Frazer's Edge

Paula Frazer artfully crosses the country divide with Tarnation. As a solo artist, she sticks more to the shadows.

The glittering appeal of Mirador led to some soundtrack work for Frazer on films, including Break Up, Joy Ride, and Ridley Scott's 1997 Golden Rasberry Winner, G.I. Jane. (In the big scene where Demi Moore -- buff, bold and bald -- is accused of being a lesbian, Frazer's "Two Wrongs Don't Make Things Right" plays in the background.) Away from the silver screen, Frazer also helped out on projects with friends from the neighborhood: Ralph Carney (I Like You (a Lot)) and Dan the Automator from the Handsome Boy Modeling School. On "Sunshine," an Automator cut from Handsome Boy's 1999 release So, How's Your Girl? Frazer can be heard singing along to overdubs by Sean Lennon and -- mamma mía! -- Father Guido Sarducci. She's also lent her talents to tribute albums for both John Denver ("Leaving on a Jet Plane") and American Music Club's Mark Eitzel ("Hollywood 4-5-92"), as well as to two tracks on last year's Shanti Project AIDS fundraiser. In addition, Frazer appears on 1997's wildly successful Cornershop release, When I Was Born for the 7th Time. The Indo-British pop troupe originally wanted Nancy Sinatra, but through dumb luck and a good voice, Frazer ended up singing a duet with Tjinder Singh on "It's Good to Be on the Road Back Home."

"I just happened to be in London, and they needed a female vocalist," Frazer says. "I went in and did it, and they ended up choosing mine. Cornershop was huge in Europe. Of all the things I've ever been on, it did the best.

"I never got paid a cent for that," she adds with a hint of bitterness. "Not a penny. They didn't even pay for my taxi! But it was good publicity. I'd say a lot more people would know me from doing that than any Tarnation stuff. So hopefully it won't be too much of a problem to go to Europe just under my name instead of Tarnation."

Portrait of part of a lady: Paula Frazer.
Portrait of part of a lady: Paula Frazer.
Paula Frazer with Tarnation.
Paula Frazer with Tarnation.


8 p.m. Thursday, February 22
$7, all ages, 303-477-5977

Paula Frazer, with Tarantella and Sarina simoom
9:30 p.m. Saturday, February 24
Mercury Cafe, 2190 California Street
$5, 303-294-9281

Frazer will be interviewed from 4 to 5 p.m. Thursday, February 22, on KVCU-AM/1190

Bug Theatre, 3654 Navajo Street

Frazer has been across the Atlantic six times, and, like Jerry Lewis, she's big in France. With her new bandmates -- keyboardist Patrick Main (Oranger, Jolly and the Fade), bassist Jeff Palmer (Granfaloon Bus, Mommyheads) and drummer Jim Lindsay -- she's planning another visit to the U.K. next spring.

"We want to tour and play music as a living," she says. "It would be great to find an independent label that had enough money to do that without all the bad strings that are attached. You know, having to compromise your sound. That's probably too much to ask these days. There's really not that atmosphere in the record business."

4AD -- since absorbed by the artsy Beggar's Banquet -- honored the end of Frazer's contract but declined to resign her. Birdman Records, Frazer's new label (owned by Dave Katznelson, who worked with Cave, the Flaming Lips, Mudhoney and Shane MacGowan in the talent-development office of Reprise), is set to release Indoor Universe this April. Judging from the demo, the album should signify a radical departure from her country-and-Western efforts. This time Frazer is aiming for a more densely orchestrated sound -- one influenced by '60s pop like that of the Mamas and the Papas and Burt Bacharach, with some fun twists she'll blame on the bossa nova. "This Is a Song," for example, recalls the breezy feel of the Beatles' "You've Got to Hide Your Love Away," and "Not So Bad, Not So Good" features bittersweet girl-group harmonies and what painter Bob Ross might call a "happy little clarinet." But "We Met by the Love Lies Bleeding" whisks away any cheerfulness with a sombre-sounding acoustic slow dance, one in which the narrator literally bursts into flames, cools to ashes and is scattered by the wind under the moon and stars. Roll over, Sylvia Plath.

As doomed romantics tend to flock together, it's hardly a surprise that Frazer has become a collaborator with local rock heroes the Czars -- admittedly, huge Tarnation fans -- who first sought out her talents in 1998. "I got a phone call from Simon Raymonde in London asking if I would come out there to sing with them," Frazer explains. "I hadn't met them before that." Frazer's work for the ex-Cocteau Twin's Bella Union label found its way onto last year's exceptional Czars release, Before...But Longer. She's heard on "Val," the album's single, as well as "Get Used to It" and a gorgeous cover duet of "Leaving on Your Mind" with vocalist John Grant.

"She came out for a week, and we hit it off from the start," Czars bassist Chris Pearson recalls. "She's a very sweet person and a great singer-songwriter, and she really does have the spirit of Patsy Cline in her voice." So much, apparently, that the Czars have invited her back to help on their fourth ("more piano-based," as Pearson notes) album, which is currently under way and scheduled for release next July.

As far as comparisons go, Frazer could do a lot worse than being linked to the lady who fell to pieces. At least it's not "Judy Garland fronting the Velvet Underground." Or "Roy Orbison's bastard orphan." Or "Yma Sumac on a hayride to hell." (The Czars get compared to Dead Can Dance and the Doors all the time, but do you hear them kvetchin' about it?) Supplanting "legends" has run the music industry ever since John the Baptist lost his head over Salome and sent A&R guys looking for the Next Big Thing.

Then again, it's every woman's right to be herself -- if only for an incarnation or two.

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