THE FRAY

The Mup­pets, ad­vice from Bono and world travel helped The Fray find their mojo, writes James Wigney

Sunday Tasmanian - Tassie Living - - Front Page -

Saved by Bono and The Mup­pets.

THINGS were look­ing grim for US rock band The Fray ( pic­tured) af­ter their self- ti­tled sec­ond al­bum.

Hav­ing made two hit records, which yielded the mon­ster sin­gles How To Save a Life and You Found Me and four Grammy nom­i­na­tions, the Den­ver quar­tet were be­ing torn apart by in- fight­ing and were also ques­tion­ing what they were do­ing and whether they wanted to con­tinue do­ing it.

They were on the verge of split­ting when they re­con­vened to de­cide whether there would even be a third al­bum, and the early at­tempts at writ­ing were not go­ing well.

Sal­va­tion came in the most un­likely of guises: The Mup­pets.

The band was given the op­por­tu­nity to record a song for last year’s Mup­pets: The Green Al­bum and the much- loved non­sense song Mahna Mahna leapt off the list be­cause it had no lyrics.

Many drinks and laughs later, they found their mojo com­ing back and their joy in cre­at­ing mu­sic again.

‘‘ Part of the pain of song­writ­ing is writ­ing great lyrics some­times and the fact we could sing the song with just what­ever was a per­fect op­por­tu­nity to let loose,’’ gui­tarist Joe King says.

‘‘ We were in Ve­gas and we weren’t re­ally get­ting along so it was amaz­ing to not say any­thing and have it bond you.

‘‘ We needed a break from heavy emo­tional lyrics so we just drank a lot to record that.’’

The record­ing of what would be­come the band’s third al­bum, Scars and Sto­ries, was also punc­tu­ated by dates sup­port­ing su­per­group U2, en­abling them to trial new songs but also adding to their ex­is­ten­tial cri­sis. ‘‘ It made me ques­tion ev­ery­thing,’’ says singer and pi­anist Isaac Slade.

‘‘ It made me ques­tion what we were do­ing with our art and were we pro­gress­ing and chal­leng­ing our­selves? Are we writ­ing bet­ter songs?

‘‘ When you see it like that, it’s hard not to see the scale and the size of it and think about how they have done it and how they con­nect to peo­ple.’’

Ad­vice from Bono made the band feel bet­ter about their un­cer­tainty and the sense of be­ing lost.

Rather than fight the feel­ing, they em­braced it, rea­son­ing that it would take them into un­charted wa­ters cre­atively.

‘‘ Bono said he had never felt con­fi­dent go­ing into the stu­dio,’’ King says. ‘‘ You’d think that they would be say­ing ‘ we have the songs and it’s go­ing to be a great record’ but he said that if you know ev­ery­thing you are go­ing to do be­fore you go into the stu­dio, and the song is chis­elled and per­fect, then you leave no room for magic to hap­pen in the stu­dio.

‘‘ So it’s nice to have holes and ques­tions be­fore you go in.’’

Also key to The Fray’s re­newal was the decision to spend part of the record­ing bud­get on trav­el­ling – but as in­di­vid­u­als, rather from the in­side of a tour bus.

Slade used the op­por­tu­nity to visit Rwanda, where he spent time with Pres­i­dent Paul Kagame and vis­ited the geno­cide mu­seum.

His ex­pe­ri­ences there led him to write Heart­beat, which would be­come the first sin­gle from Scars and Sto­ries.

‘‘ I kept en­vi­sion­ing the coun­try as this girl who was six in the ’ 90s when the geno­cide hap­pened, which would make her about 23 now,’’ Slade says.

‘‘ And I met a woman there who was about that age and she was beau­ti­ful but she had this sor­row to her voice that made me want to ask her 100 ques­tions – how she made it, who helped her as a lit­tle girl – and she is a metaphor for the coun­try.

‘‘ They are get­ting back on their feet but un­der in­cred­i­ble duress.

‘‘ I love that idea – it’s very Spring­steen to res­cue your girl from the bad guys and get her out of town.’’

With song ti­tles such as Rainy Zurich and Mu­nich, and spe­cific ge­o­graph­i­cal ref­er­ences dot­ted through­out the lyrics, their trav­els are plain to see in the al­bum.

Back in the stu­dio, their choice of pro­ducer Bren­dan O’brien helped them snap out of their funk and re­ally got things mov­ing.

Slade says he and his band­mates have a ten­dency to over- think things and some­times find them­selves stuck.

O’brien, fa­mous for his work with AC/ DC, Pearl Jam and Bruce Spring­steen, was hav­ing none of that, rea­son­ing that the band’s in­stincts and de­ci­sions were the right ones, sim­ply by virtue of their hav­ing made them.

The re­sult, says King is an al­bum that is as ex­tro­verted as the first two al­bums were in­tro­verted, with a sound that is much closer to their live act.

‘‘ I am proud that this record re­flects where we are in life right now be­cause we are search­ing more than we ever have, in­di­vid­u­ally and col­lec­tively, we are try­ing to dis­cover more, we are more cu­ri­ous and try­ing to open up,’’ King says.

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