Posted July 20, 2014 by Jeff in Tunes

Joe King of The Fray: On the sunny side

The Fray
The Fray

Propelled by a catchy, Coldplay-like title track, The Fray’s 2005 debut became a double-platinum hit. While the guys haven’t experienced the same level of success since they’ve kept at it and their new album Helios is their most eclectic release to date. In the midst of a tour, singer-guitarist Joe King phoned in to talk about the recording process for Helios and the camaraderie that exists in the band. Oh, and he also dismissed any notion that the group is a Christian rock act.

You’re in the midst of a summer tour. How’s it been going?
We have 12 or 13 shows left. Honestly, I’m having more fun than I ever have. I’ve been thinking about that and why that is. It’s been ten years. Our first tour was in ‘06 when we opened for Weezer. I have gotten to the place in my career where I’ve let go of comparing myself to other artists above or below me. That just drives you mad. It’s an identity thing. I’ve settled into thinking that this is who we are and this is what we do. We’re going to do this for our fans that show up. We’re going to have a great time and put on a show and not be ashamed of what we do. That is the catalyst for enjoyment.

Did that mentality go into the recording process?
Honestly, we’ve had previous records where we’re bleeding it out. There’s a place and time for that. We’re always trying to reflect where we’re at in life and what we’re seeing and questioning and falling in love with. Now the wounds have healed and we’re stronger than ever. We’re in a sunny part of life. We’re all together on a boat and enjoying the air and sun. It’s coming from a good place. The songs reflect that. Some of the guys are having babies and I’m getting married.

We’re in the early thirties stage of life and we’re a little more grounded and have figured out what we want.

Did you record in Denver?
We usually start the demo process in Denver but for the proper tracking, we were at Henson studios in Los Angeles. We worked with this British producer Stuart Price, who came from the EDM world. He’s also an amazing musician. It helped us change up the way we record. Instead of doing 50 takes, after two or three takes, that was it. We fiddled around with sounds. It was a quick process. We enjoyed making the record. You can tell when an artist has made the record they didn’t like making.

Henson as in the Muppets, right?
Yeah. It’s legendary. There is a statue of Kermit there and a history of the place. There are beautiful rooms and gear. You can go in and Zen out. They have everything. Oddly, we did a Muppet soundtrack a couple of years ago. They asked us to record a song. It was us and Weezer and My Morning Jacket and Andrew Bird. We picked that song “Mahna Mahna.” We had a blast. There are no lyrics. It’s just mumbling. The fact that we didn’t have to put emotive, heart-wrenching lyrics to a song was refreshing. We put it out and next thing we know, we have this new onslaught of fans.

Your album starts with “Hold My Hand.” It sounds like a choir on that song.
Those singers we came to find out were the choir on all the Michael Jackson hits. They’re sisters and a brother. They’re a family and they’re amazing, charismatic people. They just oozed life and energy. We just let them do their thing. We tried to tell them we wanted something here or there, but we figured out quickly to step back and just push record. They’ve been doing it so long. They really pumped life into the songs.

Love Don’t Die” goes in a different direction. Talk about the song a bit.
It’s funny what happens to you right before you make a large decision. That came two days before I was about to propose to my then-girlfriend. I was freaking out. I was the one who was going to be single until I was 55. I thought I would be that guy who didn’t need a wife and would be free with a Swedish model or something. Then I met Candace and that was ruined. It’s coming out of that place and knowing that you can’t control it and when it comes, it’s going to hit you in the face. Sonically, it’s different too.

Give it Away” has a funk feel to it.
We wrote that one as we were making the record. Some songs you compile and others come in the middle of it. I had my engagement party in L.A. and we were barbequing at the pool. We were playing music that was fun and upbeat and that you didn’t need to know the words to. I left the party thinking I was going to write that kind of song. People can hang and have beers. We don’t have many in our catalogue. We have some. I wrote a really sunny song. We settled into a groove with it and it came out as one of those backyard barbeque songs.

It’s been nearly ten years since your debut. Talk a bit about what things were like back then and what is was like to have so much success right out of the gate.
When I look down at the set list when we’re playing shows, I see a storyline of the past ten years. We’ll be playing songs we wrote ten years ago and songs we wrote six years ago and four years ago and then this year. It’s a trip going through that in an hour and a half. You try to have this narrative in the live show that reflects your story and that human journey we’re all on.

You look back ten years ago, it’s a different life. The songs I wrote then, I could only have written then. I can’t write them now. It’s what I’m emotionally going through. It’s a surreal thing to see it written on a piece of paper and then performed.

Were you surprised the band took off so quickly?
Yeah. It didn’t seem like it went quick because we were in bands all our lives. We started the Fray 12 years ago and we were just putting our fingerprint on the Denver scene and doing what every local band does. We were networking and putting posters up and trying to sell a t-shirt so we could buy a beer after the show. It didn’t seem quick but once we signed and then started touring, it was like a rocket ship. We were holding on for dear life.

Is it right to think of the band as a Christian rock group?
No. We have elements of spirituality that you embrace in music in general because music is spiritual. There’s no backbone of religion in the music. We don’t have an agenda. We’re just dudes who have been lost and questioned and fallen in love and lost things along the way. We put that in the music.

Do you consider U2 an influence?
Yes and no. Part of me thinks that it’s not even real to even look up to them. They seem so unattainable and untouchable. The other side of me sees the firsthand experience we had with them from touring with them two years back. We saw the human side of them. That’s inspiring. Bono and the Edge come off stage and they treat everyone around them like they’re equals. They ‘re so gracious and thankful. They do it because they love it and they love each other. They pulled each other from the pit and they’ve all been there. Just four guys staying together for that long is absolutely admirable. You combine that with the pressures of being an artist, it’s inspiring.

You’ve been going strong since 2002. What’s the key to keeping the band together?
Part of me thinks that we had nothing to do with keeping us going. All the ones to thank are our parents and our lovely women. They are the ones who set us in the right direction early on. They’re walking with us now and they don’t put up with our bullshit right now. We were hanging with Bruce Springsteen and asked him about how he balances life and the family and the road and all that stuff. He said when he comes home his wife won’t even let him in the house. She makes him stay in a hotel down the road. After he comes down from his mountain top, she lets him in the house. They keep you straight and put you where you need to be.

Upcoming 2014 Tour Dates

July 21
July 22
July 23
July 25
July 26
July 27
July 30
Clearwater, FL – Ruth Eckerd Hall
Hollywood, FL – Seminole Hard Rock Live Area
Orlando, FL – Hard Rock Live
Cleveland, OH – Jacobs Pavilion at Nautica
Atlantic City, NJ – Borgata Resort Spa & Casino Music Box
North Towanda, NY – Gratwick Park
Boston, MA – Blue Hills Pavilion


Jeff started writing about rock ’n’ roll some 20 years ago when he stood in the pouring rain to hitch hike his way to see R.E.M. on their Life’s Rich Pageant tour. Since that time, he's written for various daily newspapers, alt-weeklies, magazines and websites. Feel free to comment on his posts or suggest music, film and art to him at [email protected].