The Fray Gets Serious

Lead singer Isaac Slade learned early on to write and sing about things that matter

October 26, 2006|By Sam Sessa | Sam Sessa,Sun Reporter

Women have had a profound effect on the Fray.

Last November, a couple of months after the piano rock band's debut album dropped, lead singer and pianist Isaac Slade sat down with his future wife and talked about what was to come.

No one knew how big the Fray would get, but Slade was already afraid of how far success might take him from her.

"I remember vividly: She said, `You have to try your hardest, because the more successful you are, the more control you get,'" Slade, 25, recalled. "And that's exactly what happened. From that day forward, I remember that was a big turning point for me."

And for the band as well.

Slade was married this spring, two of the Fray's hit singles ("Over My Head (Cable Car)" and "How to Save a Life") tore up the charts, its music was featured on a few TV shows and album sales hit 1 million this month.

Almost every date on its latest tour of ballrooms and theaters has sold out - some more than a month in advance. DAR Constitution Hall, where the Denver-based group plays Saturday, filled up about a week after tickets went on sale.

Before the Fray became a band, another important woman in Slade's life influenced his future. He was in college studying engineering when his mother intervened.

"Mom sat me down and said, `This isn't what you want to do,'" Slade said. "'You're a musician. You can sing. You have a voice. You ought to do something with it.'"

Slade's mother persuaded him to look into a different major, quit his job and start the band, he said. His parents recognized and promoted his talents early on, he said.

"Since I was a little kid, they've been encouraging me to sing and do music," Slade said.

Growing up, Slade played and sang in church - where music is performed and shared by more than one person.

"You're always singing these songs that are built for other people to sing along with you, and I think that has a lot to do with our vibe," Slade said. "Our songs are pretty simple. ... We're not Tool. We're definitely a lot more approachable, a lot more singable."

Though the Fray is not a Christian band, religion influences the way Slade writes music. This part of Slade's upbringing taught him to lend more meaning and content to his music, he said.

"It forced me to always put something in the song that I care about a lot," he said.

The album's first single "Over My Head (Cable Car)," which had a headlock on pop-rock radio stations all summer, is a great example. Slade's once-rocky relationship with his brother Caleb (whose nickname is Cable Car) inspired most of the song's lyrics. Caleb used to play bass in the band but was kicked out early on.

Since Caleb's departure, Slade, guitarists Joe King and Ben Wysocki and drummer Dave Welsh have not named a permanent replacement. Instead, they've rotated a few bassists in the position for recording and touring. They're not pushing the issue any time soon, Slade said.

"We might revisit it again, but most importantly to us, the guy that's playing bass right now is content with his position," he said. "If he was weirded out by it, we'd have to figure something out, but he's cool, we're cool and, so far, the fans have been cool, too."

"How to Save a Life," the album's title track and second single, is currently dominating radio. Slade based the tune on his experience mentoring a 17-year-old crack addict. The song has touched fans in ways the band never expected. One family, after losing a son in a car accident, started a nonprofit organization called Save a Life.

Strangely, parts of both hit singles - but none of the album's other tracks - came from Slade's dreams.

Years ago, Slade dreamt he was walking into a bathroom at a restaurant. Just then, his friend walked out, took Slade aside in the hallway and said, "There's eight seconds left in overtime, she's on your mind."

"I was like, `OK,'" Slade said. "I went in the bathroom and woke up and wrote it down."

The line later became part of the chorus to "Over My Head." Slade also dreamt the lullaby-like piano part in "How to Save a Life."

Now that the band has started writing songs for a follow-up, Slade is watching his back, half-expecting his band mates to dose him with sleeping pills for extra inspiration.

"I'm taking very, very close looks at the drinks they're giving me just to make sure they're not slipping something in there to fuel the fire," Slade said.

While there's no set timetable for releasing the next album, Slade and the others are hashing out some new material. They write riffs and share ideas on the tour bus and toy with them at sound checks, he said. It's quite a change from their days spent at odd jobs in Denver, writing in their spare time.

"It's a different life," Slade said. "We're not working at Starbucks anymore trying to think of ideas while we're making coffee. We're sort of shifting that into a more professional, gypsy sense."

One of Slade's goals with the Fray is to eventually tour three months of the year and be able to stay home the rest of the time with his family.

"I think real success is how much time I can spend with my wife and still manage to pay the bills," Slade said.

The Fray plays DAR Constitution Hall on Saturday. The show is sold out.

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