“I gained so much from [inventing language]. I didn’t expect it to be such a fulfilling experience, at first it was an avoidance tactic. More than that. But I must have given myself permission along the way that I was really gonna go for it and not worry about people’s opinions.”
- Full name: Elizabeth Davidson Fraser
- Role: Voice, lyrics, miscellaneous instrumentation
- Birth date: 29 August, 1963
- Birthplace: Grangemouth, Scotland
- Residence: Bristol, England
- Partner(s): Robin Guthrie (1981-1994); Damon Reece (1997- )
- Children: Lucy-Belle Guthrie (b. 1989); Lily Reece (b. 1998)
Elizabeth Fraser was the vocalist and lyricist in Cocteau Twins. Her shy nature and diminutive stature belied her powerful, often towering voice. Her sweet, occasionally profane, punk-inflected disposition and laugh-laden conversations gave little indication of her commanding presence on stage and confidence on camera. Like Robin Guthrie and erstwhile member Will Heggie, Fraser was born and raised in Grangemouth, Scotland, one of six children. An alienated teenager who loved the Sex Pistols, The Birthday Party, and Siouxie and the Banshees, she was the third member to join the original lineup with Robin Guthrie and Will Heggie in the early 1980s after they saw her dancing at a local disco and thought perhaps she could sing. (In an interview in 1983, a 19-year old Liz said, “They wanted to get a band started, and I don’t know what made me think of going with them, but I started working with them. Actually I always wanted to be a waitress.”)
She eventually became romantically involved with Guthrie. With him, she formed the core of the group for several years, which saw the departure of Heggie and the addition of Simon Raymonde. Her distinctive vocal style, arrangements, titles, and mysterious, often impenetrable lyrics—she is a self-proclaimed logophile—have been the source of much admiration and debate. She has been generally circumspect on the matter of lyrics when asked about it, encouraging fans to focus on the sound, emotion, and their own subjective experience, and less on the words themselves.
Largely untrained, at least in the earlier part of her career, Liz’s unique use of her dynamic vocal range has made her one of the world’s most respected and beloved contemporary singers and vocal arrangers. Reclusive, insecure, self-deprecating (at least during her years with Cocteau Twins), and a survivor, Liz struggled throughout her career to overcome stage fright and feelings of inadequacy that belied her work ethic and meticulous approach to her craft.
Liz is often compared to Edith Piaf, Billie Holliday, Nina Simone, and Les Voix Bulgares—all of whom have influenced her own work—as well as more contemporary singers, including Kate Bush, Björk, Sinéad O’Connor, Tracey Thorne, Sarah Cracknell, Harriet Wheeler, Toni Halliday, Alison Goldfrapp, and Jónsi, with several of these citing her as an inspiration. When asked who her own favorite singers were, several of these names came up, along with Tim Buckley, his son Jeff Buckley—with whom Elizabeth was intimate friends in the 1990s prior to his death—Judy Henske, Esther Ofarim, and Frank Sinatra. Her (and Cocteau Twins’) other notable admirers have ranged far and wide, and include Madonna, Prince, Michael Jackson, Annie Lenox, and David Lynch, to name a few.
Since Cocteau Twins’ breakup in 1997—precipitated by her own decision to leave the band—she has kept a low profile, rarely appearing in public or in the press. “They were my life,” she explained to The Guardian in 2009. “There’s still a sense of being committed, but we’re not committed. We’re that different from each other now. You take each other’s breath away by doing something or saying something they never saw coming.” Liz was the deciding factor behind the thwarted Cocteau Twins reunion in 2005, when they were slated to play the Coachella Festival. “They were my life. And when you’re in something that deeply, you have to remove yourself completely.”
Liz has enjoyed a fruitful solo career, appearing as a guest vocalist on a number of other artists’ records, most notably with Massive Attack and their breakthrough song “Teardrop,” written in the wake of Jeff Buckley’s death; film and television scores and soundtracks, such as “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy; and a smattering of releases and special appearances under her own name, including the single Moses (2009).
Although she has an album’s-worth of songs recorded, which were performed live at two sold-out concerts in August 2012 as part of the Meltdown Festival, she has no plans as yet to formally release them. Later years have seen her drawn to traditional folk songs, which she has performed in unannounced club appearances. She has continued to tour with Massive Attack and write new music for television series scores and soundtracks, and, in 2020, was a guest on folk musician and singer Sam Lee’s newest record. In addition to her musical career, Liz has in recent years studied creative writing and poetry.
She ended her intimate relationship with Robin Guthrie in 1993, and they have a daughter, Lucy Belle, who was born in 1989. Liz now lives in Bristol, England, with her partner, musician Damon Reece, and their daughter Lily.
- “Vocal Hero: Nina Simone”. Elizabeth Fraser. Melody Maker. Nov 1993.
- “The Demons Within”. Stephanie Young. Propaganda: Gothic Chronicle. April 1994.
- “Songs from the Siren”. Mark C. O’Flaherty. Boyz. 11-Nov 1995.
- “The Cocteau Twins and Me”. Dave Simpson. The Guardian. 26-Nov 2009.
- “New Songs from the Siren”. David Sheppard. MOJO. Sep 2012.
- “English as a Second Language: A Salute to the Cocteau Twins’ Elizabeth Fraser”. Tim Anderson. The Nervous Breakdown. 27-Jan 2012.
- “Cocteau Twins’ Elizabeth Fraser to perform at Meltdown festival”. Dave Simpson. The Guardian. 30-Apr 2012.
- “I’m so excited to have made this decision to perform”. Tim Adams. The Guardian. 23-Jun 2012.
- Review: Elizabeth Fraser Live at Royal Festival Hall. Alexis Petridis. The Guardian. 7-Aug 2012.
- “Some thoughts on the welcome return of Elizabeth Fraser”. Michael Bonner. Uncut. 21-Jan 2016.
- “Cocteau Twins’ Elizabeth Fraser Scores H.G. Wells Miniseries”. Evan Minsker. Pitchfork. 20-Jan 2016.
- “Cocteau Twins Singer Elizabeth Fraser Announces First Full-Length Music Project in 20 Years”. Gabi Gimson. Paste. 21-Jan 2016.
- “Cocteau Twins’ Elizabeth Fraser Contributes Song to BBC Drama”. Evan Minsker. Pitchfork. 27-Jun 2016.
- “Elizabeth Fraser and John Grant Talk Blue Bell Knoll”. Patrick Clarke. The Quietus. 26-Jul 2017.
- “John Grant and Elizabeth Fraser in Conversation at Royal Albert Hall”. Billy Campbell. Drowned in Sound. 10-Aug 2017.
Solo performances, guest appearances, and other collaborations
|“Sixteen Days”||This Mortal Coil||Sixteen Days/Gathering Dust||1983|
|“Song to the Siren,” “Another Day”||This Mortal Coil||It’ll End in Tears||1984|
|“Respect”||The Wolfgang Press||Scarecrow||1984|
|“Love Insane”||Dif Juz||Extractions||1985|
|“I Am the Crime”||The Wolfgang Press||Standing Up Straight||1986|
|“Primitive Painters”||Felt||Ignite the Seven Cannons||1986|
|“Heaven’s Gate”||Ian McCulloch||Mysterio||1992|
|“Be Still” (Cocteau Twins Mix)||Various Artists||Peace Together||1993|
|“Butterfly Knife”||Fuel (Hamish Mackintosh)||Timeless EP||1994|
|“Paths 1 - 7”||The Future Sound of London||Lifeforms||1994|
|“Time Baby 3”||Medicine||Sounds of Medicine / The Crow Motion Picture Soundtrack||1994|
|“All Flowers in Time (Bend Towards the Sun)”||Jeff Buckley||Unreleased Demo||1994|
|“Danger in Love,” “The Dutch Venus,” “The Angel on Ruskin,” “The Night is Young”||The Bathers||Sunpowder||1995|
|“Play God”||Moose||Live a Little, Love a Lot||1995|
|“Take Me With You”||Michael Kamen||The Winter Guest Motion Picture Soundtrack||1997|
|“Worship Me”||Simon Raymonde||Blame Someone Else||1998|
|“Teardrop,” “Black Milk,” “Group Four”||Massive Attack||Mezzanine||1998|
|“This Love”||Craig Armstrong||The Space Between Us||1998|
|“Dream Baby”||Elliot Goldenthal||In Dreams Motion Picture Soundtrack||1999|
|“Downside Up,” “Make Tomorrow”||Peter Gabriel & Various Artists||OvO: The Milennium Dome Project||1999|
|“Lothlorien (featuring Gandalf’s Lament)”||Howard Shore||The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring Motion Picture Soundtrack||2001|
|“Isengard Unleashed”||Howard Shore||The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers Motion Picture Soundtrack||2002|
|“At Last I Am Free”||Solo with Various Artists||Stop Me If You Think You’ve Heard This One Before…||2003|
|“Expectant Mood”||Solo with Various Artists for Victoria & Albert Museum||Shhh…||2004|
|“Mary,” “Kala”||Yann Tiersen||Les Retrouvailles||2005|
|“Silent Spring”||Massive Attack||Collected||2006|
|“She Moves Through the Fair,” “The Lover’s Ghost”||With Damon Reece||The Living and the Dead Television Series Soundtrack||2016|
|“Moon Shines Bright”||Sam Lee||Old Wow||2020|