It is easy to hear from its lyrics that behind the soft, captivating sound of The Fray there lies an intense honesty. Lead singer and songwriter Isaac Slade has exposed just that—a passion and sincerity that could engender nothing less than beautiful music.
Singing since he was eight years old and writing songs since he was 16, Slade was off to an early start in Denver, Colo. In fact, the entire band goes way back. “I’ve known Ben [Wysocki, drummer] since he was in seventh grade, and Joe [King, guitarist] and Dave [Welsh, guitarist] have known each other since they were in third.”
The journey has been long, and who would’ve known that singing in church as a kid would eventually lead to a music career that would earn Grammy nominations and international tours while inspiring millions.
FROM HEARTBEATS TO TAPDANCING
Even now, they continue to grow; their experiences as individuals and as a band have only helped to stimulate and refine their music. Slade’s inspiration dawns from a long list of sources. “It’s never the same thing. It never comes from the same place,” he says.
The recent hit “Heartbeat”, released last October from The Fray’s anticipated album Scars & Stories, is garnering quite a bit of talk on the music scene. The band plans to tour starting Jan. 17 throughout Canada and the U.S. promoting the album’s Feb. 7 release.
The origin of “Heartbeat” is as extraordinary as the song itself. The inspiration for can be traced all the way to the band’s show in Rwanda, and stems from the incredible people there. “No matter how hard it rains, their fire will not go out,” says Slade, explaining the root of the song.
Visualize a typical fan’s picture of The Fray: Isaac in front of his piano, with Ben, Joe and Dave rocking their instruments next to him. “I’ve been standing up more to engage as front man, instead of a guy behind the piano,” Slade says. “It forces me as a songwriter to look at where the piano fits.”
Many argue that The Fray’s unique sound stems from its use of the piano as a lead instrument, rather than a typical leading guitar sound. “The idea actually came from Joe,” Slade responds. “He always wanted to play guitar, and have someone play the piano and sing together. Nowadays, I write songs to be half and half on piano and guitar.”
Slade reassures listeners that this originality is only an echo of the existing bona fides that deepens his songwriting. In addition to his instrumental endeavors, Slade reveals that he was actually a tap-dancer and figure skater as a kid. “I’m still a tap-dancer at heart,” Slade jokes.
STAYING TRUE TO THEIR ROOTS
The quiet-but-powerful nature of the music forces listeners to wonder—what is it that makes this musician tick? Slade tells CM of the breakdown that has transformed him.
“I used to be two different people,” Slade explains. “I had this inside sort of reality and had an outside persona that I created. I didn’t know how to be whatever my spiritual side was telling me to be.”
This individual struggle, Slade reveals, has motivated his evolution as a person, in addition to fueling his growth as an artist. “I realized a lot of the songs I was writing came from the deepest part of who I was. When I was 27, I had this total breakdown because I got everything I ever wanted. The persona cracked and began falling off, showing the real me. In a very real way, I now feel I am the same way on the inside and outside.”
“When it’s cold and raining, I really feel it, instead of having a hard shell. But now when it’s good, I feel it too,” says Slade.
This insightful aspect of Slade’s character has always made its way into The Fray’s music. However, the music industry can be brutal, and surviving, for many artists, often means compromising a musician’s integrity in order to sell records.
Slade agrees, responding, “It’s a cruel and heartless industry.” He explains how the band has dealt with this professional conundrum. “The real test of authenticity is to see if a constant thread emerges of what you stay true to, like a dot matrix,” Slade comments. “I’m proud that overall we still have that kind of Milky Way arc of the same music from when we were 19 years old.”
Slade attended University of Colorado, Denver, graduating in 2004 with a Bachelor of Music. He describes the college experience as "the time to get strapped into the rocket and ready to launch into life." The Fray's sound changed a lot, as a result of his educational growth. "Radiohead turned into Coldplay, between the Killers and Snow Patrol, into whatever," comments Slade. "We were carving our own path."
The Fray’s mission to stay true while still succeeding is a theme that applies to college kids as well. Slade’s advice to the listening college world? “Even if you get everything you want, you still have to figure out why you are here and who you are. No amount of Jack Daniels, hedge-fund profit, insane amounts of applause will make those questions go away,” Slade answers. “Follow what’s inside of you like the North Star.”