The Deeper Side of The Fray
By heather meikle
February 7, 2012
It’s been three years since Colorado natives The Fray released their self-titled sophomore album. In the break between promoting that record and recording their new release, Scars & Stories, the chart-topping band took time away to travel without itineraries and show dates. The result is an album that’s mature, worldly and, as frontman Isaac Slade posits: "Bigger. In the best way possible." Here, Slade discusses his travels, his faith and the fears he’s overcome.
You've talked openly about the struggle of recording the second album. Was there ever a time when you thought Scars & Stories wasn't going to happen?
We tried our hardest on that record, but I was sort of a split personality caught between trying to make everybody happy and trying to be honest. And you can't do both, you have to pick one. I think somewhere between the second and third record I just kind of cracked and I just didn't have anything left to lose. I just sort of crashed and hit the bottom, and I wanted to make music, but it was for different reasons all of a sudden. It wasn't to make everybody like me, it was to do something with my voice. I think with that came new confidence and new clarity, and a new willingness to step up and be who I am and trust that, that's enough. If anything, that's what I regret on that second record. I was honest, but I was honest about being sort of split right down the middle. Now I feel like I'm sort of put back together.
You've always covered heavy subjects in your lyrics. In comparison, Scars seems very hopeful. Did that hope come from a conscious place in the writing process?All of our songs are grounded in personal experiences. Like “Heartbeat,” for instance, came from a trip I took to Kigali where I actually felt the pulse of this woman's hand. We were all standing around praying for the food before lunch. It was like I could feel Rwanda coming back to life—like she was the country herself. I went outside, and I remember I busted out my iPhone to record an idea for the song. I turned the corner and there were five or six little school kids singing, and shouting, and jumping up and down, and laughing, and pointing at me and yelling—like they knew I was singing about them or something. So if there is any hope in that song it just kind of came from walking the streets of the capital that was littered with bodies 20 years ago. To where it is now, it's coming alive. I just tried to capture that feeling. I think if you put hope in songs on purpose it just feels like Botox. It has to be something you actually sense for real.
Your lyrics are often set apart by their transparency. Do you ever get scared by that vulnerability on stage?
I was watching a Lady Gaga video the other night; I wish I had a persona to put on when I go on stage—to sing from and hide inside. But I don't. And I think in the past that's been a scary thing for me. It does feel like I get up on stage and take my clothes off. I feel embarrassed. I feel naked. And I think there's a real shame there that's really held me back and kept me from grabbing the microphone, in every sense of the term. Something changed. I think maybe in 2009 on a tour we had a U2 show designer guy named Bruce Ramus come in, and he sat me down and said: "I think you can do this. I think you're good, but you've gotta stand up, you've got to push the piano back and you've got to take charge of this stage of yours." I knew exactly what he was talking about, because I was sort of hiding. It does feel so naked. Something happened between that summer and now, where I think everything just kind of lined up and I feel ready. I feel almost confident in my nakedness rather than ashamed. So it's changing for me. The shows have changed. I think there are certain cities that are harder to play than others, more intimidating—those are kind of the ones that I gauge how I'm doing by. And I've started to play those cities a little bit on this record and it's a whole new ball-game. I've played these cities 10 to 15 times and it's never felt like this. I've never felt this at ease, I've never felt this comfortable in my own skin and nothing else. It really comes down to believing that I am enough, I don't have to put on some fancy outfit in some fancy show with fancy production and fancy sunglasses. I am enough. If people resonate with that, then great, but if they don't then that's fine. That's a new thing for me. It feels good.
The first single from the last record, “You Found Me,” dealt with the struggles of faith, and in it you asked a lot of questions. Looking back over the time since writing that, do you feel like you've answered any of them?
I have more questions than I did before. I think I'm beginning to accept that faith starts with mystery, child-like wonder at what the world is. Then it goes into all the different paths of life. I'm not sure what they are, but probably something like discipline, prayer, knowledge. And then at the end of life, as you come to a close, I think it probably goes back around to mystery again. Scott Peck wrote that book, The Road Less Traveled, and he talks about how everyone wants their faith to be increasingly rigid, increasingly understood, and it just isn't. You can try, but you kind of find yourself at the end of the ball-game knowing less than you did in the first inning. And I'm OK with that. I'm OK with the mystery of it, I'm OK with the fact that science and technology still don't know what gravity is. We know how it behaves, we know what to expect, but we—we still don't know what's holding the atom together. And I think it's the same with faith; there's a lot of things we don't know. And that's OK.