Music News

The Beatdown

"It's like I'm looking at this spaceship sitting on this tarmac, and we're all tied together, connected to this cable, and we can hear the countdown. And we're like, 'Oh, my God, this thing's going to pull away and our lives are going to disappear.'"

Isaac Slade is reading a quote from our interview last December. "That's hilarious, right?" he says, smiling and rubbing his forehead. "That's so weird. I didn't do it on purpose, I swear."

Since Slade, pianist/vocalist with The Fray, made that prophetic assertion eight months ago, the band has completed work on How to Save a Life, its major-label debut, and embarked on two tours -- a brief headlining jaunt of its own, and a three-week stint with Weezer and the Pixies. Between dates on the latter tour, the band filmed a segment for MTV's Advance Warning that will begin airing in mid-August. This fall, the Fray will hit the road again for a string of dates with Ben Folds. And one of its songs was selected for Stealth, Jamie Foxx's latest vehicle, as well as its soundtrack.

That song, "Over My Head (Cable Car)," as it's been retitled from the original "Cable Car," is the reason we're all here at the Fox Theatre on a Monday evening in late July. The band's spent the past eight hours filming their very first video with renowned director Elliott Lester (Jessica Simpson, Jason Mraz), and Slade's enjoying a few moments of respite while a dozen or so crew members mill about the Fox, which has been transformed into a makeshift sound stage. With a large lighting rig positioned stage right and smoke billowing in the air, the scene looks like it was lifted straight from an episode of Making the Video. As the soundman cues up the song for the 35th time, guitarist/vocalist Joe King jokes, "I'm about sick of this song."

Buckle up, buddy. In the words of the Carpenters, you've only just begun. Although KTCL and KBCO have been spinning "Over My Head (Cable Car)" at regular intervals for the better part of the past year, it was only recently released officially. So while folks in Denver are intimately familiar with the track, the rest of the country is just being introduced to it.

"The reason I can get into the song so much," explains Slade, "is because every time I've sung it, it's been like a new level -- like Studio C, or in front of Sony, trying to get a record deal, or we got a record deal and we're in front of 10,000 people. We played an AOL thing recently and all these crazy things; it's always been this song. And every single time, I felt completely overwhelmed and over my head, drowning in the circumstance."

Slade and company have every right to feel overwhelmed. A little less than two years ago, the Fray was playing gas-money gigs on off nights for mostly friends and family. To go from obscurity to playing with one of the Alternative Nation's most highly regarded icons is a hell of a trip. But even as the act was awestruck to be rubbing shoulders with Rivers Cuomo, its members -- Slade, King, drummer Ben Wysocki and guitarist David Welsh -- made sure they left a lasting impression on the notoriously elusive and enigmatic frontman.

"We were trying to reach out to him and say thank you for putting us on the tour and stuff," Slade recalls. "So Dave takes a banana and carves the words ŒThanks. Love, the Fray' in it, and I handed it to Rivers like a peace offering. He looks at it and says, ŒA thanks banana. Okay.'"

A few nights later in New York, Cuomo returned the favor by inscribing "You're welcome. Love, Weezer" on a pear, which he left in the Fray's dressing room. And this past Friday, at St. Louis's Savvis Center, on the last night of the tour, the Fray ambushed the stage for an end-of-tour prank, a shirtless sing-along (with King clad in a bra) during Weezer's "Beverly Hills." Three days later, standing outside the Fox, Slade's still excited as he recounts the episode.

Meanwhile, back inside the venue, Lester and his crew are gearing up for the final frames of the day. The staging from the previous night's sold-out show has been expertly replicated, and Slade takes a seat behind a grand piano imported for the shoot. As he and the rest of the band stand on their markers and await the cue to start miming to the playback, Slade's younger brother, Micah, prepares for his close-up. He's been tapped to play a younger version of Isaac in the video. According to King, who has yet to meet his own youthful look-alike, the video will loosely tell the story of the Fray's rapid trajectory from the beginning to its current success -- which, even for those who are here, is still hard to believe.

"He looks different when he looks into the camera," says Slade's mom, eying her elder son in the playback monitor. "It's not the same as seeing him in a home movie."

Indeed. This is truly an epic production. And while I didn't ask the band for any specifics, apparently the video will be more costly to produce than the recordings themselves. But you get what you pay for, as they say, and thus far, from the rough mixes I've heard, the footage is as impressive as the songs on the new record. With any luck, the video will get added to rotation by the time How to Save a Life hits stores on Tuesday, September 13. If not, King says the band is considering unveiling it to hometown fans at the Fray's CD-release party, which is slated for Friday, September 16, at the Paramount Theatre. (Tickets for that show go on sale on Saturday, August 6.)

Until then, the countdown continues.

Upbeats and beatdowns: This Thursday, July 28, members of the Crispy Family Carnival and Cevrance join Stich for its CD-release party at the Gothic Theatre; Cabaret Diosa unveils its latest disc over at Bender's Tavern; Outbreak, Unloader and Buford T. Justice enter the Lion's Lair; Future Jazz Project cracks open the Walnut Room; and Angie Stevens and Xiren make Hot Sounds at the Denver Pavilions. Then on Friday, July 29, Bop Skizzum drops its new doughnut at Bender's, with the Flobots; Abinito kicks off a night of rock at the Larimer Lounge on a bill that also features Augustine, Murderer, the Unearthly, Action Friend, Orbiting Nubs and the Skivies; and local homeboys in No Plot Kill warm up for L.A.'s Lia-Fail at the Oriental.