“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 (1981-1993); 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.”)
“You have to understand how few choices there were,” she explained to Billboard in 1993. “Most of the women worked where my mother did, in a sewing factory called Racke’s. And most of the men worked for BP, but my father was a tool grinder in a wood yard.” Music, then, was an escape. “My mother had been a drummer in a pipe band, and my father played accordion. There were hundreds of British pop records at home—The Beatles, Petula Clark, Lulu—and I got shanghaied into singing hymns at Beancross Primary School when I was six. It was wonderful growing up with music in the house, because there was so much tension just outside the door, like our Protestant segregation from Catholics.”
She soon 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 and underlying emotions and less on the words themselves; to let the singing inform their own subjective experiences.
Fraser had no proper vocal training prior to joining Cocteau Twins, though she studied for a time with the late Tona De Brett, a well-known vocal coach. Elizabeth’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, and often self-deprecating during her years with Cocteau Twins, Liz struggled to overcome stage fright and feelings of inadequacy that seemed incongruous with 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 many citing her as an inspiration. When asked who her own favorite singers were, several of these names came up, along with Judy Henske, Esther Ofarim, Frank Sinatra, and Tim Buckley, as well as his son, Jeff Buckley, who became an intimate friend in the 1990s prior to his death. Her (and Cocteau Twins’) other notable admirers have ranged far and wide, and include Madonna, Prince, Michael Jackson, Annie Lennox, and David Lynch, to name a few.
Since Cocteau Twins’ breakup in 1997, which was precipitated by her own decision to leave the band, she has continued to keep 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 Cocteau Twins’ would-be reunion in 2005, when they were slated to play the Coachella Festival. “When you’re in something that deeply,” she explained afterward, regarding her choice to pull out of the arrangement, “you have to remove yourself completely.”
Despite being out of the media spotlight, Elizabeth has enjoyed a fruitful solo career. She has appeared 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; a diverse range of 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 white label 12-inch “Underwater” (2000), and 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, Fraser has mostly done little with them, following her inspiration where it takes her instead of bowing to the pressures of the music business. This has, in later years, included traditional folk songs, which she has performed in unannounced club appearances; touring with Massive Attack; writing new music for television series scores and soundtracks; and occasionally collaborating with other artists. In 2020, Liz was a guest on folk musician and singer Sam Lee’s newest record, Old Wow, as well as on Icelandic artist Jónsi’s album Shiver.
In 2022 Fraser released a five-track EP (in collaboration with her long-time partner Damon Reece) on Partisan Records, entitled Sun’s Signature. The songs, which include a re-worked version of “Underwater,” were all previously performed live during her Meltdown Festival appearances.
In addition to her musical career, Liz has pursued formal studies in creative writing and poetry.
Fraser ended her intimate relationship with Robin Guthrie in 1993, and they have a daughter, Lucy Belle, who was born in 1989. Elizabeth now makes her home in Bristol, England, with Reece, and their daughter, Lily (b. 1998).
- Elizabeth Fraser releases second song from forthcoming EP. CocteauTwins.com. NEWS. 15 June 2022.
- Sun’s Signature (Elizabeth Fraser & Damon Reece) release another song from new EP. CocteauTwins.com. NEWS. 17-May 2022.
- Elizabeth Fraser Shares New Sun’s Signature Track, “Golden Air”. Evan Minsker. Pitchfork.com. 6-Apr 2022.
- Elizabeth Fraser announces new EP, “Sun’s Signature”, collaboration with Damon Reece. CocteauTwins.com. NEWS. 20-Feb 2022.
- Oneohtrix Point Never & Elizabeth Fraser: “Tales From the Trash Stratum”. Philip Sherburne. Pitchfork. 14-Sep 2021.
- “Cocteau Twins, 4AD, The Mary Chain & Other Stories — An Interview with Colin Wallace”. lostantiphony. Arcane Delights. 15-Dec 2020.
- “David Lynch talks This Mortal Coil in today’s weather report, announces benefit livestream”. Amanda Hatfield. Brooklyn Vegan. 25-Nov 2020.
- 12 songs featuring Elizabeth Fraser that aren’t by Cocteau Twins. Bill Pearis. Brooklyn Vegan. 22-Sep 2020.
- Liz Fraser sings on new Jónsi single ‘Cannibal’. 13-Aug 2020.
- “Sigur Rós’ Jónsi Announces Album, Shares Video for New Song”. Madison Bloom. Pitchfork. 24-Jun 2020.
- “Mercury-Prize Nominated Singer & Song Collector Sam Lee Releases New Single Feat. Cocteau Twins’ Elizabeth Fraser The Moon Shines Bright’”. Sam Lee. Chart Room Media. 05-Dec 2019.
- “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.
- “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.
- “English as a Second Language: A Salute to the Cocteau Twins’ Elizabeth Fraser”. Tim Anderson. The Nervous Breakdown. 27-Jan 2012.
- Review: Elizabeth Fraser Live at Royal Festival Hall. Alexis Petridis. The Guardian. 7-Aug 2012.
- “New Songs from the Siren”. David Sheppard. MOJO. Sep 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.
- “Cocteau Twins’ Elizabeth Fraser Pays Tribute to Fallen Echo & the Bunnymen Member on New EP”. Josiah Hughes. Exclaim. 14-Dec 2009.
- “The Cocteau Twins and Me”. Dave Simpson. The Guardian. 26-Nov 2009.
- “Songs from the Siren”. Mark C. O’Flaherty. Boyz. 11-Nov 1995.
- “The Demons Within”. Stephanie Young. Propaganda: Gothic Chronicle. April 1994.
- “Vocal Hero: Nina Simone”. Elizabeth Fraser. Melody Maker. Nov 1993.
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|
|“Yanka’s Song”||Massive Attack||Live/Unreleased||2013|
|“My Coloring Book”||Massive Attack||Live/Unreleased||2013|
|“She Moves Through the Fair,” “The Lover’s Ghost”||With Damon Reece||The Living and the Dead Television Series Soundtrack||2016|
|Soundtracks for “The Purple Pileus,” “The Moth,” “The Devotee of Art,” and “The Late Mr. Elvesham”||With Damon Reece||The Nightmare Worlds of H. G. Wells (Television Mini-series)||2016|
|“Moon Shines Bright”||Sam Lee||Old Wow||2020|
|“Tales from the Trash Stratum”||Oneohtrix Point Never||Magic Oneohtrix Point Never||2021|
|“Sun’s Signature”||Solo with Damon Reece||Sun’s Signature||2022|