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Q&A: The Fray

Although pop and adult contemporary formats gravitated to The Fray’s pop sensibilities, the band’s rock roots have shined through the gloss and sheen with an electrifying live show.

G.K. Hizer
June 28, 2019

When turning on the radio in 2006-09, you were bound to hear The Fray. Rock, pop, and adult contemporary stations jumped on the band’s skyrocket success, as the band mastered a sound that appealed to listeners across multiple genres.

While pop and adult contemporary formats gravitated to the band’s pop sensibilities, the band’s rock roots shined through the gloss and sheen with an electrifying live show that consistently made casual fans into devoted followers.

A few key song placements on television undoubtedly helped, but once Grey’s Anatomy adopted “How to Save a Life” as part of its advertising campaign, the band became inescapable.

The group’s debut album of the same title shot to the top of the charts and remained on Billboard’s Hot 100 albums chart for an incredible 58 weeks (tied for seventh-longest with Santana’s Supernatural). A self-titled sophomore effort met mixed reviews from critics but kept fans happy with even more mid-tempo pop songs and a continued live presence.

Although the band’s predominantly piano-driven pop melodies and thoughtful lyrics frequently drew comparisons to peers such as Coldplay, Keane, and Snow Patrol, the group has often referenced more guitar-oriented, yet song-craft focused artists like The Wallflowers, Better Than Ezra, Counting Crows, and U2 as their primary influences.

As radio trends moved away from the mid-tempo pop in the latter part of the 2010s, the group continued to develop and expand its sound with a pair of albums proving to be more adventurous, as well as touring consistently.

The Fray is currently touring behind its 2016 collection, Through the Years, which adds three new tracks, including the single “Singing Low.”

Drummer Ben Wysocki caught up with Preview 918 in advance of the band’s July 12 appearance at the Skyline Event Center at Osage Casino Hotel.

Q. How much pressure did the success of your debut put on the group going into the sophomore album?
A. Lots of pressure for sure. Not only did we have a lifetime to write that first record, but we also had a lot of innocence, which we never really got back. We didn’t have anyone telling us we had to do things a certain way, so we just did whatever came naturally. The success from that first record messed with our heads when it came time to get in the studio again. But that pressure was also necessary. We couldn’t just sit back; we had to engage and prove to everyone (and ourselves) that we weren’t just a flash in the pan. 

Q. “How to Save a Life” got a few high-profile television placements. How essential was that in helping expose the band to a larger audience?
A. The syncs and placements in film and TV were huge for us. By the time the Grey’s opportunity came along, we had already sold a million or so records and had a good amount of radio success, but the exposure put us in front of a whole new audience. It’s like it kicked on the afterburners, and also broadened our demographic. There were a lot more middle-aged women coming out to the shows after Grey’s.

Since then, social media has been an incredible tool enabling us to have a more direct connection with our fans. There’s no middleman, and that is a powerful thing. 

Q. After using the same production team for the first two albums, you went with Brendan O’Brien (Pearl Jam, AC/DC, Aerosmith, Train) for your third album, Scars & Stories, which has a more urgent and slightly more aggressive tone. 
A. Working with Brendan was big for us. First of all, we were fans of his work and grew up with some of the records he made with Pearl Jam, Stone Temple Pilots, Rage Against the Machine and Red Hot Chili Peppers. Working with him was intimidating and inspiring at the same time. We had gotten pretty used to, and good at, second-guessing ourselves in the studio, but he worked so fast there wasn’t any time for that, which was terrifying and also freeing.

Q. The Fray has always had devoted fans who follow the band and your live performances.
A. We do have some very zealous and loyal fans, and we are so grateful for them. Our live show has always been important to us. Live music is a powerful thing. As performers, we have the chance to have a very dynamic connection with every single person in the room. And it only happens once, and then the moment is gone. It’s so special and we want to make sure everyone leaves feeling like they shared an experience with us. To be able to affect people that way on an emotional level is a privilege we don’t take lightly.

Q. What was the band’s mindset or goal with your last album, Helios (2014)? It seems that you stepped a little outside of your comfort zone with producer Stuart Price (Madonna, Gwen Stefani, The Killers) to great effect.
A. Thank you. Going into that record, we were ready for a change for sure. We felt like we had to get a little uncomfortable to find something new. We needed to stretch ourselves a bit, so bringing new people into our process was essential for that. Stuart was so good for us. He was full of light and positive energy all the time. It was the most fun we’d had in the studio together and I think that came across.

Q. Is there more new music on the horizon?
A. At this point, no. But who knows. The future is a mystery. 

Q. How has the shifting of the music industry and the prevalence of digital distribution over the past few years changed or affected how you approach releasing new music?
A. This a really exciting time in the industry. There aren’t as many rules as there have been. If an artist wants to release a new song that they wrote last week, they can do that. If they can drop a double album with 35 songs on it overnight, who cares? That’s awesome. The old model of a record label isn’t relevant anymore. There are so many other exciting ways for an artist to get their music to the world, that don’t involve tying themselves to a recording contract. There is so much opportunity for artists to be empowered in their process and take ownership of their career. Sure, there are some growing pains in all the shifts, but I think the pros far outweigh the cons. It’ll be interesting to see where it takes us next.

The Fray
Skyline Event Center | Osage Casino Hotel
951 W. 36th St. N. | Tulsa
July 12: 7 p.m.
Must be 18 or older to attend