The Fray have made their mark. Since 2005 they've had songs do well on numerous charts, their music has been featured on TV and in movies, and they've traveled the world sharing their music with millions. You could even argue that they kick started the Denver music scene. Since The Fray broke through in 2005, dozens of bands have come out of the scene. They're not the biggest band of the decade, but they certainly hold a spot in music history, and that's an accomplishment. Recently talking with Alternative Addiction, frontman Isaac Slade talked some about the band's place in the landscape of music along with co-writing, and putting together their most recent album, the energetic Helios.
"We named it Helios to kind of capture that energy and the sunlight that the record represents," said Slade discussing the new album. "What we did differently to do that, I don't know. People have asked those questions for ten years now. I view it like a photographer. There are photographers that stage their pictures to make these big, epic shots. Then there are more documentary-type photographers that follow people around and take a bunch of black and white photos and choose the best ten. That's kind of how we write songs. We look around our life with whatever clarity we have at the moment and take a bunch of pictures. You look through those pictures when the record's due [laughs.] Then you fix them up a little bit, put a soundtrack to them, and whatever comes out is a rough picture of the lives that we're living at any given moment."
Maybe the reason why this record sounds more upbeat than previous records is because the band incorporated some co-writing, something they were hesitant to do previously. Because of the co-writing, the band didn't come up with as many ideas but they did come through with more finished songs than they ever had before.
"We've always defined songs pretty loosely. For the last record we had 100 songs but they weren't anywhere near finished. For this record we did some co-writing with professional song writers who actually finish songs, which is a different concept to us. For the first time ever, we had 35 finished songs that you could take out on the highway and see how they drive. They were completely done. It was an interesting process for us," added Slade.
The co-writing has been something that Isaac himself had always been hesitant to do and that opinion was shared by his band mates. With this record, Slade finally gave a little on his stance and opened himself up for those co-writes, that's partially because the band is happy with the music that they wrote themselves and built on with previous releases.
"From day one, everybody in the industry side pressured/encouraged us to write with the top taste makers of the moment. Whether that was 2004, 2008, or even in 2010. There's always been that pressure. For those first two records we were resistant to the idea. Part of the reason because there was so much pressure. But in an artistic/creative process sense. It just happened to take a while for us to find our voice and establish our 'sound.' I feel like that we've gotten the band to the point to where not everybody knows us, we're not the biggest band in the world by any stretch of the term, but when somebody hears us a lot of people will recognize the music as some kind of signature sound. That felt like the point in our career that writing with outside writers would be a benefit rather than a detriment. I was always afraid that writers would come in and stamp their style all over us, but now I feel that we can go into a room as peers."
"I wrote with a bunch of different people. So did Joe. A couple of guys that stand out in terms of experience and how many cuts on the record they got. busbee is an L.A. guy who bounces back and fourth between L.A. and Nashville. He's energetic, fearless, and not self conscience at all. Every song we wrote together there would be a point where we would get stuck and I'd freak out. He'd bring me back down and got things got back going. busbee was fun to write with, especially with the song "Give It Away." Another fun guy to write with was Matt Thiessen. He's really chill, laid back. He was the opposite of busbee. You hang out with Matt for a couple of hours and eventually you'll have a song. There are a bunch of songs that we wrote with Matt."
The album being brighter and more energetic, along with the co-writing, immediately makes this album a different record for The Fray. As for where it fits with the band in their catalogue, Slade says that's something that he's always thought about.
"We're not on record five and it seems like I've been thinking about record number five since 2004. I remember talking about it and asking that question and Dave would be the one to laugh at me and tell me to focus. I've always tried to discover whatever the themes are that runs through a box set, all of the U2 records, all of the Radiohead records. There's always a red string that runs through all of those records. Sometimes it strays, but it always comes back. You can tell when bands are fishing for hits. You don't get a sense of a grounded artistic voice, you get something appeasing. We always wanted to be kind of a grounded group of guys that stay true to our own sound. We want that thread to run through all of our records but there to be a different sound from album to album too."
Continuing that conflict of sound topic, we talked with Isaac about the one-hit wonders of the world. When The Fray were starting to make a splash in 2005 with their song "Over My Head (Cable Car)," the band had a companion with them that was rising the charts - Daniel Powter, and his song "Bad Day." Now, years later Powter never was able to capitalize on his success with his song while The Fray have been releasing hit singles and albums ever since. Slade talked about what it was like to come up in the music that the band did and how fortunate they are to last the decade that they have.
"I saw a Daniel Powter video probably three months ago. It reminded me of that time with Keane, Snow Patrol, and Howie Day when everybody was like, 'oh look you're a self-aware, emotional, sensitive, vulnerable lead singer with a piano!' We realized quickly, you don't have to look very far to figure out which artist had one or two records and which artist had thirty. The ones that lasted evolved, the ones who didn't, they didn't evolve. I think that we've always had that gauge on the dashboard. If we're not evolving and if we're not changing, then it's a sure sign of expiration. The levels to which you can evolve are the levels that your shelf life can extend and extend. It's a narrow pass with a huge drop off on either side that we've tried to walk.
"I think we've always just tried to be comfortable in our own skin. If there's been a formula to whatever longevity we've had, I think that's probably a key part of it. As far as how we feel about it, I literally feel like I went in to 7-11 and picked up a $2 scratcher and won a million dollars. I was working at a coffee shop, Joe was working at an auto body shop, and the other two guys were working at the same ice cream shop. Now we're somehow talking in my house, ten years later about my creative process. Nobody asked me about my creative process when I was a barista." [laughs]