Isaac Slade on the Fray's new album, working with Brendan O'Brien and opening for U2
Update (2/7/12): Isaac Slade and Joe King give a track-by-track breakdown of Scars & Stories, the Fray's new album.
UPDATE (5/24/11): Our original interview item from last week has been updated with Isaac Slade's post-show impressions opening for U2 at Invesco Field this past Saturday.
Isaac Slade sounds at greater ease these days, like he's completely comfortable in his own skin. After spending the better part of his career grappling with the pressures of trying to live up to everyone's expectations, he's reached a point where that's no longer as big a consideration, which has freed him to flourish in his role as frontman and subsequently make the best music of his life.
This past March, his band, the Fray, began work on its third album in Nashville with lauded producer Brendan O'Brien, best known for his work with Springsteen, Pearl Jam and Rage Against the Machine. The band has already chalked up a number of major milestones in its nearly decade-long career, from earning platinum records to selling out Red Rocks three nights in a row to garnering Grammy nominations. Warming up the stage for U2 at Invesco Field this Saturday might be the biggest yet. Aside from perhaps Angellic Rage performing at Mile High Stadium in the '90s, few local bands have made it to that level.
- The Fray's Scars & Stories: Isaac Slade and Joe King give a track-by-track breakdown of the new album.
In advance of the band's secret show tomorrow night at the Fox and its monumental gig this weekend, we spoke with Slade about the new album, working with Brendan O'Brien and sharing the stage with U2 in the Fray's home town and whether or not he's wrapped his head around the whole thing (he hasn't). In typical Slade fashion, he was as disarmingly charming and candid as he's been since the very beginning.
Westword: What's the plan for Thursday? Is it just you guys?
Isaac Slade: There's one surprise, maybe two surprises. But I'm not at liberty to say. I can't even say if I know who's playing. [laughs] I don't even know what band's headlining that night. I've never heard of them.
Interesting. Me, neither. [laughs] So tell me about the new record -- that's what I'm really eager to hear about.
Brendan O'Brien is a badass. He's kicking our butts. He's great. I think he's able to speak each one of our languages so well. Like, he's fluent in every area, whether it's an instrument you're playing or a track he's mixing or a lyric he's listening to. He's just got really good at all aspects of record making, and it gives him the backstage pass to everybody's cubicle, you know?
How far are you in?
We've tracked six songs. They're 95 percent done. I mean, they need like tambourine and stuff. They're good. We've got nine more that we're going to go back and finish as soon as U2's done. We're taking Memorial Day weekend off, and then we're going back to Nashville.
That's where you're recording the whole thing?
Yeah, there's a studio called Blackbird. Amazing studio, man. John McBride -- Martina's husband. He came up as Garth Brooks's sound guy and started a sound company and then sold it, and now it's the biggest PA company -- or maybe sold part of his company -- and then started a studio in '01, '02. And near as we can tell, man, it's one of the best studios in the country.
What else has been recorded there?
Google it. It's stupid. You would not believe what's been recorded there.
So do you have a release date yet?
No, we're holding everybody off. We're going to get it out this year, hopefully October, November. Hopefully, everybody will be listening to it around the table at Thanksgiving.
Do you have a title for it?
I don't have a title for it. I'll talk to the guys to see if I can tell you which title I think I want to call it. But I've got to get their permission first. We haven't told anybody yet. It won't be our second self-titled album. It won't be our third album, second self-titled. [laughs] I'm stoked about it, though, man. You can hear some rock in the drum kit, I'll tell you what.
How much has it changed from your demos?
A lot. There's some brand-new songs that came right at the end. There's a few older ones, like in the last two years. But for the most part, it's kind of a whole different ballgame.
Is it more melodic?
To be honest, we've written a bunch more since what you heard. One ended up kind of finding its way through the demo process. And then a second one called "The Fighter," which I think is my favorite track right now. There's two songs, one's called "The Fighter" and one's called "Heartbeat" -- those are the working titles -- and those are the two I'm super-stoked about. The melody is beautiful, some of the best lyrics I think we've ever written. The choruses feel like choruses. Sometimes the choruses are just, like, higher verses [laughs]. I think we figured out a few choruses on this one.
So how's the process changed? What's different about recording this record than your previous two?
Everybody's settling into their roles, I think. I think the Edge said that the difference between bands that last and bands that don't are the ones that every single person knows where they fit. We're all starting to that figure out. Like, Dave [Welsh] is amazing at putting skin on it. He just comes up with these incredible textures and incredible melodies to counter my vocal.
Ben [Wysocki] has kind of stepped up in the studio as a producer, a pre-producer and then kind of a second, Brendan's right-hand man. He's sees the vision better than any of us of the whole song. The three of us get a little focused on our own deal, so Ben has been able to kind of rise to the occasion and become that -- he's got the makings of an incredible producer. He's able to play his instrument and then zoom back and be like, "Nope, needs less drums." We're like, "What?" Who says less of themselves?
And Joe King has been playing the bass. He's been doing some bass on this record, and it's badass parts, man. He's coming up with some wicked stuff. He bought a nice bass. He bought a nice amp. So he's been doing that a lot.
So it's possible that he might start playing the bass live?
He is going to play the bass on Saturday at Invesco.
So is he the sole bass player in the band now?
No, no, no. We've got a guy named Jeremy McCoy. His dad played with Johnny Cash; he's a Nashville guy. But I think Joe will play one song called "Here We Are." That's a new song we're going to play.
Joe King of the Fray in the studio with his primary instrument.
How many new songs are you going to play?
The Fox will probably be five or six. Invesco, I think we'll play "Heartbeat," "The Fighter" and "Here We Are." Those are the three. We tried them out last week at a couple of private gigs, and they felt great. I think dynamic-wise, Joe and I have come to terms with who we are and who we're not, as a band and as a frontman. And Joe's right behind me. He's just taking off on the background-singing stuff and coming up with all these beautiful parts, and then just dozens of songs in the last year of just beautiful melodies, beautiful, kind of sweeping landscapes that he kind of lets me put my story on, and then he and I kind of hone it.
So we're starting to find a groove that we've never really found before. Everybody's just relaxed now. We're putting up a video blog -- actually in the next hour, probably -- that my brother-in-law shot of us in the studio. I watched this thing, and it looked like so much fun. It was like all four of us, but I forgot I was in it. I was like, "I want to be in that band. It looks so fun -- oh, God, I am." [laughs] There's an ease about it that we've never had before, and I think it comes across. The music just feels more organic and natural.
Click through for Slade's pre-show impressions opening for U2, and be sure to read the full review of the U2 concert at Invesco if you haven't already.