The Fray breaks down Scars & Stories, its third full-length release, produced by Brendan O'Brien. We caught up with the Fray's chief songwriters, Isaac Slade and co-founder Joe King, and the two gave us the full story behind the songs on the new record, from how a YouTube clip of a fire dancer inspired the pair to pen "Turn Me On" to how King wrote "The Wind" straight off of returning from his divorce proceedings to how "Be Still" came to Slade one morning after taking a sleepless, late-night phone call from his little brother. If you came here looking for the story behind the songs, you've come to the right place.
Last spring, right around the time the Denver-based band was touring with U2, we caught up Slade, and he spoke to us then at length about the process of recording the album with O'Brien and what it was like playing a hometown show with Bono and company at what was then Invesco Field. The quartet (due on Letterman tonight) finished the record later that summer and went on to release the first single, "Heartbeat," that fall. Shortly thereafter, they embarked on an extensive promotional campaign, which included a private show and impromptu pizza party at an unsuspecting fan's house in San Jose.
This past weekend, just before the act's Super Bowl Sunday performance in Indianapolis (or the morning after, in Joe's case), we caught up with the guys for a track-by-track breakdown of the new record and to get their thoughts on the eve of Scars' release.
"What I rest on and what I go to as an artist," King told us, "because I think every artist kind of has this anxiety before they release something. It's normal, and I've gone through those gamut of emotions. But what I'm resting on, I heard a quote that said if you put something out that you don't believe in -- you just kind of push it out and it fails -- then it's like dying twice. But if you put something out that you believe in and it fails, then you can live with yourself, and you can continue to thrive and create, because you believe in it.
"So no matter what," he went on, "I believe in this record. I believe it's our best work. I believe that we're better now and we've written better songs than we ever have. And that's all I can do. I have no control over how it does, and I don't really care. I do, but I don't. It's reflective of where we're at in life right now, and I believe in it. It's true. It's our stories."
And we've got the stories behind those stories. If you bought the record and you're listening to it right now, googling the lyrics and wondering what songs like "Run for Your Life" or "Here We Are" are about, wonder no more. Page down to see what the guys had to say.
* The intro of this post has been revised and updated with some additional quotes added.
When we were dating, Anna and I took a road trip. We barely knew each other, and we took a road trip to L.A. We got lost by about 500 miles. We took directions from a friend at a work party - this was before iPhones - and we jumped in the car and drove south to take some shortcut through some beautiful mountain range. We were pulling over a lot, kind of getting lost in each other's eyes and stuff. I remember seeing a sign that said, "Juarez 58 miles." I looked at her, and I said, "You know what? I think we need to turn around." We pulled over, and it started pouring rain, and we kissed under the sun roof - it was a pretty epic trip. So yeah, just wrote the song about that useful love.
Isaac and I both went on different road trips the past couple years. I went on one with my girls to the West Coast this past summer. It was one of the best trips of my life. I took them camping. We built fires on the beach. We picked up fish at the fresh market. Cooked them on the barbecue. We went from the northern Oregon Coast all the way down the 101 to Big Sur. It was about a two week trip, and we stopped the most beautiful places I'd ever seen. The bonding we had on that trip between me and my little girls was unbelievable. I'll never forget it.
But we both had had these major road trip experiences, and we started talking about it and we just started writing about it, that idea of a road trip and what that does, and the memories it creates. That also was a song that we were scrapping. We all decided, "You know what? We should just not put that one on." For some reason, we were obsessed with having a ten song or eleven song record. I don't know why, but we wanted to. So we were inevitably going to be scrapping songs that maybe didn't make sense.
I ended up playing it for a friend. I sat down and played him the whole record, and I was like, "Yeah, I don't know if I'm going to play you this next song. It's probably not going to be on the record." And he's like, "No, no, I'd like to hear it." So I played it for him, and after the song, he was like, "Dude, you've got to be crazy not to put that on the record."
And he went into this spiel about how so far it was his favorite song, the notion of it, and how it immediately took you to a place where you were there. And so again, I got slapped in the face with perspective from somebody else outside the box. And so I went back and emailed the guys and was like, "We've got to put this song on the record."
"Rainy Zurich," I'll let Joe tell most of it, but he wrote it in Zurich. It was this super cloudy, foggy day. I wrote a song that day in Zurich, too, and called it "Zurich," and it sucked so bad. Joe's was epic. It had this useful exploration/curiosity about life at the same time of having a real somber almost wizened Bruce Willis/Morgan Freeman grit to it. I'll let him tell that story.
This was on tour. I was in Zurich. We had just gotten in. This was during the second record tour. I hadn't been home for a good couple of months, and literally, I just got to my room - it was pouring outside, I'd been in a plane all day, cooped up in plane, and I was tired, but I didn't want to just stay in the room. Another cold hotel room with modern lamps and TVs mounted on the walls. I was just so annoyed about where I was at, physically.
So being in a beautiful city, I decided to go outside and walk in the rain, and so I just got outside, and pretty much, I felt like I was the only one out in the city. It was probably eleven at night, I was walking through the alleyways and streets of Zurich, soaking wet. I got back to the room and started writing. I was missing home and missing feeling.
I felt like I was dried up and so I kind of started messing around with this song. I was also missing my honey at that time. I was wanting her and couldn't be with her and so there's this element of desire in the song of this need that's unmet that I cannot meet and what that was doing to me. So I just kind of captured that night with this one.
My little brother Micah had called me at probably four in the morning that day. He was having a hard time sleeping, and I just talked to him for a while and tried to comfort him, but I didn't really know what to say. He went back to bed, and I went back to bed, and the next morning, I woke up at seven or eight, and there was a guitar sitting next to my bed.
I started playing the song - like, I didn't really write it; I just started playing it. The melody and the lyrics just kind of fell into place. It's only happened like that with maybe that song "Happiness" - and that's probably it. It never really comes that easy. And this one just kind of downloaded from somewhere. And I hadn't finished it completely. I only had two or three verses. I wrote it in, like, ten minutes and was playing it to my wife. She was sitting in bed.
And I had breakfast with somebody that morning, and then I drove from Highlands Ranch to Thornton to the studio, I busted out my phone and went over the lyrics in my phone in my head. I sang it a couple of times, kind of hammering out the lyrics, pushing pause and record and pause and record. I finished it and texted the guys on my way and say, "Hey, I got a lullaby I want to record. It's probably not going to fit the record, but I want to record it for my little brother and send it to him." Because basically, I had no idea what to say.
So I took one pass at it, and all the guys walked into the room and they all said, "That sounds important. Do it again." So they all laid down around my piano. I'll never forget them laying on their backs with their eyes closed and the lights turned down low at ten in the morning. I laid down a second take, and that made the record.
This song's a special one. Isaac was telling me about his brother and how his brother was having trouble sleeping and would call in the middle of the night, and how Isaac would calm him down and let him know everything was okay and bring him back to reality. And so he wanted to put this song together just for him. It was a comforting song. You can feel that intimacy in the song. His closeness and his love for his brother in that song.
It's like a different voice. The first time I heard it, he came in and he's like, "Hey, I got this song, and I just want to lay it down." I remember being in the studio the first time I heard it, and he almost passed it off like it was just an idea, or that it needed to be developed. But when he finished that last chord, I was like, "That's untouchable. You can't change that. It's perfect."
It's hard to do that. It's hard to have a song where you capture it once, and you can't change it. Like that is the incarnation of it. So we didn't even want to take a stab at it and try a full band thing with it. It just became obvious that it need to be in that place, untouched.
It's definitely the rawest song on the record. There's a couple of misplayed chords and his voice cracks a couple of times. That's one is special for me and my family. I even played for my girls one night when they were going to bed. I went into their room, and I was like, "Daddy wants to play you a song. Isaac wrote it for his little brother." And we all sat on the bed and listened to it.
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