The Fray Shine A Different Light On Helios
The Fray have reentered the musical fray with their fourth studio album, Helios, which was released on Feb. 25. Featuring 11 tracks, the album follows 2012's Scars & Stories, a set that was produced by GRAMMY winner Brendan O'Brien (AC/DC, Pearl Jam, Bruce Springsteen).
On this new collection, the tuneful pop/rock architects of GRAMMY-nominated songs such as "How To Save A Life" and "Over My Head (Cable Car)" showcase a more upbeat side. Working this time around with GRAMMY-winning producer Stuart Price (Madonna, Kylie Minogue, New Order), who is also a DJ, the Denver-based band — comprising Joe King (rhythm guitar), Isaac Slade (lead vocals, piano), Dave Welsh (lead guitar), and Ben Wysocki (drums) — explore more soulful grooves designed to not only make you sing along, but move along. Case in point, the album's lead single, "Love Don't Die," which was co-written with GRAMMY winner Ryan Tedder of OneRepublic fame.
GRAMMY.com spoke with frontman Slade about how the group benefited from collaborating with a new producer, how he learned about previous GRAMMY nominations and the '70s rock bands he'd most want to perform with, among other topics.
The Fray played at Twist & Shout this past Saturday, right?
Yeah, it's one of our favorite record stores actually. They've been in town for 25 years, something like that. It's kind of the best place to get vinyl [in Denver]. We've done stuff there before for our records coming out.
What are your last three great vinyl finds?
I bought De La Soul 3 Feet [High] And Rising, original, that was wicked. My wife was pregnant and that was the first record we played for our baby in utero. I made her sit down and I was like, "We'll play De La Soul." J Dilla, The Lost Scrolls [Vol. 1] ... and then just because I want to be totally honest, a buddy of mine asked me for an autographed vinyl, so I had to scour eBay to buy my second record.
What made you switch from working with Brendan O'Brien on the last album to working with Stuart Price on Helios?
We wanted to find somebody [who] would really jump into each one of our four little cubicles around the office with us and then figure out how to push the boundaries. We really learned what each of us have done in the past and then figured out how to make each of us do more than we've ever done before. Lyrically, I have a pretty set process of how I write and he would just flip it on its head and ask me to do it faster or slower or backwards or something. And then for vocal takes I usually sing 30 takes or something per song and I would sing three and Stuart would say, "I think we got it. You can do it again if you want." So I would keep that take and listen to it and it just felt so much more alive and fresh. He did that for each one of us.
Working with Price, what were the things you learned making Helios?
Probably the biggest thing I learned from Stuart and his perspective, coming from the EDM world, was [to] try to make music that moves people's bodies instead of just people's emotions. And he comes from that whole school of thought; it doesn’t matter what the lyric is or if it's a Pulitzer Prize-winning poem, if it doesn't make you move it's not worth much. That's probably the biggest difference for me on this record, he really pushed us.
When you think about playing this album live are there tracks you are particularly excited to play?
Yeah, there's a song called "Hurricane" that we've started playing probably three months ago and it is just electric when we rip into that one. It's great, it's a whole different feel and it's funny because if you get a single out and it gets all this radio play it's kind of cheating, you don't get to see what the song's reaction is [live], it's like radio reaction. When you play a song for the first time and nobody's heard it before, then they light up you know you have something. We've gotten to see that with "Hurricane" and another song called "Hold My Hand," both of those have just been crazy live. And then "Love Don't Die," [which] we started playing in November or December.
Are there older songs you're more excited to do now to see how they match up with the new material?
There are some old songs that we've tried to bust out and they feel like old Member's Only jackets that don't fit anymore and we don't shelve them, but we don't play them as often. The new ones feel so different from those old ones and they kind of begin to set the bar for these new live shows and these old ones that fit really well. And, surprisingly, it's songs like "How To Save A Life" or "Over My Head [(Cable Car)]." I'm so stoked those songs are still holding up and still feel relevant to the crowd.
You've had four past GRAMMY nominations. Is there one nomination that means the most to you?
[A] GRAMMY is the top for us and we've been nominated four times. It's just fantastic. I remember the first time we heard we were nominated I was in some airplane, we took off from New York to Denver, we landed and my phone started blowing up, all these texts started coming in and it was electric, man. I remember thinking you don't do it for the award, hopefully you do it for your own self-expression and connecting and giving something to people, but when those nominations and awards come it's pretty great. It's confirmation that you're onto something that the public is connecting with as well. Those first two nominations were great. The second two were great also; I was in line at a drive-through at a burger joint, probably getting a milkshake, and the drummer's wife called and said, "Congratulations, you got nominated again." I'm like, "What? You gotta be kidding." That was a fun one.
Who would be the dream band for you to perform with at the GRAMMYs?
I'm all over the map so I'm not sure, I'd have to come up with a combo. From the last five years I'd probably campaign pretty hard to sing something with Adele because I think her voice is the stuff of legend. As far as bands go I've been listening to a lot of Eagles lately. For all the great rock that's out there with tons of distortions and drum kits the Eagles didn't have anything to prove, they just got up and did their thing, the same with Fleetwood Mac. A lot of '70s rock kind of gets me going. So if Fleetwood Mac calls me to jump up onstage with them I'd do that in a heartbeat.
What Fleetwood Mac song would you want to sing with them?
Fast-forward to later this year. Should the group receive a nomination for Helios, is there one category that would mean the most to you?
Probably the dream for me is to get Album Of The Year. That [category] says it all; it's not just a one-hit wonder, it's not just one songwriter, one producer and one moment, it's a consistent effort over and over again of showing up and doing the work and putting a collection of a dozen songs together that all fit with each other — they all stand shoulder to shoulder with what else is out there right now and they also stand as a collection of songs that say something important and worth the public's attention and industry's attention, it's that good. I think Album Of The Year would be the top for me.
(Steve Baltin has written about music for Rolling Stone, Los Angeles Times, MOJO, Chicago Tribune, AOL, LA Weekly, Philadelphia Weekly, The Hollywood Reporter, and dozens more publications.)