During the promotion of their self-titled album, things grew stagnant for The Fray. They were having success at radio with "Syndicate," "Never Say Never," and "You Found Me" but things surrounding that record in it's final stages weren't going as planned. As a result there was a changing of the guard with new management and a different attitude. That attitude spilled over into the creation of their album Scars & Stories, during which time the band enlisted help from a legendary producer.
"We love some of the records he’s made and Brendan O’Brien has made some of our favorites," said The Fray's frontman Isaac Slade. "This is the first time we’ve kind of worked backwards and found somebody that we wanted to incorporate into our creative process. We weren’t really sure what that was going to sound like. He brought a real momentum to the project that was different for us. We’re pretty methodically careful, lab coat-type musicians, and he’s all about the mystery of it all. He kind of flies by the seat of his pants; he goes a lot on instinct. He doesn’t write a lot of things down. He’s a ‘feel it out’ type of guy. It was great for us. It really threw us on our instincts to try something else and see where it leads."
It led to a new Fray record of course but working with O'Brien also set the band on the path of creating an album that stretched their sound just enough to be a different album from the band’s previous two. They needed to move forward with their trademark sound, but they needed to instill some new elements as well. They drew songs from a pool that included pieces that varied in age.
"There’s old songs and new," said Slade. There’s a song called “Be Still;” the last song of the record. I wrote that in 20 minutes right towards the end of the recording process. We recorded the demo and then we ended up putting that demo on the record. Then there’s a song called "Munich," that actually started while we were on tour for the second record when we were in Germany. We started that during a sound check one day. So, they all have different creation dates but they all kind of came together last summer when we recorded the album."
While talking about the two different extremes, in terms of the duration it takes to write songs, Slade had great analogies for both.
"The songs where it’s like catching lightening, they always have a little more mystery to them because I have no idea how they work. There’s another song off of the second record called “Happiness” that kind of came that same way. It’s kind of like FedEx from ‘address unknown.’"
"The songs that you work on for a long time you kind of have a love/hate relationship with. Like “You Found Me.” We worked on that song for years. It was too angry, then not angry enough, then it was this whiny, little bitter kid song. Then it kind of grew up while we were recording it. It was a two or three year process on that damn song but it’s also one of my favorite songs that we’ve ever written. It’s a love/hate thing with the songs that don’t come easy."
Regardless of when the songs were written, The Fray are celebrating having a third record and having more songs to implement into their live environment.
"We have enough material now that we don’t have enough to play some of the favorite songs," noted Slade. "So that’s new, there’s no grinding. Usually, we’re scraping the bottom of the barrel to come up with a 75-80 minute set. Now, we’re having these debates about how long a three record band is allowed to play. Some of us are pushing for 90 minutes, some of us are pushing for a tight 75. Regardless of how long the shows are, playing these songs will be a breath of fresh air."
Now to answer the age-old question, live performances or studio time? The answer is different for every band, and for The Fray it change from time to time and member to member.
"It’s a different side of the brain. It’s funny, at different times of our career people have asked all four of us together which we prefer better- the studio or the stage- and we’ve all said different things at different points. Right now the three of them are all about the studio they want to get back in and make a fourth record. I’m like ‘wait, we literally just finished this one can we just stop. I’m all about the stage at this point."
The Fray will be on tour through April. They’ll be playing two dates in their home state of Colorado at Red Rocks Amphitheatre on 5/11 and 5/12.