The Fray Honors Its Roots With Two Hometown Shows This Weekend

The Fray released its first greatest-hits album, Through the Years, on November 4, 2016. Often a greatest-hits album signifies a band in need of a late-career shot in the arm or a way to mark a milestone in the group's career. For the Fray, it seems more of a celebration of how far the group has come, and the compilation includes three new songs. “Throughout the career at certain points, we kind of had our head down in the game, focusing on one record or one song or one tour or whatever,” says drummer Ben Wysocki. “This is the first time we've been able to step back and look at the whole arc of what we've done and what the bands have provided to us, and it's been really amazing.”

In the wake of the release of Through the Years, the Fray is playing a couple of hometown shows, including a Saturday, November 26, concert at 1STBANK Center preceded by a Friday, November 25, performance at the Fox Theatre in Boulder — the venue where the band filmed an early music video and where it signed its major-label deal with Epic in 2004.

The perception in some Denver music circles is that the Fray bubbled up overnight and didn't pay at least some of the dues that other local bands must — but as always, there's more to the story. Wysocki remembers playing youth-group concerts and an EP-release show at the Climax Lounge to an audience of just friends and family, as well as a gig at the now-defunct Old Chicago in LoDo. The band was taking almost anything that came its way. But even with those less-than-glamorous shows, Wysocki maintains perspective about his band's rise to mainstream popularity. “Looking back on it, it felt more rapid than gradual,” says Wysocki. “I think from the outside, people perceived that we went from playing the Westword Music Showcase to headlining three nights at Red Rocks. If you're not involved in the process, it can look like that. There was a lot of hard work there in the early days, and a lot of hustling. I spent a lot of money at Kinko's making fliers and posters, just like you do as a young band. [After] 'Over My Head' took off,  [things were] moving at a speed we had not anticipated, and we were reaching for the seat belts to buckle in.”

Wysocki believes the band's youth and naivete contributed to its ability to weather the rapid commercial success that followed the release of the 2005 album How to Save a Life. “We didn't really know any better, and there's so much that comes with fame and how that changes your life,” says Wysocki. “And not just fame, but our daily lives becoming busy and being torn away from home life and family and friends. We didn't really have a framework for it, so only so much of it sunk in. If we really knew how to wrap our heads around all of it, I think it would have totally overwhelmed us. Looking back on it now, I think if I knew about and was connected to everything happening around us, I would have imploded.”

Before things took off for the Fray, most of its members had service-industry jobs. Wysocki and guitarist Dave Welsh worked at Marble Slab Creamery before quitting to do the band full-time. For the first year the Fray was signed to a record deal, there was none of the rock-star money coming in. Even when the group was booked for its first real tour, with Weezer in 2005, it lacked some basic touring infrastructure. “We didn't have cases for our instruments, we didn't have a van or a trailer, and we had never really played outside of Denver,” says Wysocki. “But we borrowed a fifteen-passenger van from a family at Isaac's church and bought cases at Guitar Center. It was really tough, because we weren't making any money and we were really busy. The money also followed, but it took a while, and we didn't know what to expect with that. You know, 'All the work's done and I can go buy a car.' And that was very much not the case.... About a year later it was like that.”

The Fray with American Authors, Friday, November 25, 7 p.m. doors, 8 p.m. show, Fox Theatre, Boulder, 720-645-2467, sold out.

The Fray with American Authors, Saturday, November 26, 7 p.m. doors, 8 p.m. show, 1STBANK Center, 303-410-0700, tickets start at $34.
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Tom Murphy is a writer, visual artist and musician from Aurora, Colorado. He was a prolific music writer for Westword and a documenter of the Denver music scene.