Denver-based pop/rock band the Fray can be classified as an accident of sorts. In 2002 former schoolmates Isaac Slade and Joe King met up in a local music store unexpectedly and were soon jamming as a duo. The resulting musical chemistry proved anything but an accident, however, and King and Slade formed the Fray based on their shared love for emotionally rich, melodic songs. In an exclusive interview with GRAMMY.com, King and Slade discuss their musical influences, their current co-headlining tour with Kelly Clarkson, the themes addressed in their songwriting, and collaborating with producer Brendan O'Brien on their latest album, Scars & Stories, among other topics.
Rounded out by guitarist Dave Welsh and drummer Ben Wysocki, the Fray first cultivated a strong local following in Denver. They released a debut EP, Reason EP, in 2003 and were signed to Epic Records the following year. The band's full-length debut album, How To Save A Life, was released in 2005. The album peaked at No. 14 on the Billboard 200, catapulted by the Top 10 hits "How To Save The Life" and "Over My Head (Cable Car)," both of which earned the band GRAMMY nominations.
As evidence of the band's autobiographical approach to songwriting, Slade wrote the latter song about his then-estranged relationship with his brother, Caleb, who was part of the band for a short time.
"We love writing about anything that's 'in tension,'" says Slade. "Because happy stuff is kind of boring and sad stuff gets so heavy … the really interesting stuff to me is right at that edge."
As songwriters and music fans themselves, Slade and King subscribe to the healing power of music. King recalls how a certain GRAMMY-winning duo helped him through his recent divorce.
"There are songs that come and go and are pinpoints in your life that become the soundtrack at that moment," says King. "I remember two and a half years ago, I was going through a breaking relationship and very difficult time and I started listening to the Black Keys. I just started relating to the energy. …"
Released in 2009, the Fray's self-titled sophomore album hit No. 1 on the Billboard 200, spawning two more hit singles with "You Found Me" and the GRAMMY-nominated "Never Say Never." Though Slade recalls an anxiety-filled ride from New York to Los Angeles in anticipation of learning about the band's first GRAMMY nominations, the second time proved less nerve-wracking.
"The second [nomination, I found out when] I was in a drive-thru at Burger King and the drummer's wife told me," says Slade. "I ordered fries and a crispy chicken with extra mayo."
For 2012's Scars & Stories, the band collaborated with GRAMMY-winning producer O'Brien (Rage Against The Machine, Stone Temple Pilots, Pearl Jam), who "didn't let us overthink things," according to King. The album peaked at No. 4 on the Billboard 200 and features the hit "Heartbeat."
"The record is 12 songs [and] about 45 minutes of culture that we've released into the stratosphere," says Slade. "It took us three years to write the damn thing, which makes it about two and a half months a song. We're really proud of [the album]. It feels like a good representation of who we are and where we're at."
Physically, where the Fray are at these days is on tour. The quartet is currently sharing a co-headlining bill with GRAMMY winner Kelly Clarkson, with dates scheduled through September. "She's a sweetheart," says King. "We're all getting along and hanging out after shows. It's fun. We've never done a co-headline thing."
While Slade and King have established a unique chemistry as songwriters, they feel the Fray shine even brighter when they are onstage and sharing their songs with fans.
"I love stepping out on that stage and just being myself," says Slade. "The best moments that I've ever had onstage are always when all of us are sort of in our own element."