Music News

Caleb Slade steps out of brother Isaac's shadow

Caleb Slade could have chosen an easier field to go into than music.

Name sound familiar? What about the face? Even if neither registers, you might recognize the voice, which sounds suspiciously similar to one that sold millions of records around here. That's because Caleb Slade is the younger brother of Isaac Slade, frontman of the Fray. Try standing in that shadow as a musician.

"I don't feel 'woe is me' about it," Caleb says, making it abundantly clear that he's not out to earn any sympathy points. "These are the challenges of my youth and my coming up. This is just the nature of... this is just the name of my beast. That's fine. It's what it is."

Still, Caleb has his work cut out for him. Being the brother of a rock star may have its advantages, but it also brings its own brand of scrutiny. Before anyone's heard a single note, expectations are set. Comparisons are inevitable, and any success that comes might be dismissed as coattail proceeds.

"There are obviously going to be advantages," Caleb says, acknowledging the realities of sharing a surname with a famous brother. "If I want to be successful as a musician, a huge part of that is getting people to listen to you that first time. And getting people to listen to me is going to be easier because of who my brother is. I can recognize that.

"At the same time," he adds. "I think you'd be hard-pressed to find a musician in Denver who would trade spots with me."

To be sure, Caleb's story thus far is filled with unenviable moments. He was a member of the Fray before it was even known by that moniker, and he was relieved of his low-end duties just as the future multi-platinum band was beginning to take shape. His brother broke the unfortunate news that his bass-playing abilities just weren't up to snuff, which was devastating for Caleb, who'd spent massive amounts of his childhood watching Isaac play. "It was crushing," he confesses. "I was a mess, dude."

"A lot of it was playing with Isaac," he explains, taking a breath, voice cracking slightly. "Music was always the most important thing to Isaac. It was always the thing he cared the most about — so to me, playing music with him was about him bringing me into the most important thing in his life, you know?"

Adding salt to the wounds, the song that first gained national exposure for the Fray, "Over My Head (Cable Car)," the omnipresent anthem from 2005 that essentially launched the band's career, was about Caleb. Sung from Isaac's perspective, the song — which includes the lines "Let's rearrange/I wish you were a stranger I could disengage/Just say that we agree and then never change/Soften a bit until we all just get along" — documented a particularly tumultuous time in their relationship. While tapping into his frustration may have been creatively cathartic for Isaac, Caleb, understandably, had a different reaction.

"I think the hardest thing about it," he recalls, "was that 'Cable Car' was written as, like, this time capsule of the biggest argument me and Isaac had ever had, the wedge that started to drive this big crack between us — and I heard it three or four times a day, at my job, playing over the Muzak, just everywhere. Honestly, in hindsight, I was probably pretty angry. I think I probably felt it was really unfair."

If he was angry, though, he didn't show it. Caleb rarely missed a Fray show or function, and never revealed his feelings in public. "He's my brother, you know?" Caleb declares in a delicate voice, conveying the deep sense of admiration he clearly has for his brother.

Rather than dwell on his misfortune, Caleb focused on carving out an identity of his own. After taking a trip to Europe, he began working as a repo man. "My identity became very tangible and easily describable to other people," he recalls of that time. "All of a sudden, I had a profession that was almost as interesting to talk about, you know? Maybe. So it was convenient for that. And it was also convenient because of the hours I kept. I almost checked out of society. I would start work around eight or nine at night and jerk iron until five or six in the morning, and then I'd stay up for a few more hours and then go to sleep."

He found the honesty of the repo interactions invigorating: "It was terribly traumatic for my mother, especially," he recalls. "I had this job where people were trying to stab me and shoot at me." But eventually he decided to pursue a degree in philosophy. Making music was no longer even part of the equation.

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Dave Herrera
Contact: Dave Herrera