Interview: The Fray -- Isaac Slade
After just releasing the long-awaited third full-length album, Scars and Stories, Isaac Edward Slade, who is probably better known as the lead vocalist, songwriter, pianist, and co-founder of the massively successful piano rock band, The Fray, sat down with us at Lennox Pub to take a breather before playing The Orpheumin Vancouver. ( Feb. 26th, 2012)
You guys are around ten days into the tour in support of Scars and Stories. Howís it going so far?
Isaac: Itís going great man. Actually, it feels like a new band in some ways. Thereís some stuff weíve all been going through personally and professionally; and weíre really freeing ourselves up from everybodyís opinions. Maybe itís because I turned thirty. But the shows have a new abandon to them which is pretty alright.
Have there been any really memorable moment from the tour so far?
Isaac: Last night actually. I was playing an old song called Say When and usually I stay on the stage, far away from everybody. For some reason I felt like I needed to jump back down to the crowd and I was standing on the barrier and it got to this big, huge, intense moment about war, and god, and country and boundary and this huge, burley, atypical Fray fan stuck his hand out and I grabbed it and we both had this arm wrestling moment as I sang the high notes of the song. It felt very Gladiator. *Laughs* Thereís been moments like that throughout the whole tour.
I remember a story that you said once where you were eighteen or nineteen and you came up to Vancouver to buy some beer with your friends and your car ended up getting towed. Are you afraid now that youíre tour vanís going to get towed?
Isaac: *laughs* Thankfully, my name is not on the bus title Ė so they canít track me down and by the time you print this, Iíll be long gone.
Hey, listen. I issued a statement and Iíll issue it again here in Shave Magazine: if Vancouver officials want to contact me with my outstanding balance for probably a hundred and seventy dollars, I will gladly pay it. But I lost the ticket, soÖ AhhÖ my rebellious youth days... How long is the jurisdiction on that? Is it seven years?
I have absolutely no idea.
Isaac: Well, if itís more than seven then Iím scot-free.
Youíre good, youíre laughing now.
Isaac: Ha! *laughs* I paid the impound though. Which was a hundred and seventy dollars in and of itself just to get the car out and then we had to paid another two hundred bucks or somethingÖ. I donít encourage that. Only in towns where you donít live.
The album was just released on the 7th, how has the reception been so far?
Isaac: Odd actually for us. Weíve gotten a lot of good reviews; weíre not used to good reviews. Weíre used to fans liking it but weíve never been critical darlings. So we donít really know what to do with all the good reviews; but the fans are coming out and singing the words and thatís what I really care about. Itís cool.
You guys finished recording it in July and just released it now in February. How annoying was it having to wait like seven months before you were able to release it and share it?
Isaac: Thatís really hard. We have some friends who do movies and the time they have to wait Ė itís three times as long as we do. We did it fast. Those guys finish a movie and it doesnít come out for fourteen months. Itís just sitting there and waiting. For us it was only like two seasons Ė it was fall and winter and then the album came out. But it is a weird thing, by the time it comes out; it feels really familiar to us but brand new to everybody else. Youíve got play a game a little bit with your head where it takes four months to set it up, marketing wise. Thatís just the name of the game.
Now the album has actually five different versions of it. You have the twelve track album, then the iTunes exclusive with 5 cover songs, the Wal-Mart exclusive, the Target exclusive and the Japanese exclusive. Why so many?
Isaac: I didnít know about the Japanese one, thatís good.
Thereís two bonus songs on that.
Isaac: Itís a new time now man. You put out your record, the quintessential thing. We pressed it on vinyl; itís got twelve songs Ė thatís my third record. And then thereís a bunch of bonus stuff that we just loved and didnít know what to do with it. We had this covers EP that we did, we had a couple live versions, a couple b-sides Ė a couple things that we wanted to get out there.
Back in the day youíd release a seven inch vinyl with a couple extras on there. The single on one side and then a couple extras on the b-side. Itís the digital era, so yeah. I like the Japanese version, *laughs* I have to look that up.
It has the Bruce Springsteen acoustic cover and then a live version ofÖ I forget what song. [Note: it is a live version of The Fighter]
Isaac: Thatís awesome, I gotta look that up.
Youíve released so many b-sides Ė why didnít you release the Scars and Stories b-side which is actually the title track?
Isaac: I have not figured out how to play that song yet. Itís a cool five or six verses, Bob Dylan-esque effort. Itís like a little folk song at this point. Thereís two versions of it. One of just me on acoustic. It sounds really crappy, itís on my phone. Then one full band version doing a very sort of Wilco attempt at it. Almost Paul Simon type of thing. And neither one has latched on yet; so we want to wait to put it out.
And our producer told us that Houses of the Holy was an album name for Zeppelin before the song came out on the next album Ė so he said we have permission, from Zeppelin themselves, to put Scars and Stories out on the next album.
Thatís all you need really. But of course, as we said Ė the album was finished recorded in July and then released in February. Iím assuming that at some point in that time it was leaked ahead of schedule. Do you think having all these digital bonuses work as an added incentive for people to go out and actually buy it when it does come out?
Isaac: I donít know. I donít know how all that works. Honestly, I try to keep really smart people around me. With the band, we work with some fantastic industry experts that guard the gates for us and keep us in the song writing business.
And obviously you do have a pretty smart marketing team behind you. I mean in 2006, the How To Save A Life album was deemed the biggest selling digital album of all time, in the US anyway. Do you constantly try to make digital a part of your promotional package or is that just how it happens?
Isaac: I think it may have been how it happened. Our band started in 2002, a couple months before or after iTunes started Ė I canít remember which came first. But we and iTunes came up together and we have some really good friends there. We do things for them when we can; they do things for us when they can. Itís beyond favours and professional relationships Ė weíre friends with those guys. Theyíre such good guys. Like the guy in charge of the rock page in iTunes worked at a vinyl store on the East coast for ten years until he saved up enough money to buy the store and then owned it for another ten years. So after twenty years of retail experience at a record store, he moved to iTunes. So these are really music guys. We would take a bullet for those guys.
Now, speaking about vinyl Ė the album artwork for Scars and Stories has a very nostalgic feel to it. Not just the wear and tear on it, but more importantly the black bar on top with the track listing and the stereo logo and all that. It has a very old school vinyl vibe to it. Why was that? What was the motivation behind that?
Isaac: Weíve worked with the same artists for every single record. Theyíre called the Johnson Brothers and they have a design firm called The Made Shop. They listened to our record and looked through all of our photographs and came up with this vintage concept. They felt it best captured what we were going for with scars beyond reminiscent of the past and what happened. Kind of like a map of what youíve been through. They loved the vintage idea and Ben, the drummer, collects vinyl. So of course he loved it.
I also like how on the top you have ďRecorded and Copyrighted 2011Ē even though it was released in 2012. Do you think that will ever cause some confusion down the road?
Isaac: Nope. You copyright it when you make it. Not when you put it out. So yeah, 2011.
Now when you guys went into record the album, you guys used a portion of the recording budget to travel around the world. What were some of your favourite places that you hit and how did that inspire the album?
Isaac: Thatís a good question. We took a trip to Europe; we were there for a couple weeks. We went to Zurich and Joe walked around in the rain and wrote this great song about looking for love. Then we went to Munich and I wrote a song Ė I started writing a song there Ė just in sound check. Thinking about the Large Hadron Collider that was like right next door and they were looking for the God Particle and scientists were peering over the edge of human knowledge and what we know and finding a new thing. The guys came into sound check and started playing around with the riff I was playing and a song was born. Itís like we were writing in the shadows of the mountain of this new billion and billion dollars, expensive science project that was literally next door.
So it affected a lot. We went to Africa and started the Heartbeat and started Turn Me On. We took a few trips to Cape Towne and Bengali and we went to New Orleans and wrote 1961 down there. In Nashville, Joe and I wrote Run For Your Life. We travelled everywhere, and we wrote some of the best songs weíve ever written.
Now with some many albums being able to be recorded on computers and at home, do you think its better to just take the money, travel and get inspiration and then record it at home?
Isaac: *laughs* Well, itís certainly a lot more fun way to write a record. I donít know. I record some of my best stuff on my little iPhone voice memo recorder. Thatís where the magic happens. If it sounds good there, it sounds good anywhere. A lot of bad songs sound really good on a nice system. *laughs*
I write a lot on a crappy little guitar my wife got me fixed up for and this old hundred and twenty year old piano that she had, that she brought into our marriage. And it doesnít lie. If you play a bad song on it, it sounds bad. If you play a good song on that piano, youíre good.
On top of the travelling, you have a lot of other interesting inspiration. Like The Fighter was inspired by the Norman Rockwell painting ďStrictly A Sharpshooter,Ē and you had a video that was inspired by the Wim Wenders movie ďWings of Desire;Ē the song Turn Me On was taken from a 1940s YouTube fire dancer. Do you like taking inspiration from all these different pieces of artwork and different elements like that?
Isaac: Yeah, every piece of art is standing on the shoulders of another artist. You canít get away from that. From the moment you open your eyes as a child, you are subject Ė whether you like it or not Ė to all the visuals and all the stimulus around you. I think every single thing Iíve ever written has come from a composite of every single thing Iíve ever heard, seen, known and learned. So I love being proactive about that. Going out and actively searching for art that connects. Whether itís a street artist from Port-Au-Prince or a renaissance sculpture, thereís artists out there who have been doing it a lot longer than us and do it a lot better to draw inspiration from.
Now like I said, the video for You Found Me was inspired by Wim Wendersí ďWings of Desire.Ē That movie is considered a classic, and you were also just involved in another movie which Iím sure will soon be considered a classic as well. Of course, it is The Muppets Movie where you guys did ďMahna Mahna.Ē How did you guys get involved with that for The Green Album?
Isaac: I donít know. Somebody called somebody and asked us if we wanted to do it and we said ďhell yes!Ē
We were in Vegas and we had a studio we booked in the Playboy Hotel in downtown Vegas because they have the nicest recording studio in Las Vegas. So we went straight up from the lobby to the studio, without looking, and recorded it in one night.
We were really sober and it wasnít working. It sounded really stiff. We brought a bunch of Jack Daniels and red wine of some kind and the song started sounding better. *laughs*
Just loosen up and youíre good to go. Let loose like the Muppets do.
Isaac: Exactly. Alcohol is the key to all kids songs.
I guess thatís about it, thanks a lot. Do you have any final thoughts youíd like to add?
Isaac: Nah man. You did a hell of an interview, thanks. I appreciate it.
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