It's not easy being a Cocteau Twin

Elizabeth Fraser, Cocteau Twin, can talk about it now: about her break-up with fellow Twin Robin Guthrie, the father of her daughter; about going into therapy; about its effect on the band. And now she has a poetry habit. Ellie O'Sullivan lends an ear
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I'm waiting in the September Sounds Studio to interview the singer from the Cocteau Twins. I've been told she might be late, so I'm not expecting the slight figure that shuffles through the door. The singer is preoccupied. She has in hand a mighty tome - Sappho to Valery. She wants Nina, her PA, to photocopy sections on the French poet, whose name she admits she cannot pronounce.

While the Cocteau Twin flicks through her book I take in her large jumper, short hair, and ill-fitting trousers. The effect is oddly endearing.

Elizabeth Fraser, 32, and Robin Guthrie formed the Cocteau Twins 13 years ago, with Simon Raymonde joining a year later. Since then the band has woven seven albums out of an idiosyncratic sound once described as "avant-garde" but now deemed palatable enough to feature in Perrier ads. Fraser may have changed her approach - once, she rarely dallied with anything as mundane as English, preferring a vocal style more akin to speaking in tongues; now she operates within the confines of terrestrial vocabulary. But the aura of the Cocteau Twins still hinges on her richly textured vocals, which invoke both lullaby and madrigal. The band's two new EPs, Otherness and Twinlights (to be followed early next year by a new album, Milk and Kisses) do not disappoint.

How did she first meet Robin Guthrie?

"Robin was a DJ at a tacky night club and I used to go there on my own, dance on my own and leave on my own... " Fraser looks away. "Yeah, very poor social skills," she says. "I was going there for a year and at the end of that year everyone was very drunk and Robin and I started talking. He said, 'Have you ever tried singing, why don't you come along to a rehearsal?' And I didn't know what else to do at the time, so I did. But it felt really queer. And then we started going out together."

Why queer?

"Well, it completely filled my life.Overnight this was my role. But I wasn't convinced that I was any good. And the more I was asked questions about what I was doing, the more afraid I was."

How did she cope with the fear?

"I didn't. It came out in the lyrics, it came out in the performance. It still does, but it's where I learnt my social skills, where I do my experimenting for life."

The interviews given by the band in 1993 seemed to suggest life was sorted. Was it?

"We were all living a lie. The three of us were addicted to each other. Robin had his drugs and alcohol and I had Robin - and Simon too. And we were just so sick, with no sense of self. That was a very frightening time because I thought Robin was going to die. And I thought, if he dies, I'm going to die because I can't live without him."

There's a theory that we choose our partners for their likeness to a family member. Does she think this is true of herself?

"Robin is a father figure... But also he is like a perpetrator that I have from my past. And I only realised that about a year ago. Robin is a great guy and nothing like this other person at all - but physically, he is."

I ask her about her daughter, Lucy, born in 1989. It can't have been easy.

"I fooled myself into thinking that biologically it was time to have a baby. But really I was losing Robin and I thought it would save the relationship - which, of course, it didn't. It made everything worse.

"But Lucy was the catalyst for getting Robin into treatment. And as soon as he went into treatment I had nothing left but me. And so (laughing) I had a small breakdown. And I went into treatment... And I've had to go to things like parent groups. But I'm learning and Lucy knows that, and I love her."

And her present partner?

"Daman? He's like a call-girl. I don't know anybody like him... very mellow... But he also does things I'm very afraid of. He takes drugs, which would have freaked me after all those years with an addict and doing too many drugs myself. But I'm beginning to get more realistic. People can do it and not be addicted."

I tell her that none of her insecurities seem to manifest on stage.

"They have done," she assures me. "I was very worried about being unattractive because I think I look quite masculine. Sometimes I feel more masculine than feminine and I don't like it. I mean, you've got a person who is in recovery from incest surrounded by men. I've never had a highly developed sense of being female. The sexuality has either been stopped, or else it's been an exaggerated P J Harvey kind of sexuality. I want to enjoy everything. And I want to be able to wear make-up and not feel like a prostitute or a film star. I went into group therapy with all women a year ago and that's helped."

How does this affect her collaboration with Robin and Simon?

"Well, I come in mostly at the end when most of the music's on already. I'm struggling to leave my mark on it, 'cos it's pretty full by then. I think I should come into the process earlier, so that I've got something I can build on."

And what about her songwriting? Fraser is renowned for expressing herself in sound images, something she began to change on the 1993 album, Four Calender Cafe.

"There's a part of me that likes to fly and not be held down. And there's another part that wants to be anchored. And now I want my work to have both."

Perhaps the two can be viewed in terms of pre- and post-Oedipal consciousness... about separating, not separating.

"Well... maybe. See, I think I feel much less connected to Robin and Simon than perhaps I ought to - or to the world. And I'm starting to ask myself questions like, so what purpose does poetry serve? Which I can't answer. But I know I'm gasping when I don't go into that place, even though I'm not sure what's happening there."

So where to from here?

"I want to get better and take more risks. I need to sing with other people. I need to access parts of me that aren't being accessed in the Cocteau Twins. And I'm sure Robin and Simon feel the same." Is this Fraser serving notice on the Cocteau Twins?

Despite the dangerous waters she has had to swim, she seems to have come through in better shape than most. "Yeah, there's obviously somebody looking after me," she says, not convinced.

I'm not either. More likely it's her blind instinct that has taken her from disco to recording studio, out of madness into therapy, on to fame and Valery and... who knows?