Unexpurgated: An interview with Isaac of The Fray (22 March 2010)


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HI THERE fellow Poparazziacs,

Yes, I know it’s been a while since I’ve posted anything up here. But I spent last week recharging my batteries – quite literally, I have a lot of rechargeable batteries – but now I’m back and feeling even better than that slug I keep seeing every morning at the bus stop.

That said, I’m starting this new segment on the blog called UNEXPURGATED, where I’ll feature all the interviews that we’ve had over the years. All in the interviewees own words. Allloveunexpurgated. All uncompromising. And I thought I’d start withloveTHE FRAYlove-loveIsaac Slade, Joe King, Ben Wysocki and Dave Welsh – who’ll take to the stage for the first time in Singapore at the Timbre Rock And Roots Festival tomorrow night. This is what Isaac had to say…

Hello there! How are you? What’s been happening so far?loveWe’re just working on our third record actually. We have a studio here in our hometown where we’ve been writing and recording stuff for the past six months and we’re working on that before we go out to Singapore. It’s been a good mix of playing shows and recording.

Wow, can you give us a sneak peek as to what it’s going to be like?loveI don’t know actually. It’s still pretty early on. We have about 10 demos done. Every one of them is pretty different. We have one kind of a slow Marvin Gaye type tune. There’s another pretty straight ahead aggressive, early ’80s electronic tune.

How far are you goingloveto push the musical envelope?loveWell, we bought a 24-track tape machine, although it hasn’t come in yet, but we want to get into the whole analogue thing. And we have really cool old microphones, organs, 1960s guitars and amps, and I’ve got a big old grand piano and a small crappy lovetack piano… so we’re really putting the instruments in. and I think the biggest risk we want to take is to make it sound like it was recorded in a live room. Rather than just doing it on a computer. We listened to all the records that we liked, and it’s kind of the same. A lot of them stay true to that recorded-live-in-a-room feel. Like Rage Against The Machine or The Beatles, they just did it – five takes, and they kept the best one. I mean, it’s okay to use Protools or whatever, but use it for what it’s good for, and not lean on it too much.

What can we expect for the show tomorrow?love

We’re a little intimidated by it actually. There’s a big cultural difference between us and Singapore and I find that fascinating, but it’s a mystery to me. I can’t wait to see what the crowd is like. It’s pretty emotive. We’re singing stories about our lives and our friends’ lives. And because of that, the songs mean a lot to us and we kinda get lot in the performance sometimes. And we try to find that place and stay there and play from that. But we havea very good time playing live.

Is it difficult translating your songs live?loveThere’s a song called Say When. We played it in the studio and we knew it was going to be a good one live, but it didn’t know it was going to be so hard to translate. It’s a very high song for me to sing, consistently building the song from quiet in the beginning to really loud at the end. It’s almost like it requires surgical precision. We listen to a lot of jazz and classical music, which is the most precise music out there – and I have respect for those who communicate music that way. Welove had a difficult time – now we’re in the groove of it and we’re sort of settled in with it – but it was hard taking those moments in the studio and trying to play it thousands of people.

Are you keen to catch the other acts at the festival?loveI know of Buddy Guy by reputation, though I’venever heard him live. I have friends who are totally obsessed with The Gypsy Kings. And Jools Holland’s show is one of our favourite shows. Have you seen his television show? That’s one of the best shows out there.

You guys did The Beatles’ Sgt Pepper tribute…loveYeah, that was incredible. We did the Sgt Peppertribute with Geoff Emerick (The Beatles’ engineer at the time) at the Dire Straits studio, but they brought in a lot of the original Abbey Road equipment. We recorded on the original decks, the pre-amps and everything. Then we did Live At Abbey Road, the show, and the whole crew was just flipping out, looking at all the stuff they used last time, like the tack piano (which can be heard on Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da) and it was totally great.

What’s a memorable gig for you?loveYou know the venue, Red Rocks? My first concert I ever went to was at Red Rocks in 1985. I was four-years-old, and I remember I was on my dad’s shoulders watching the show. And I went back there a few times in my teenage years, watching Radiohead, and then, when we started playing music, we watched concert footage of U2 playing there, and it just became the place to play, you know? We played there a couple of times. They were good shows, although at first it wasn’t quite what we imagined. We didn’t what to do with the size of it at the beginning. It’s quite an unwieldly thing because it’s so big. We did three nights in a row, and on the middle night, it rained. And that connected me to the audience intimately, because we were all going through the same thing. There’s no roof at Red Rocks, so all of us were getting wet. And you know sometimes you have to work the whole show to get that kind of connection with the audience, but day, that happened automatically. It’s easily the best show!

Any other shows like that?loveActually, five years ago in Boston, we were just starting to get around. We’d sold 300,000 records or something, so we were out there, but not like crazy big. And five songs in, I lost my voice, I couldn’t sing any more, I was cawing. And I squeaked out, “I have to quit early, I can’t sing any more, will you sing these next few songs for me?” And the crowd just went nuts! 800 people in Boson. They didn’t know all the words, but they knew enough to keep it going. I think they’d have done that all along, I just never asked them to sing before! But thankfully, they’ve been doing that ever since.

Do you get any Spinal Tap moments?loveWe’ve got lost backstage before. We get into fights about what props go onstage. Like one time, I wanted to use this big sheet that goes around the piano – I was fighting for it – and we set it up and it was so windy it almost knocked all the lights off. So we had to take it down. We’ve had our fair share of manager fights as well.


Which one of you would complain about the slice of ham not being able to fit the slice of bread?loveProbably Ben. He cares the most about how the stage looks and all that. And he’s very good about sharing his feelings. There’s a funny story about him. Now, Joe used to work at an auto body shop. So if you got into an accident you just take the car in and he’d be the one who’d say, ‘Welcome, park your car here’ and he’d take a clipboard with a piece of paper and walk around the car tell you it’s about $1700. So one day, Ben was driving us to a photo shoot – this was early on – and he parked too close to the car next to us and it started scraping it. And we yelled, ‘Stop, stop!’ but maybe he panicked or something and just kept on driving in and the scrap got worse and worse. And finally he realised what he’d been doing, but then we had to reverse our of the lot, so we scraped it all over again! When we finally parked the car, Joe got out and had a look. “Yeah, we got $1400 worth of damage there”.

What’s the best thing or worst thing about being in The Fray?loveThe best thing is we get a lot of freedom on our records. Worst thing? I can’t think of anything to complain about. We’re so fortunate to be in this position and be able to do this job. I worked at Starbucks for five years and I had a dream about working a shift there again. And I woke up and I really wanted to work there. So I called the store I used to work at and asked the manager if I could do a shift and he said okay. So I’m going to back this summer and work a shift at my old Starbucks. And I’ll probably remember how early I had to wake up, like 4am or something. That’ll be fun.

When will the bubble burst?loveHaha! I don’t know. We could either do this for another 10 years and split happily ever after. Ben would be a producer, Dave would open his own restaurant, Joe would open up a surf shop and I don’t know what I’d do. Or we could just slow it down an make a new record every four years for the next 40. We could go either way. I think I want to play the Super Bowl when I’m 55 so we’ll see how that goes.

The Timbre Rock And Roots Festival happens today and tomorrow at the Marina Promenade. Tickets from $108 from Bytes (www.bytes.sg) or call 6332 6919