Band coming to Opera House needed readjustment and Muppet inspiration.
If you’re ever stuck in a creative rut to the point where there’s tension between your respective bandmates, you should follow The Fray‘s lead: record one of your favourite Muppets songs.
Lead singer, pianist and songwriter Isaac Slade said that his Denver band’s contribution to the film The Muppets — “Mahna Mahna” on the soundtrack — ended up being the perfect icebreaker when it came time to start writing for the Denver melodic rockers’ new album Scars & Stories a few years back.
“We weren’t actually getting along,” recalls Slade of fellow Fray men Joe King (co-founding guitarist), Dave Welsh (guitar) and Ben Wysocki (drummer), whose only January performance will be at the Opera House this Tuesday to preview the album, out Feb. 7.
“It was kind of a dark period. We were trying to write this record, but having a tough time connecting — especially Joe and I.
“Then we got so drunk in Vegas at the Playboy Hotel, where they have a really nice recording studio that they let us use. It was the first time that Joe and I got back into the booth together and shared the same mic, looked each other in the eye, and recorded the tune.
“It was one of the most rock ‘n’ roll moments we had — that damn Muppets song.”
But Slade admits even prior to the Great Muppet Song Rescue, he was struggling with the overnight success of their respective 2005 multi-platinum and 2008 gold albums How To Save A Life and The Fray, the former which earned them a following with the hits “Over My Head (Cable Car)” and the title track, which lived on the Billboard Hot 100 an incredible 58 weeks.
“I didn’t adjust very well, actually,” admits Slade, the son of missionaries. “I kind of crashed when we got to that point. I grew up in a really religious family in a really religious culture, and I don’t know if I really got what the religion was about . . . as it really didn’t sink down into my life, you know?
“Because of that, I had this split personality. My first 26 years of life, I knew what people wanted, I thought I knew how to make them like me, how to behave, and I had this outside shell. Meanwhile, inside I was freaking out, worried about fears and resentment and hurt that I never dealt with.
“And the band, and my marriage — everything kind of came to a head for me right after the second record came out. It was May and I had just turned 28, and I had a complete breakdown. I didn’t go to the hospital or anything, but it was pretty close. I was freaking out.”
Slade, 30, said the band’s consequent 2009 summer tour put things in perspective.
“I realized that I don’t have to make everybody like me and I don’t have to keep everybody happy all the time. The shell kind of cracked (and) I got very, very real. I lost some friends. I lost some people. But the friends that stayed are the ones I’ll have for life.”
The band also made changes in the production chair, trading out the successful two-album tandem of Aaron Johnson and Mike Flynn for Brendan O’Brien (AC/DC, Pearl Jam, Bruce Springsteen).
“The first two records were a really good process, but it was a lot more about, ‘No, you can’t do that,’ ” Slade explains. “Brendan didn’t let us doubt ourselves.
“He just kept the momentum up. It was like I was looking for a therapy session, and he’d give me the football-coach kind of experience.”
Slade says Fray fans should notice a big progression on Scars & Stories.
“I’ve always wanted to write a big record about the universe, about the stuff that holds the world together and why we’re here and how to make sense of attraction between a man and a woman, and how to make sense of gravity,” declares Slade, who promises the Fray will return for a full-fledged Canadian tour later in 2012.
“Our first record, I sang it straight out of my diary about me and my life and our little world. The second one, we looked up from our journals a bit and this third record, I really feel confident that we’ve left the coffee shop.
“And it sounds like it — to me, Scars & Stories sounds like there’s abandon — like the ship has lost sight of the shore.”