A CHAT WITH: ANDY FRASER
aaamusic | On 14, Jul 2013
Andy Fraser, English songwriter and bass guitarist, has had a music career for forty years. He was one of the founding members of the rock band Free and produced and co-wrote the song ‘All Right Now’ with Paul Rodgers. It became a number 1 hit in 20 countries. AAAmusic interviewer Anthony Weightman chatted to him at the beginning of his new UK tour.
Anthony Weightman: I know you love the Californian climate, but how do you feel about the present British heatwave?
Andy Fraser: Very relieved. I was over here for three months last year and it rained every day. The only time it stopped was the half an hour we were on stage at the Isle Of Wight. The mud was everywhere. I thought ‘you buggers let me down again’ and then it suddenly changed. So, I’m happy.
Anthony Weightman: Could you tell me a bit about your new EP Beautiful out at the end of July? I’ve never come across a beautiful mermaid like the one in the video.
Andy Fraser: Yes, indeed. You’re talking to the proud Dad of that mermaid. Hannah my daughter. She’s probably the world’s foremost mermaid. She swims with whales, sharks and manta rays and has no fear. I don’t know how she does it. She slows down her heart rate in order to hold her breath longer. I’ve no idea how you do that. Swimming in a pod of whales plunging up from the depths. They were curious. Be aware of how fragile she was. She says it was like a spiritual experience. One shark took a bite of her tail, decided it didn’t taste very good and just went back to being curious. She remained cool in the head and we have some unbelievable footage. We’re going to make a complete movie called Tears Of A Mermaid and you can dial http://tearsofamermaid.com/ and see the trailer. The EP’s song ‘Beautiful’ is one of the more personal songs. This EP is more about looking outward, socially and politically. It’s about asking ‘what can I do for others now I’ve taken care of myself?’ The next song is about catastrophic climate change. I had my eyes opened to what was going on, such as oceans rising. I had about 7 verses that I had to whittle down to about 2.
Anthony Weightman: I know you started playing the piano at the age of five. Did you switch to the guitar because you felt that that was the instrument you might be particularly good at?
Andy Fraser: When I was five and demanded a piano, I made a deal with my mother to have lessons. When I switched I was old enough to say ‘hey this is like extra homework’. I was in a school band. Everyone else wanted to be the singer, the guitarist or the drummer. Anything but the bass player. Being ‘Mr Diplomat’ I became the bass player, which I’ve never really looked upon myself as. But I’ve actually found it quite easy to do.
Anthony Weightman: Many musicians who have a sudden and incredibly successful hit, like All Right Now, say there are genuine benefits. The financial worries become less. You’re able to travel the world. Doors which were previously closed are suddenly opened and you’re introduced to people that otherwise you’d never meet. Are there other advantages you’d like to add to this list?
Andy Fraser: There are plenty of advantages and disadvantages. There’s good and bad to everything. It gives you the freedom do what you love instead of waiting for the weekend to come around. You wake up wanting to go to work. Your material needs are taken care of. Then you can start reflecting on spiritual issues. All of those are good. But, there are negative sides. Celebrity is so shallow. People talk to the image of you and you feel somewhat alienated. Tobi here hasn’t become old, fat and beer bellied and tired of playing his hits. He’s young blood, fresh and ready to go.
Anthony Weightman: I know you’ve referred to your ‘place in the universe’ and the little specks that we are. It may be difficult to find humility in the music world but do you feel there’s a truth here that it’s tempting to try to avoid, that ultimately none of us are important in the vastness of the universe.
Andy Fraser: I’ve been to the place that’s so ‘speck’ that no amount of fortune, fame, family, friends, fancy cars, even doctors had any value any more.
Anthony Weightman: You’ve said that fame can be dangerous and that if lots of people tell you you’re great you can end up believing your own publicity. Do you think there’s a danger of misleading yourself in a way which is quite frightening?
Andy Fraser: It is very dangerous. I know the dangers. At this stage, I’m quite humbled. We just played the other day and people came from Russia and Germany. Someone’s coming from the States. So, when someone does that, it’s pretty humbling. A guy who was serving in Iraq told me that Naked And Finally Free was the soundtrack to the life of his troupe. It was constantly on. It gave them the spiritual courage to face another day.
Anthony Weightman: I think you’ve said that classic recordings sung with clarity and honesty can sound topical and fresh and that God has a hand in achieving this. Could you say a few words about your religious beliefs?
Andy Fraser: Well, I separate God from religion. God has always been here. Religion is relatively recent on this planet. Some of them are very recent. Most of them are running a scam. They want your money. They want power over you. They want to ‘bible bash’ you. Most people who say they don’t believe in God listen to what religions have to say and decide ‘that sounds crap to me’.
Anthony Weightman: I know you’ve had health problems, but quite often things aren’t nearly as bad as you could lead yourself to believe. You always seem to have a positive and optimistic attitude towards health. Am I right?
Andy Fraser: Generally I’m a very positive person, but there’s no denying that I was one step away from being gone. When you have aids and your viral load gets to 10,000 they put you on medication. Back then there weren’t decent medications. My viral load was 4.3 million. My doctors had never heard of this and they were ‘climbing the walls’ not knowing what to do. I was not feeling too hot. Luckily they caught it early, so I didn’t suffer as other people have. There was spinal surgery and pain every morning. I’ve come to appreciate just feeling normal, which is absolutely wonderful.
Anthony Weightman: In the past you’ve openly expressed your views on sexuality including being gay and coming out. Personally I’ve come across social situations where someone decides to come out to a group of old friends, expecting it to be a very dramatic moment, only to discover that their friends aren’t particularly interested. Do you think that sort experience illustrates how attitudes are becoming more tolerant and liberal?
Andy Fraser: Definitely they are becoming more tolerant. Even for me the fear of coming out was much worse than the actual coming out. In the end, nobody really cared. From a reporters point of view, they would much rather catch you in a lie. It’s news to catch someone in a lie. I felt I was living a lie. It actually had me paralysed. When you go on stage you need to be comfortable in your own skin. Be able to stand naked. Unless you can do that, you’re going to clam up and an audience can smell that a mile away. So, I feel completely unburdened. My life is an open book now. I can’t believe myself. 61 years old and I’m skipping around.
Anthony Weightman: You’ve called Jimi Hendrix probably the ‘best guitarist of all time’. Jeff Beck once saw him at a London party without his guitar and he looked awkward in not knowing what to do with his hands. If you’re clearly lonely without your guitar, do you think that degree of commitment to the instrument really helps?
Andy Fraser: That’s a very interesting question. We all have many moods. Maybe it was the particular mood he was in that night. I love Hendrix sense freedom and loose rhythm. He was such a natural. He found a way of just letting go.
Anthony Weightman: It’s strange to talk about Xmas in July, but you say you don’t like Xmas songs. It’s wonderful to see a young child on Xmas Day saying how excited they are, but do you think it’s difficult to find things about Xmas which are genuinely charming?
Andy Fraser: It’s not that I don’t like Xmas. It just that 95% of Xmas songs sound like they’ve put aside their integrity for Xmas cash. Even artists I’ve a great respect for. It’s more skill than actual heartfelt sincerity. There are a few that have magic. I was quite surprised when I wrote one. It sort of wrote itself. Take Me Home For Xmas about soldiers off in battle in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Anthony Weightman: You’ve said it’s important not to dwell on the past. To move forward creatively. To seek new experiences and be adventurous. Does that continue to be your philosophy?
Andy Fraser: Absolutely. I want to live in the present looking towards the horizon. The thought of playing 40 year old songs, like I’m a cover artist of my own material, is just scary. It’s like living in a past decade. I have to make concessions because I think I would be in physical danger if I left some stages without playing All Right Now, but I quickly move on to the present. This tour my main purpose is to showcase Tobi, our first sign in to the McTrax label. I’m thrilled with this total winner. He recorded his first album in three weeks. The growth I saw in him was unbelievable. I’ve played with some of the best guitarists in the world. I can now include Tobi in that. We’re off to a really good start. It’s great to have fresh young blood. It keeps me young. Come out and hear us on the tour. I’m really excited about what’s happening.
Author: Anthony Weightman