The Fray haven't always tried to make songs that appeal to the mainstream.
It's that strategy that earned them success in 2005 when the singles, "Over My Head (Cable Car)" and "How to Save a Life" made the Denver band practically inescapable to anyone with the ability to listen to music. The passion of singer Issac Slade's vocals with the band's poignant lyrics resonated well against their catchy piano-driven melodies. It was a powerful formula that they used again on their Grammy nominated self-titled second album and the single,"You Found Me," topped the charts as a result.
The quartet, which in addition to Slade includes guitarists Joe King and Dave Welsh and drummer Ben Wysocki, attempted to change things up with their third album Scars and Stories. It's their latest release, Helios, that they really tampers with the recipe. Under the guidance of British producer Stuart Price (The Killers, Pet Shop Boys), the zeal and emotion are still there, but the piano makes way for electro-pop anthems that draw influence from their contemporaries OneRepublic and Imagine Dragons.
These songs will add a new dimension to The Fray's show at Comerica Theatre on June 11. Welsh talked with Up on the Sun from Montana in anticipation of their appearance.
Up on the Sun: How have things changed for The Fray in the last few years?
Dave Welsh: All of us are married or about to be married. Both Ben (Wysocki) and I are now fathers. It's changing quite a bit. Adulthood is setting in very quickly.
Is it hard to do a tour with all this going on?
Some days it's hard, and some days it actually makes you feel more purposeful. You got somewhere to send the checks, if you know what I mean. It makes you feel more mature in a way, with a family behind you. It's like any other job, but you just happen to drive around like a circus.
You met through playing in church. Do you consider yourself a Christian band?
Collectively, no. I don't think we do. We all grew up in church. The benefits are churches have a really great built-in venue for music. Especially when you're a kid, it was great learning how to play with other people. As we've grown up, we have found our own voice. Some of us don't follow as closely as others. Once you grow up, you learn to branch out.
Other bands, like The Killers and Imagine Dragons, walk a fine line between their faith and their music. Does the band's position make for a complicated relationship?
You never fully distance yourself. I don't think it's a bad thing. I think it's OK if somebody associates you with your faith even if you don't personally identify yourself with it much anymore. I think listeners transpose their own meaning to a song.
Religions can do the same thing. They can assign meanings to certain lyrics that may or may not intended to mean something. I would hate to walk around with ruler and slap everyone's hands who read into a lyric too much.
A lot of songs off of Helios, like "Love Don't Die," sound different than anything you've done. What was the intention behind that?
I'm happy you say that it's different regardless if it comes across as good. The intention was to do something different. We started the process differently than we ever have. We involved some other songwriters. It was a more conscious effort to write with people who have a different pop sensibility than we do or those who write songs for different artists than we normally listen to, just to see what that would do. I think after 10 years, we all felt that it was time.
Have your influences changed?
I would almost say that working with Stuart [Price] was a big influence on me, as well as all the music he had worked on. He has a knowledge of obscure house music from the '80s and '90s. I definitely think that I went head first into electronic music. It was interesting exploring ways to make melodies with instruments I don't normally work with.
Even Scars and Stories seemed like an effort to move away from those first two albums.
The perfect middle ground, which I don't think we've arrived at yet but hopefully headed toward, is to have the ability to write songs that connect with people as much as we ever have. For lack of a better term, to write another "How To Save A Life" but to do it with new ways to express ourselves than we ever have before. I think it's a lot of trial and error in that process, but this record is an effort to move away from that sound but hopefully maintaining the integrity of the song.
Are you gauging this by sales or reviews? How do you know you've accomplished your goal?
That's a good question. i think it's accomplished differently between the four of us. I tend to read reviews. I find they are mostly helpful. It's a catch-22 scenario. It's paradoxical to say I read them but won't respect it if someone says they don't like you on paper. Sales are also important information for when you have a very defined goal. Numbers are good to look at, but it's more important to look away and focus on what you're doing.
The first two singles still strongly resonate with the public. Would everyone be OK if you were known for just those two songs you're best known for?
That is also a great question, and it's something that we think about often. At least we have two songs so we couldn't technically be called one-hit wonders even if it all went away tomorrow. If the next few records don't connect, we can at least say we tried to write something that strikes a chord with people like those first songs did.
You have a reputation as a safe band. No one reports on your tour antics, but what is the craziest thing you've done on tour?
Today, for example here in Montana, Joe and I tried fly-fishing. Literally, that is as crazy as it gets.
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