Into the Fray
Since the beginning of the year, The Fray have gone from being a favorite local band in Denver to national headliners. Their first album, How to Save a Life, is well on its way to going Platinum, or more than one million units in sales. Their music has appeared on at least half a dozen TV shows and in an advertisement for The Devil Wears Prada. They've been on the cable music channels and on every late show on TV (Letterman, Leno, Conan, Ferguson). They've even been Xbox Live Artist of the Month!
Despite all of those measures of success, the band best gauges its impact by simply reading e-mail from fans.
There was the e-mail with a video of two students playing an imaginative version of the title track to How to Save a Life at a high school talent show. Isaac Slade, The Fray's pianist, lead vocalist and songwriter, laughs about it: "The kids were in 11th grade, and we used to do the same thing."
Then there are the more sobering contacts, like the family of a teenager who died in a car accident. They wanted the band know the last song the young man had downloaded was "How to Save a Life," and that he had played it constantly.
"They used some of the lyrics in the bulletin, and his friends had Save a Life with his name tattooed on their arms," Slade says. He pauses before adding, "It's so humbling to hear people connecting to these songs in such a strong way."
The e-mail responses and conversations with fans while on the road are affirmations of what Slade says is God's call to the band away from the Christian music genre and into a secular market. (They are on the Sony label.)
Beyond the angst
Critics have credited the band's success in part to their catchy hooks and melodies, but the power of Slade's lyrics also has been key to catapulting The Fray into the national limelight. HTSL is filled with songs that tell stories of depth and emotion that go beyond the ever-present angst—and Christian—bands.
The band members' lives were largely formed in Denver churches where they helped lead worship, and in the Christian school three of them attended. Slade, 24, and guitarist Joe King, 25, were several years ahead of drummer Ben Wysocki, 21, at Faith Christian Academy. Wysocki and guitarist David Welsh, 21, played in the same worship band.
The band avoided Christian record labels, saying God called them to the secular market instead. "I feel he would be disappointed with us if we limited ourselves," Wysocki says.
Slade says he used to "write all Christian lyrics" until he had an epiphany while working a shift at Starbucks: "None of my friends outside the church understood any of my songs; we had a different set of vocabulary," he says. "So I went home and threw away all those songs."
He adds, "If I handed somebody a double grande mocha latte and told them, 'Jesus loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life,' they might throw it back on me.
"If we grow up in the church, it's easy to think it's our Christian duty to preach to every single person because God is the most important thing. And he is, but I'm a musician first. This is my job. We're not pastors. We're not preachers. We're not even missionaries."
Slade likens his job to any other. "If you're a painter, paint, but you don't have to have Jesus in every picture. Paint well, and if you paint well enough, they might ask you why you do that."
Relating to people's lives
Slade points out that Jesus used stories that contained much earthly imagery. "The Pharisees just quoted Bible verses," Slade says. "Jesus related the parables to people's lives. The people were drawn in by the plot development, character and conflict."