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Interview:
Sunny times lead The Fray to "Helios"
 

By GARY GRAFF
Digital First Media, @GraffonMusic

» See more SOUND CHECK

The Fray named its latest album, "Helios," after the Greek god of the sun.

That was fitting, since the group is in a brighter place these days, individually and collectively.

"We tend to write pretty true-to-life, biographical songs," says frontman Isaac Slade. "Whatever we're going through makes its way into the music, whether we like it or not, so ('Helios') just felt like an appropriate name."

The Fray's current bonhomme comes from Slade and drummer Ben Wysocki becoming fathers for the first time, and Joe King and Dave Welsh getting married again after tumultuous splits that impacted the tone of Fray's last album, "Scars & Stories," in 2012. That period also saw the group at its most, well, frayed, and Slade acknowledges that "some band counseling" was required to repair relationships and get things back on track for "Helios," which debuted at No. 8 on the Billboard 200 after its late February release

"It was a real dark time for us, just in general as a band," Slade recalls. "We weren't getting along -- that's an understatement. I think it was one of those things where we all wanted this, but we didn't necessarily know where it was going, and suddenly we're this pretty well-known band and it was a bunch of pressure and everything. We were just a bunch of punk kids that literally quit our jobs at coffee shops and ice cream shops, and we just had a little whiplash, I think.

"So we had to decide after 10 years if we wanted to keep doing it, and thankfully all four of us over the course of two years had that same conclusion -- 'Y'know what? This IS what I want to do. I do love these songs. I do love these fans, and this beats the hell out of making coffee at five in the morning.' "

Slade says the quartet also entered "Helios" -- the fourth album in a career that launched with 2005's double-platinum "How To Save a Life" -- with "a goal to go to new places -- not for the sake of it, but we definitely wanted to chase down the songs wherever they seemed to want to go." And the group had an ally for that in primary co-producer Stuart Price, who brought a different outlook to both sonics and approach.

"We just knew if we were going to get in the room with this late 30s British DJ who's done a bunch of stuff with the Killers and Pet Shop Boys and Madonna he was going to push us, and push us he did," Slade acknowledges. "Each guy got pushed sonically and lyrically into new territory, which was the kind of challenge we were looking for."

The group also wrote songs with collaborators such as Matt Hales (aka Aqualung), Relient K's Matt Thiessen and Nashville hitmaker Brett James, while the first single "Love Don't Die" also marks the Fray's first team-up with fellow Denverite Ryan Tedder of OneRepublic and scores of pop hits for other artists.

"We've known Ryan for ages," Slade says. "Joe used to play soccer against him in high school. But we never asked him to write, he never asked us to write. It's just been one of those kind of mutual respect, let's wait and see, and it just felt right.

"I think Joe texted him and said, 'Hey, what are you doing Thursday? Let's write.' So we wet over to his house and pulled out a couple guitars and started messing around, just like a bunch of buds in high school, chilling out. It was very easy and natural."

The Fray plans heavy touring to promote "Helios," but the group members' family situations have also altered the way it travels these days. "I think we're going to do a newlywed bus and then a baby bus," Slade notes. "There'll be a couple of very different buses following the Fray around this time."

The Fray, Barcelona and Oh Honey

7 p.m. Wednesday, June 2

Freedom Hill Amphitheatre, 14900 Metropolitan Parkway at Schoenherr, Sterling Heights

Tickets are $29.50-$55 pavilion, $10 lawn

Call (586) 268-5100 or visit www.freedomhill.net



Web Site: www.freedomhill.net

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