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Interview: The Fray

Interview: The Fray

This feature appears in the Online Bonus for Issue 22 of RELEVANT magazine which hits stores this week. You can click here to see the full line-up for the issue and read more online-exclusive material.

The Fray is one of the hottest bands in America, but their overnight success is starting to catch up with them. Drummer Ben Wysocki explains how the band is dealing with stardom and is able to stay down to earth.

Where are you guys right now?

We’re in the first week of our time off. Isaac, our lead singer, just got married, so we all get some time off during his honeymoon. We’re at home in Denver.

So you guys have been together for three or four years now?

Yeah, something like that. For this lineup it’s been about three years. The Fray’s been a name for about four, with some different members and things … but this lineup’s been about three years.

How did you get onboard? How did you join up?

I’ve known Isaac since junior high, Dan since about the fourth grade, Joe since high school, so we’ve all been friends for a while. But Joe and Isaac had different bands in high school. Dan and I were in Isaac’s band in junior high, and Joe was in a different band. And then we all kind of got into high school, and the bands broke up and went their separate ways.

Joe and Isaac started writing together again, then about a year later pulled Dave and I on, you know, just from knowing us from past bands. Then we fired our bass player, and it’s just been the four of us ever since.

It must be a neat experience to be with a bunch of your friends.

Oh yeah it’s great. These guys are some of my best friends, and they were before The Fray started … I think that’s really important to have that foundation before the band. We’re not just some boy band that was formulated. Those friendships are what keep a lot of things together.

What’s this process of hitting it big been like? How long has this been in development?

We signed with Epic in November or December of ’03 and then recorded the record in about February or March of ’04. So we’ve kind of been working on it ever since then. I think once they got a hold of it they … it was really crazy when all the people started doing their job and our music started getting into all these hands that we never imagined.

I mean there were 70 pages describing this recording contract that we had a lawyer look at, but you don’t really understand it until you’re in the heat of it. They’ve been really good to us.

The speed definitely developed when Epic came along, just because having such a big corporation behind you, it really does things for you. Having all those people getting things done for us while we’re grocery shopping and things like that. It’s good to have that help.

Has it been difficult to stay balanced and grounded?

I think the transition is just now starting to take place, where we’re learning how to protect ourselves from some of that. There needs to be a time of that initial romantic excitement of seeing yourself on TV and hearing yourself on the radio, while that is exciting for anyone and should be … I think it’s healthy, obviously, to be really excited and pee in your pants about seeing yourself on VH1. But I think now the transition is starting to take place for all of us where we have to focus on the job ahead and focus on our personal lives outside of this and everything.

We’re having to learn how to protect ourselves from that. Like Dave, our guitarist, he told everyone, and everyone kind of understands at the label and the management, that he doesn’t really care about the charts or our position on the charts. Not only does he not care, but he doesn’t want to know. So whenever we get emails about our position on the charts, Dave’s not included. Dave just doesn’t want to know about that. And I’m kind of the same way about reviews or articles and things. Like I probably won’t read this article, because I don’t really need to.

It’s kind of gotten to the point where seeing yourself in magazines, that initial excitement, we’ve been there, and now it’s time to focus on our job ahead of us and the music. Sometimes the reviews and the charts just kind of distract you from it.

How much touring have you been doing up to this break? And what’s the plan for afterward?

We’ve done a lot of touring, and we’ll continue to do a lot more. In the tour we’re doing now, we’re having to establish friends and fans all over the States, because before we signed the record deal, we hadn’t toured at all. We’d never played outside of Denver. The first time we’d played outside of Denver as a band was the label showcase. So once we had the deal, we had a lot of work to do to backtrack and earn our keep in all these cities and familiarize the country with us. And to do that, since the record has come out, it’s helped because we’ll get to a city, and they’ll already be two steps ahead of us. They’ll already all have the record, which is a really cool feeling.

But we’re still having to earn that kind of respect, so that’s the work that we’re up to now, which is a lot of work, because by the time you cover most of the cities in the United States it’s time to go back and revisit them. It’s kind of like cleaning—once you get to the top, you have to go back to the bottom and start again.

What’s one of the craziest things to happen to you guys on the road?

I think the weirdest—which is also the most exciting when you think about it—is going to a city that we’ve never been to before and actually having people show up, having a lot of people show up. Because we’re not really veterans to this touring thing. Even in our old bands we didn’t tour very much. So as musicians we don’t really have a lot of touring experience.

We have a lot of experience where we’re playing to like five people in Denver, but as far as driving to a city and a lot of people showing up, we’re pretty naïve in all that.

I think that our first big touring experience was when we went to Charleston, S.C., and the radio station there was the first station outside of Denver to start playing us. We showed up and about 500 or 600 people turned up at the club, which is a lot of people for being in a city for the first time. That’s really exciting, that 600 strangers show up to watch you play music; it’s really flattering and strange.

As far as tour stories, we’re Christians, so the answer to that question is pretty boring. As we’re coming in contact with other touring bands and opening for other people and have other people open for us, we’re learning a lot about ourselves, because we’re a pretty boring band on the road. We’re not big partiers, so we don’t really have any party stories or anything. It’s not our style.

How do you guys like to pass the time on the road?

When we get to a city, because we’re only there for a matter of hours, we like to see as much of the city as we can. As soon as we pull up, the guys will automatically get the cameras, and we’ll try to see some cool part of the town and get a taste of the city. We all really like traveling a lot. Normally before the sound-check in the afternoon, we’ll be out, walking around the city, finding cool places. Dave is really big into food, he’s a really good chef, so he’ll try to find out the good local spot, and then he’ll write up a review on the website. The guys did a lot of bowling on this last tour; after the show, they’d find a bowling alley. Find some sort of non-musical activity.

Who are some of the bands that you’ve been touring with?

Our first big opening gig was last summer with Weezer. We went out and opened for them for a couple of weeks, which was really great. And then just last fall, we went out with Ben Folds for about a month or so and opened for him. Since then we’ve been doing headline stuff. We did a couple one-offs. We did a show with the Barenaked Ladies and another show with James Blunt. But since Ben Folds, it’s all been headline stuff. We’ve had a lot of really good bands opening for us, and we’ve had the opportunity to open for some really great bands.

Do you get a chance to hang out with some of those bands?

We do a little bit. I think with those big bands, they have a little more to worry about than the opening band. But they treated us really well, both Weezer and Ben Folds. They were never like straight-out jerks or anything. We didn’t spend a lot of time with them, but they were really good to us. Obviously we have more time to hang out with our opening bands.

What inspires you guys artistically?

As far as music, the whole band that I was in high school listened to a lot of Counting Crows, and we still do. They’re one of the biggest bands for us. We listened to Counting Crows a lot in junior high. And a lot of ’90s rock that grew up around us, Better Than Ezra, Third Eye Blind.

We’re all music junkies, so we listen to a lot of different music. But I think the bands that are really important to us are the Counting Crows and Coldplay. They paved the way for piano bands in our generation.

As far as non-musical inspiration, I was thinking about how to answer this the next time the question came up. There’s a song on the record called “How to Save a Life,” and when Isaac first came to me with the piano part, he came to me for some drums and some rhythm—he’ll have his piano with a cassette recorder and his piano parts recorder, listening back in his Honda Accord to what he recorded on his cassettes. And he told me that he was listening to this piano part with this idea that he had, and the windshield wipers were going and they were creating this really cool rhythm. So he had a little voice memo thing on his cell phone, and he tried to emulate the sound of the wipers with his mouth and then brought it to rehearsal. He said, “Can you do this beat?” The drums are a big part of the personality of that song, so the windshield wipers on Isaac’s Honda Accord make it big.

What kind of goals do you have? What would you like to see happen in the future?

We’ve all been talking about this, talking about the second record coming up and those to come, but all the bands that we really respect and that have longevity in their careers are ones that are ever-changing and always evolving. I think we’d like each of our records to sound different than the last so that people can grow with us. If people like what we do, then they can grow with us.

We’d like to see ourselves change and evolve and grow, but still kind of hold on to the identity, the voice of the music that we’re making. Each one of us has a passion for this, and we’d like to be able to hold on to it for a career. Being able to support our families this way is a really cool thing, so we’d like to be able to hold on to that as best we can. And just continue to make really honest art.

How do you guys mix music/art and faith?

We’re all Christians, and we all come from Christian backgrounds. We grew up playing worship music in church. I learned to play drums in church. So we all come from a background of being raised in Christian families.

We got to a point where, as far as making our art, we realized that to make Christian music, as far as the music industry, if we’re going to enter the music industry, we can either … In some ways it’s sad that it’s like this, but it’s just the way that it is, but there’s a pretty sharp distinction between Christian music and secular music. Some of the lines are getting blurred now with some bands lately, but there’s still definitely that distinction. There are Christian radio stations, and there’s a lot of labeling going on.

Knowing that, we wanted to steer clear of those labels and a lot of that baggage and make art in way that can relate to Christians and non-Christians. Whether that’s a ministry opportunity or not, that’s great and that’s an extra bonus, but as musicians, we didn’t want to limit ourselves to just making Christian music.

We all grew up listening to Christian music, and once we got old enough, we discovered that there was this whole world of music outside of music that our moms bought for us.

As Christians, we set out to make really honest art that is relatable and that’s understandable for people, regardless of their religious orientation or faith background. Isaac grew up writing Christian songs in a Christian language about Christian themes and Bible verses, and then he started making friend who weren’t Christians. They couldn’t understand what he was singing about and they didn’t know … they couldn’t relate to it, and they didn’t understand it. There are some really great Christian bands out there that we really respect and are really good at making Christian music for Christians, and that’s a really good thing for some people. But for us, we’re called to make music for more than just the Church, to make music for the unchurched people and hopefully speak a bit of life into them.

So if you weren’t part of The Fray, what would you be doing?

I think if I weren’t in The Fray, I’d be in another band. I’d be in some other band, playing drums and making music. Either that or hanging out at home with my wife.

What would your dream show look like?

Definitely it would be outdoors. There wouldn’t be more than 10,000 people. I think I would rather attend a good show: Ryan Adams, I’d like to see him with his group The Cardinals, and I’d like to see some big arena bands in small settings, U2 and Bruce Springsteen, Pearl Jam, in a venue that holds under 10,000 people.

If you could choose one superhero power to have, what would it be?

I think it would probably be to fly. I would like to see the earth from that standpoint. I’d like to fly.

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