Brooke Fraser

After three albums of well-received folky acoustic guitar pop – which in her home country of New Zealand went multi-platinum – it seemed like Sony Music had made the right decision to sign Brooke Fraser to a multi-album deal as an 18-year-old straight out of high school.

Fraser’s previous album, 2010’s Flags, was led by a radio hit in the U.S., “Something in the Water,” a strum-athon with a steady kick drum beat. So, of course, it came naturally to the singer-songwriter to close that chapter of her career and exchange her bag of tools for something more electronic, with pulsing bass lines and flourishes of EDM.

“I kind of felt like I was ready to explore a new part of my sound, and I thought also that I kind of owed it to (fans) to do a little bit of an exploratory venture into some new musical territories,” Fraser said in a phone interview from Los Angeles, which she currently calls home, a day after her birthday last month. She performs Monday at the Independent.

Fraser, 31, did not know how her fourth album, last autumn’s Brutal Romantic (Vagrant), would end up. She knew she wanted to incorporate elements of electronica and dance, but she had no idea how much the act of uprooting her and her husband’s lives and moving to Sweden to write would influence the process.

“I initially thought that I would make an album that was still very much acoustic and organic, but with electronic and mechanical elements, but I suppose as the writing process went on, that kind of almost turned on its head,” she said.

Sweden was a destination picked almost at random. After finishing the tour for Flags in Europe, Fraser went home to Sydney (she’s had numerous addresses over the years) to write. Except that what had come easier previously was no longer working. Several months of work that was going nowhere were scrapped.

“So my husband and I packed our suitcases and went to the depths of the Scandinavian winter,” she said.

That is where the concept for Brutal Romantic came together. The album is best described as having two themes: The effect of social media and technology on our psychology, and a statement that, more or less, “life is hard, but is still worth living.”

She has found fascinating the changing impact of technology's influence on the way way artists and fans connect with each other, as well its effect on psychology as a society and the way that people approach relationships.

“And the other thing is something I suppose I always write about – about life and the wrestle of being human,” Fraser said. “I’ll probably write about that endlessly because I still find it a wonder.”

This theme is represented in the album’s cover: Two statues (both Fraser, captured with CGI) are frozen in an embrace or struggle.

“The pendulum swings between those two,” she said. “I think we exist in that state.”

Sweden, and the music being made there now, is largely responsible for Fraser’s new sonic direction, she conceded. She landed on Gotland, a Swedish island an hour’s flight from Stockholm in the Baltic Sea, where she worked with writer-producer Tobias Fröberg (whose credits include Peter, Bjorn and John, and Peter Gabriel).

“There’s a kind of approach that Scandinavians take to music that I really love, and I think that really comes through in what they do,” she said. “I think if a little bit of that sneaked onto Brutal Romantic, then I’m pretty happy about it.”

The other key contributors on the album were drummer Jason Cooper (The Cure) and producer/electronica musician David Kosten, who has worked with Bat For Lashes. The new philosophy shines brightest in “Kings and Queens,” with its club-ready beat, Lykke Li-esque slow burner “Psychosocial,” and ballad “Je Suis Pret.”

Since the album’s release, Fraser has worked for months trying to figure out how to perform the new songs in a live setting, and how to make them fit alongside the rest of her acoustic songbook. She resolved to rework and reinterpret some of the older material to fit the feel of Brutal Romantic. Mixed in with the acoustic instruments, there will be synths, samples and drum triggers.

“It’s been a big challenge, but really fun … to reinterpret and to come at those songs fresh,” Fraser said. “It’s definitely much more of a mash-up. We’ve worked really hard to get it to a place where it’s seamless and natural, rather than trying to put a square peg in a round hole.”

Follow writer Roman Gokhman at Twitter.com/RomiTheWriter and RomiTheWriter.Tumblr.com.

Brooke Fraser, with Dark Waves
Monday, Jan. 26
The Independent
8 p.m.
Tickets: $20
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