Isaac Slade on the Fray's new album, working with Brendan O'Brien and opening for U2
So let's talk about this weekend. You've reached two milestones in your career, tremendous milestones: You're playing with U2 -- which, bucket list, done, right? -- and you're playing Invesco. Both of those things are impossible to wrap your head around, much less fathom. That being said, how do you feel about that?
I'm a very visual person, so I asked for a tour of Invesco. A couple of months ago, they let Ben and I swing by, and I plugged in my iPod to their very, very fancy eighth-inch cable and played some of our new demos over the P.A., and they gave me a microphone to test it out and let me just get my head around it. So as far as that side goes, I feel like I'm ready. It's the same thing we do, just different numbers.
We played a big festival in Boston that had a hundred and something thousand people -- they estimated like a hundred to a hundred and fifty thousand. You couldn't see people at the end; it just kind of blended into this blur of color. It was doable, man. It was totally doable. It was just more people.
I think because we played that size before -- obviously, it will be different than anything we've ever done before -- but at least I can put it on the map. It's a new neighborhood, but I know roughly where it is and what to do when I get there.
As far as opening for U2 - I bought a T-shirt of the Unforgettable Fire tour from the Salvation Army when I was a junior in high school, before I knew their music, even. I knew their singles, but I didn't know any of the other music. But I saw this T-shirt, and I was like, "Oh, this looks awesome." And I've been wearing it probably once a week, every week, for the last nine years. I played Paris last year, and this girl came up to me and she goes [feigns French accent], "That is the U2 shirt that you wore last time you played Paris." I was like, "Well, can't apologize for that. I'm proud of the shirt. What can I say?"
So I think there's little moments like that where each one of us has that kind of connection to them in some kind of otherworldly way that we just haven't put the two in the same sentence, like, them and us. It's always been them, and we're sort of playing our music, and they've never been in the same paragraph. I think that will be the coolest thing, just to be affiliated with them. I saw a billboard the other day and I was mid-sentence saying something, and I think I just trailed off. I was like, "And I just don't know why we...whoa! Our name is on that billboard! That is badass.'"
Is that something you even fathomed when you started the band?
No, you don't really fathom that. You fathom quitting...
I mean, three nights at Red Rocks had to be completely unreal. But now, it doesn't really get much bigger than this.
No, I think...it's hard to explain. You're going to give me so much shit for this: It was more exciting to quit Starbucks than to open for U2, and I haven't done it yet, so I may change my mind. All I knew was waking up at four in the morning and making as many lattes as I could before I fell back asleep, and that was all that I knew, like that was my life. I tried to keep my friends, I tried to graduate college, and I tried to make enough money to pay my cell phone so it didn't shut off -- Cricket! Pre-pay, baby!
And that was it, you know? That was the biggest goal we had, and pushed and pushed and pushed. And once we got that, it was like pure exhilarating awesomeness to be able to go to part-time and then quit and just do music full-time. And ever since then, it's like thing after thing after thing: Okay, Leno, try to wrap you head around that. Nope. Can't. Oh, gold records, nominated for a Grammy. Try to wrap your head around that and you can't.
So all you're left with is just enjoying it. Experiencing it. Memorizing the moment and enjoying it as much as we can. So here comes U2. It's like one more moment I'm just going to try my damnedest to memorize.
Brian Landis Folkins Isaac Slade of the Fray at the Mile High Music Festival in 2009
With regard to U2, when you guys played the Mile High Music Fest, you were criticized -- actually by me -- for changing up your stage show to be more arena rock-like. You certainly were evoking U2 with the images you were using, with you coming center stage from behind the piano, making the Jesus Christ poses, that sort of thing. In the face of actually playing with them, how does that...I mean, you can't out-U2 U2. Have you even thought about that?
Yeah, you know what, two things in response to your criticism: One, that was far and away the shittiest show of our entire summer tour. I'm embarrassed by it, actually. I remember everybody was just in a bad head space. I lost my voice and compensated by pretending.
Second thing: Everybody wants us to stay the same, and everybody wants us to change. And, ideally, as an artist, you can do all of that in private. You can go through your own metamorphsis and break new skin and grow and go through and hit the adolescence of your career and emerge a mature, fully formed entitity.
But it doesn't work like that when you start out young and go for more than five or ten years. I think because we've realized that, we've been able to embrace it and kind of live by a new motto. We used to run around scared. We would always ask ourselves: "Is this us? Is this something we'd do? Is this counterfeit? Is this authentic?" And at one point, Dave just looked at us and said, "If we do it and we like it, it is us, period. That's how it works. If we make more fans after we change or we lose more fans after we change, as long as we're still us, Fountainhead style, it's true to who we are.
And you know, the show you caught us at was an awkward, kind of junior-high moment. We're like, "Oh, can we be this band? Can we try to be those bands?" And we took - just like we've done our whole career -- we took pieces of every success and every failure with us into the next phase of creativity, whether that's the live show or that's the album.
I remember telling you after our first record was out for a while that it never occurred to me while we were making the first record that we were going to have to play these songs live. It was all about the headphones, man, because none of us had fancy speakers and none of us had car stereos, so it was all about playing them through our little iPod headphones. And then we took these songs live and realized they were really slow and we only had ten of them.
And that absolutely affected our second record. We made the second record differently because of one of the first record's weaknesses. And I think from being chained to the piano my whole career, locked up in this little introverted, sorrowful, shy kind of anti-frontman -- part of that is who I am, and part of that misses me by a mile. Part of that is no more me than if I was the drummer or something. I'm just not a drummer. And I'm just not like a locked-up, introverted guy in real life. So why would I pretend to be Rivers Cuomo on stage? For a long time I did it because I was nervous to try. If you don't try, you don't fail.
So I just kind of sat there with my back hunched over and my arms kind of hanging at the side and being like, "Oh, sorry for coming. Sorry we're not this band. Sorry we're not that band." I'm done with that, man. I'm so tired of that. I'm so tired of apologizing for people coming to our shows. Or apologizing for how big we are. Or apologizing for how small we are. Or apologizing for not meeting everybody's expectations. It's like it's so freeing to not dance by committee anymore, to be able to stand up on stage and communicate something to the front row and to the back row because it's in me, rather than communicate something that I think will make the front row and the back row like me better. That make sense?
Click through for Slade's post-show impressions opening for U2, and be sure to read the full review of the U2 concert at Invesco if you haven't already.