[Aidan Fraser performs at M-PIRE music on 8 November. PHOTO: Supplied/Aidan Fraser]

Aidan Fraser is a rising indie artist from Johannesburg with an eye-catching, androgynous fashion sense. He got started making self-produced demos for YouTube in 2019, was handpicked for a collaboration with local star J’Something of Mi Casa in 2020, and has now been signed for a full album with the label, Just Music.

We sat down with Aidan after his performance and interview on the Expresso Show on 28 November. We chatted about his beginnings recording demos on his phone, winning the competition to collab with J’Something, and the tensions between his own songwriting style and the advice of his producers.

Shining through self-production

Aidan started writing music in 2017, posting the clips to Instagram. In 2019 he began uploading demo songs to YouTube for an EP titled Lonely Girls Break Your Heart. The songs were made entirely on his phone and recorded with an earphone microphone. Aidan was surprised by the positive response to the tracks considering he wasn’t supported by a label and shot the music videos with his cellphone.

Aidan Fraser
[Aidan Fraser on set for his ‘Strawberry, I Scream’ music video. PHOTO: Supplied/Aidan Fraser]

“It was amazing to see that people actually wanted to listen even if it wasn’t the best produced. But they could see [this artist] would do whatever he can just to make the music,” Aidan tells us.

The demos are still available on YouTube, but have been taken off of streaming services to spotlight his new professionally recorded singles, ‘Strawberry, I Scream’ and ‘Healing’. Aidan says he’s excited to re-record the entire EP, especially the title track ‘Lonely Girls Break Your Heart’.

“That song, for me, is one of my favourites. It deserves more than just the demo,” Aidan says.

Unexpected wins

In 2020, Aidan took a long shot that hit an unexpected bullseye. A friend pointed him to a competition being run by Mi Casa’s J-Something for a chance to feature on a collaboration track. Thinking that he would never end up winning, Aidan figured he might as well post a video and tag the competition. To his surprise, he received a DM from J’Something asking for his phone number.

“And then he phoned me and was like, ‘I already have a winner but I really like your voice.  Would you be keen on sharing the prize with Umzulu Phaqa?’ And I said, ‘Of course!’” Aidan tells us.

Aidan Fraser
[“I fell in love with singing when I was very young – I’ve pretty much always wanted to be a singer,” Aidan Fraser tells us. PHOTO: Supplied/Aidan Fraser]

This was all happening as the shadow of Covid-19 was closing doors and shuttering windows, so Aidan, unfortunately, was unable to go into the studio to record. “[However,] I was lucky enough to have my friend’s mic. I sang it in my room and sent them my raw vocals and they did the rest,” Aidan adds.

‘Wish You Were Here’ is an upbeat, dreamy number that’s greatly served by Umzulu Phaqa’s impeccable rhythm and Aidan’s drawn-out vocal attitude.

A round trip outside the comfort zone

Aidan’s journey to getting his own songs recorded began when his mother heard Dale Schnettler, drummer for Prime Circle and music producer, advertising his recording services on the radio under the name Studio 37b.

“Which is very weird because my lucky number is 37,” Aidan says. He ended up pitching his album to Dale and to Kelvin Alston, a well-known local musician who goes by Jack Atlantic.

The pair of producers saw potential in Aidan’s songs, but felt like they needed to be something bigger; that they might lack a bit of power. “They [could] see I have a voice and wanted to push me more, put me out of my comfort zone, I guess. Because pop is very out of my comfort zone,” Aidan laughs.

Aidan says his usual sound has more of an indie, soft rock style, which makes sense when listening to his acoustic-guitar-led demo tracks from 2020. Aidan’s two professionally recorded singles released so far, ‘Strawberry, I Scream’ and ‘Healing’, both morphed from sadder songs into faster tracks with a bright soundscape.

‘Strawberry, I Scream’ is a very danceable track that lets Aidan’s voice float on top of the liquid guitar and sparkly keys. ‘Healing’ sneaks in some interesting synth sounds, but the steady pace feels like it doesn’t give Aidan quite enough space to breathe during its four-minute runtime.

Aidan Fraser
[I would love to make more music videos, but I’m not sure for which songs,” Aidan Fraser tells us. PHOTO: Supplied/Aidan Fraser]

While he is happy with how his first singles turned out, Aidan says they weren’t exactly how he wanted them to sound. He is now also working with Matthew Fink as his producer, and Aidan says he has been able to exercise more control over the direction of his music. 

“Before, it was almost like – how do we make you a radio star? Being on radio, don’t get me wrong, is amazing. But that’s not my goal, you know?” Aidan tells us. “[Fink] is very collaborative. He wants to listen; he wants the artist to have the last say,” Aidan adds.

Eccentric sets and label success

The music video for ‘Strawberry, I Scream’ is a visual feast that bounces between Aidan performing in several tight, colourful sets. Aidan finds himself sitting in a bright yellow bathtub in an all-yellow room filled wall-to-wall with shelves carrying plastic ducks. We then see him lounging in a pastel-pink LEGO throne, or singing into a retro-style microphone in front of a wall of audio tapes.

The eccentric sets were courtesy of content creation studio DreamBox in Johannesburg, which offers interesting backdrops and environments for taking photos and recording videos. “It was a lot of fun, even if we only had 2 hours to film. I enjoyed every moment,” Aidan tells us.

While Aidan had only approached Studio 37b with the intention of recording one or two songs, he ended up doing ten in total. Aidan says he’s still re-singing and mastering some of the tracks, but that the album was enough to get him picked up by the Just Music label. Just Music is a South African record company that also hosts names such as The Black Cat Bones, Ethyl Ether, and We Kill Cowboys.

Aidan Fraserwe
[Aidan Fraser hopes to get the chance to do a lot more live shows in the new year. PHOTO: Supplied/Aidan Fraser]

There is currently no exact release date, but Aidan is eager to get his debut album out at the beginning of 2023. “It’s a cool album. It’s more pop but still has my authenticity in it I think. I’m not just singing over a pop track – I’m trying to make it my own,” Aidan tells us.

While Aidan is technically doing music full time now, he’s not getting paid just yet, and says he’s grateful to be able to still live with his parents for now. But he really wants to move to Cape Town and find work, as well as pursue more live performance opportunities. Aidan’s last live show was on 8 November at M-PIRE Music in Woodstock.

Only the start of the dream

Aidan would love for his music to reach people who feel like they haven’t yet found their own voice, or feel like they’ve gone unheard. “I want people to listen and be like, wow, I actually feel like I’m being understood for the first time,” Aidan says.

Despite his modest following, Aidan’s move from producing compelling tracks using just his cellphone to the professional recording has opened some people’s eyes to what is possible. Still in the middle of fulfilling his own childhood dream of becoming a singer, Aidan tells us he’s been touched by messages from fans telling him how much he has inspired them to pursue music themselves. “And I’m like, me? I’m nobody, how did I inspire you?” Aidan says, smiling.

We’re excited to see how his full debut album balances the more sugary sound of the singles with the slower indie songwriting of his older demo tracks. Aidan is clearly in his element when things get more emotional, and his vocals have the time to be patient and reflective, as in his performance of ‘Cigarette Break’ on the Expresso Show.

We look forward to seeing more of what Aidan can do when he’s on musical home ground. He doesn’t have any gigs locked in at the moment, but you can stream his music on all major platforms.

Author

​​I write about the tech sector in hopes we can find human-centred alternatives to the mess we’ve made for ourselves. I get involved in the music scene because leaving passion unpursued is a sin. When my feet aren’t busy on the sokkie floor, you can find me chasing silver linings.

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