America's coffee maker indie band 'begging' for a Middle East gig
How to save a life, how to make music with heart and how to make a damn fine cuppa coffee are all questions which can be reliably answered by The Fray front man, Issac Slade.
Working as a barista at Starbucks in Colorado for more than five years before his piano-pop band hit big with single Over My Head (Cable Car), Slade claims making music and coffee making is all about a connection.
"We sold a further million records in the next nine months. Just goes to show the power of television. It’s a new world out there. A new business model. Gone are the days of playing small clubs and your music catching on." The Fray front man, Issac Slade.
“Back then the key was connecting with my customer in 60 seconds or less,” he laughed. “Small talk was usually the answer. That and just assure them you’re working on their order in between.”
Years later and Slade believes the theory is no different now he’s made his mark on a new industry. Only now he does it with lyrics rather than lip-service.
“It’s a line, vocal or rift which can touch people,” he said quietly. Sat in his loft in Denver sipping his final whiskey of the night, Slade speaks thoughtfully.
“It’s honesty through music — that’s all.”
The Denver-based band were “doing ok” according to Slade. Having achieved success with Over My Head (Cable Car) in 2005 they had racked up sales of around a million in the years they’d been playing together.
But just nine months later and sales had doubled thanks to a little American television show called Grey’s Anatomy which featured second single, How to Save a Life, over promos for the ABC hit series.
“We’d sold about a million albums in seven years – we thought we were doing okay. We were still known and managing to make money.”
But Grey’s was a turbo booster — with extra rocket launchers.
“We sold a further million records in the next nine months. Just goes to show the power of television. It’s a new world out there. A new business model. Gone are the days of playing small clubs and your music catching on.”
According to Slade “television is the new radio” but while it did bring international fame and inflated album sales the band wanted to remain true to their music.
“Lots of bands write and produce music solely with the aim of getting them on television because they know the power the little screen holds,” said Slade. “When you start doing that you can end up with quite a bland sound because you’re trying to write for a particular show rather than from your heart. We’ve never done that. If our music has been picked up it’s been because they liked what we’d already done. It’s important not to get lost in that game.”
Super-stardom has catapulted the four boys to places in the world they didn’t even know existed but it won’t stop them trying to discover them.
“Travel is awesome,” he said with a huge sigh. “I’ve been practically begging my manager to get us a gig in the Middle East for about five years and I can’t believe it’s finally happening. It’s always great to go somewhere new and see another part of the world.”
Headlining this month’s famous beach festival Sandance on October 12, Slade says “everyone likes to discover.” “The show is high energy. Very rock and roll. It’s a live show, a real stage interaction. I think it surprises people sometimes because they think our music is more sedate. But when it’s the four of us, face-to-face it’s a great feeling.
“We’re professional but we make mistakes and I like that. It’s all about the music. The moment when you lock eyes with a band mate and you know you just felt the same thing through music.”
Understanding what Slade calls ‘The Fame Game’ however, is harder than he ever imagined. “I don’t really get it,” he said taking a swig of his nightcap. “I mean, it feels great when someone in a grocery store recognises you but it’s certainly not all about that. Life is my wife, family and good friends. I’m stoked we have become globally-known but it was never the main aim.”
Because of the success of The Fray’s double-platinum debut album, How to Save a Life, expectations were high for its self-titled second album in 2009. The latter wasn’t a huge commercial success and it wasn’t until the third album, Scars and Stories, which released earlier this year, the guys began to recognise their music again.
“We had a goal,” he said. “To make a living by making music. That’s it really. It wasn’t about fame. It was about making enough money to feed ourselves. We have always been very honest about it. Working in a coffee shop, ice-cream shop, an auto body shop — we were doing whatever it took to make ends meat.
“We weren’t exactly lighting our way to the top with the jobs we held down. We were just making music on the side. That was our strongest passion.”
Scars and Stories was produced by Brendan O’Brien, who has worked with Bruce Springsteen and Pearl Jam, and features the single Heartbeat. Christian lad Slade believes expectations will be lower this time around, and has made his peace with that.
“Faith can be a double-edged sword,” he said heading off on a tangent. “There are rules which feel like a burden and tend to strangle you and then it can be a lighthouse in the storm to get you safely to shore. Both are relevant but sometimes it’s hard to make the right decisions.
The one thing faith has taught me is that I’m here on earth for a reason. You have to believe in that. It’s not just to get laid and get paid but for a far better good.”
Sandance tickets, priced Dh275 in advance, Dh300 on the door and Dh450 VIP, are available at platinumlist.ae, at Nasimi Beach, Atlantis, selected EPPCO and ENOC petrol stations and Virgin Megastores. For table packages call 055 2004321.