The Fray, playing Cosmo, touching fans with emotional music


If you've gotten married and/or died and been buried in recent years, chances are you've done it to a tune by The Fray.

The piano-driven pop rock band has penned perhaps the most ubiquitous wedding song of recent memory, "Look After You," while their soft-scrubbed, lip-quivering lilt frequently soundtracks wakes as well.

It's some emotionally charged stuff, the band's catalog registering as a slingshot of sentiment.

As such, it leads to some predictably intense fan encounters for these dudes.

"People immediately come and just open up," says Fray guitarist Joe King. "You're at dinner or you're grabbing a drink and then all of a sudden this person is there and they're like, boom! They unleash all this stuff, some of the deepest things that maybe they wouldn't even share with the closest people in their lives. And you're getting it all.

"It can be overwhelming," he admits. "It can be a lot to take in sometimes."

That's the thing: When you're in a band whose tunes frequently become associated with the most emotional of events, people then attach those emotions on to you.

And they want to share them.

"It's crazy to hear the stories that people connect our songs to," King says of interacting with fans. "At first, I felt like I needed to respond right away, like they needed me to say something, and so I had to awkwardly respond when someone would tell about this difficult time in their life.

"I'd say some stupid thing, like I'm trying to be a therapist or something," he adds. "I learned very quickly, 'Wow, no,' they just wanted to tell me and I should just be grateful and say 'Thanks.' They didn't need me to say anything."

Besides, The Fray's tunes, candid and confessional, seldom leave anything left unsaid anyway.

There's no need for further elaboration, really, which may be one of the reasons why some people gravitate to them so strongly.

"It's one of the best things about writing songs," King says. "You want people to apply their life to it and put their own story to it."

The Fray have catalyzed hundreds of thousands of these narratives upon releasing their double platinum 2005 debut, "How to Save a Life."

In the years since, they've put out two more discs, both of which debuted in the top five of the Billboard album chart, earned four Grammy nominations and seen three of their songs sell more than 2 million copies each.

They've done it by establishing a winning formula and sticking with it: Their songs don't make waves, rather they build slowly to moments of emotional release that come with each ceaselessly rousing chorus designed to get cellphones aloft in packed arenas.

Basically, they're the musical equivalent of a Nicholas Sparks novel: maudlin enough to make critics scoff, popular enough to make the masses line up for each new release.

And so the band's fortunes have risen quickly.

King says that his success finally dawned on him one day when he got a call from his grandma.

"She was like, 'I'm a rock star in Spokane because my grandson is on the radio,' " he recalls with a chuckle. "She said she was famous. The radio station even called her house and interviewed her about her grandson. It was just so surreal. 'Is this happening?' "

For King, who was working as an auto damage appraiser before the Denver-based band took off, there's been a learning curve in getting acclimated to having a higher public profile.

"I think for a period of time, I kind of lost perspective on relationships and people around me," he says. "You start to kind of believe the hype and ego can come in. I definitely wrestled with that for a while. I was always in a hurry for the next thing because there was such an adrenaline rush and the stimulation level is so high.

"It's like walking around in Vegas," he adds. "Your first time on the Strip, there's just so much to take in, your heartbeat's racing. It's a lot like that. It's hard to slow down, it's hard to just be like, 'OK, let's breathe for a second.' "

King's still working on the whole breathing thing.

A father of two, he's trying to get a grip on things with the help of one of his kids.

Child's play?

Not really.

"I still bite my nails, I'm trying to stop that," he says. "I made a little pact with my 6-year-old daughter, she's working on not sucking her thumb any more, so I was like, 'All right, girl, let's do this together.' I'll put on that stinky nail polish that tastes like dung with you and we'll stop together. Sometimes you just don't know how much anxiety you're carrying around with you. I don't know if I'll figure it out.

"For me, the biggest trap I could ever fall into is just saying, 'I got it. We're there. This is easy,' " he continues. "If I ever get to that place, you can run around and just smack me in the face."

Contact reporter Jason Bracelin at jbracelin@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0476.

 

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