. At the time, she was all of 17 years-old, and had never really thought of herself as a singer. Robin and Will noticed her dancing at a club one night, and asked her to join their band.
Her unique vocal stylings and mysterious, indecipherable lyrics have generated much debate over the years, but she has often been circumspect on the matter when asked about it.
Now among the world’s most acclaimed singers, she parted ways professionally with Cocteau Twins in 1998 to pursue her solo ambitions. Liz has appeared as a guest-vocalist on numerous other recordings with other artists, has performed for film soundtracks, and was invited by Peter Gabriel to lend her spectacular voice to the UK’s “Milennium Dome Project” in 1999.
Liz has two daughters—Lucy and Lily—and makes her home in Bristol, England with her partner, musician Damon Reece.
Two sites are currently devoted to Liz, www.elizabethfraser.com and www.elizabethfraser.uni.cc.
Liz Fraser Photo Gallery
Who are some of Liz’s favorite singers? British music tabloid Melody Maker asked that very question of her in November 1993, and here’s what she had to say:
Nina Simone, Vocal Hero
“Robin was going ‘Björk! Björk! Choose Björk!” but I didn’t give in. I chose Nina Simone because she’s played such a big part of my life recently. Lawrence from Felt made me a tape with ‘Nuff Said on one side and Baltimore on the other. I thought it was brilliant then. But now…I’ve developed much more, both a singer and in my own life.
“Nina Simone…she’s, she’s just done so much. I don’t know much about her life but that doesn’t bother me, because I’ve learnt so much about her through her material. She’s so vulnerable. And I can really relate to that. A lot of her songs are about being fallible. She’s a really dysfunctional person. And dysfunctional people are attracted to each other. I guess that’s why I am attracted to her. We both had a rough life. She’s familiar.
“I adore her versions of ‘Don’t let me be misunderstood’ and ‘Four Women’. Perhaps because I’m having a sad day. And so my favorite song is Nina Simone’s version of ‘Wild is the Wind.’ And I’ll probably play it quite a lot today. Especially the live version; this live version I’ve got is just fucking, I don’t know, I just haven’t got the vocabulary. I mostly listen to Nina Simone when I am feeling really raw. The more raw i feel, the more I relate to her.
“And when she sings, when she performs, she tends to get very caught up in what’s she’s singing about. When you listen to Nina Simone, she’s so vulnerable. And because you’re implicated in her plight, you automatically share it. I don’t really do that with people. And I want to do that, and so I guess I am using her with which to do that.
“I’d like to talk about Nina Simone’s sexuality, but I am very much out of my depth there. In fact, I think Nina Simone is going to be a way of finding out more about my sexuality, and how I fit in with other women, you know, in my world. I don’t know what kind of impact I’ve had in it. Or what kind of impact it’s had on me. But I know I get a lot of help from the experiences she sings about.
“These days, I try and communicate as well as I can through singing. Even when I am not using words, people can understand what lies beneath it. Making lyrics more audible on this album [Four-Calendar Café] was more for my benefit. To bring me closer to myself. I have to summon up a lot of courage to make records. That’s why we don’t release albums very often. I lack the courage to be more prolific. I am a perfectionist, too. That doesn’t help.
“My duets? I did ‘Candleland’ with Ian Mcculloch and ‘Primitive Painters’ with Felt. I would like to sing with everybody. ‘Primitive Painters’ came about because I knew Lawrence. I fucking think it’s…oh God! I was so young! You see, I want to get to the stage where I can really take responsibility for what I’ve done. I ought to be proud of that? Well…but I’m not! You see, I just want it all. I want to be at my most mature at any one time, rather than in the next God knows how many years.
“Someone said they could get me a duet with Van Morrison. He’s an odd bugger, through! I’d be terrified of him, even though he’s probably a teddy bear really! I’d love to sing with Jeff Buckley—Tim Buckley’s son. He is currently making his first album, and if it’s anything like a radio session I heard by him, it should be amazing. He’s written this song called ‘Grace’, which literally makes the hair on my neck stand on end. I was sweating like a fucking June bride when I first heard him. Music has never done that to me before.
“There are so many good singers about at the moment. So much good stuff out there. I love Joni Mitchell, Billie Holliday, Van Morrison, David Bowie, John Lydon, Sinatra, Tim Buckley, Bryan Ferry, loads of people! I also love ‘Creep’ by Radiohead. That guy sounds amazing! He’s really working out his anger. I really want to meet that guy and tell him to get a grip!
“Oh, and Kate Bush, too. I love her. The new album [The Red Shoes]—I’ve been overdosing on it. She’s just got a touch with this part of her that’s really kicking in, to do with her being female. This really organic thing, you know…she’s making a lot of noise, which is something else I like.
“Polly Harvey? She scares me. She goes on about sex a lot, which is another subject I don’t particulary want to tackle. It’s great that she’s allowed to do it, though. That she’s allowed to express herself. Harriet Wheeler’s excellent, too. I think she’s a great singer. I know she gets compared to me a lot, but she’s definitely got something of her own. I’ve been compared a lot to Siouxsie, and I am sure it must be there even though I can’t quite see it myself.
“Have I noticed the similarity between Cocteau Twins and Thieves? Well, I’ve heard ‘Unworthy’. Robin brought it into the studio and played it to us. It’s a gorgeous melody.
“Yeah. All in all, I’d say there’s a lot of competition about. And that’s great for all of us.”
A few years later, in Mojo magazine, Liz had this to say about singing, her voice and other vocal influences:
“I enjoy singers like Neil Tennant [of Pet Shop Boys] and John Lydon [Sex Pistols, PiL], and there are plenty of great rap artists, so being a great singer isn’t necessarily how broad your range is. It’s more how singers let every part of their personality come out. Like Tim Buckley, who was good at just letting go—he’d sometimes make the most primeval noises. Nina Simone is emotionally all over the place, warts and all. The singers I like best are unafraid—they’ve taken risks their whole careers and chosen to be true to themselves rather than just be successful. People tell me I had a voice at primary school, but it took me years to truly believe it. For ages I treated it as a transient thing—but i must have taken it seriously because I stayed in the Cocteau Twins. The more records we made, the more I started to accept it and enjoy it. Working with different people has given me the opportunity to discover more, and stretch myself, because I’m still not very confident.
“Singing in the studio? Really sexy! And scary. I usually write in the studio so it’s totally spontaneous, and very exciting because I don’t know what’s going to happen next. I feel like I’m reaching out, in the same way that people do when they enter a room full of strangers. You try and open up and look for similarities so you can connect, but without giving up your identity. And it’s a challenge every time, because you could lie, or go through the motions, and some people will buy into that. so it’s a cross between joy and pain. The harder I work, the more honest I’m being, the bigger the pay-off, and I can give myself a break, because I did it properly!”
Fraser’s choice of top ten singers: Björk, Tim Buckley, Kate Bush, Judy Henske, Billie Holliday, Esther Ofarim, Edith Piaf, Nina Simone, Frank Sinatra, Les Voix Bulgares.
So far, only one “solo” work from Liz has emerged since the Cocteau Twins disbanded. This essentially unofficial, or “white label” release was entitled “Underwater,” and included trance mixes of the title song. Although Liz had been reported to have signed a recording contract with Blanco y Negro, there is no official word yet on whether this will ever evolve into a full-length record. Stay tuned…
Liz has worked with a number of musicians over the years on special projects or as a guest vocalist with other groups. This list is in chronological order from earliest to most recent.
This Mortal Coil, 16 Days/Gathering Dust: “16 Days”
This Mortal Coil, It’ll End In Tears: “Song to the Siren” and “Another Day”
The Wolfgang Press, Scarecrow: “Respect”
Dif Juz, Extractions: “Love Insane”
The Wolfgang Press, Standing Up Straight: “I Am the Crime”
Felt, Ignite the Seven Cannons: “Primitive Painters”
Ian McCulloch, Candleland: “Candleland”
Ian McCulloch, Mysterio: “Heaven’s Gate”
Peace Together: “Be Still”
Fuel, Timeless EP: “Butterfly Knife”
The Future Sound of London, Lifeforms: “Paths 1-7”
Medicine, Sounds of Medicine: “Time Baby 3”
The Bathers, Sunpowder: “Danger in Love,” “The Dutch Venus,” “The Angel on Ruskin,” “The Night is Young”
Moose, Live a Little, Love a Lot: “Play God”
BOM, Roach: “Roach”
Spooky, Found Sound: “Hypo-Allergenic”
Simon Raymonde, Blame Someone Else: “Worship Me”
Massive Attack, Mezzanine: “Teardrop,” “Black Milk,” “Group Four”
Craig Armstrong, The Space Between Us: “This Love”
Peter Gabriel, OVO/The Milennium Dome Project: “Downside Up,” “Make Tomorrow”
Stop Me If You Think You’ve Heard This One Before… (compilation): “At Last I Am Free”
Shhh… (Audio exhibit at the Victoria & Albert Museum, London): “Expectant Mood”
Yann Tiersen, Les Retrouvailles: “Mary” and “Kala”
Liz has also been very involved with a few motion picture soundtracks beyond those for which the Cocteau Twins themselves contributed music.
The Winter Guest: “Take Me With You”
In Dreams: “Dream Baby”
Lord of the Rings, Fellowship of the Ring: “Lothlorien (featuring Gandalf’s Lament)”
Lord of the Rings, The Two Towers: “Isengard Unleashed”