After being honored as the 84th most influential band of the last decade by Billboard Magazine, Denver, Colo.’s The Fray released their third studio album – the first of this decade — on Feb. 7. The Current was recently given the opportunity to speak with the band’s guitarist, Dave Welsh, during a break in rehearsals for The Fray’s upcoming tour that will have made its sole Northern California stop on Feb. 20. Welsh discussed the band’s close-to-10-year history together and all the “scars and stories” that have happened along the way.
Mark Lewis: Before we talk about your much-anticipated album “Scars & Stories” and corresponding tour, I wanted to inform our audience a little about how The Fray was formed. Along with The Fray’s drummer, Ben Wysocki, you both were the worships leader’s for a band in Denver, Colo. when you both were only 21 years old.
Dave Welsh: You know I’ve thought about it a lot and historically a lot of people I think learn music in church weather it’s just singing or playing the piano. We (lead-singer and pianist, Isaac Slade and lead-guitarist Joe King) grew-up in a small suburb of Denver where we all kind-of knew each other. Isaac and Joe were a few years older and had been working on projects of their own. Ben and I were always wondering what would happen when those projects stopped. They eventually did and that was kind of history, as they say.
Most certainly, a couple of years later – The Fray had emerged!
Absolutely! Yeah Ben and I had to drop-out of school for the band. At the moment, we’re doing some rehearsals here in Bloomington, Indiana and I was driving through this college town which is home to the big Indiana University and I was really kind of baffled by that. I never really was able to experience any of that – just walking around in a college sweatshirt and eating at the local Thai restaurant six nights a week. It’s interesting but Ben and I found our education elsewhere I guess.
You mentioned people learning to play the piano in a church setting and I know you initially tried to play both piano and saxophone without much success. Then at the age of 12 years old, you learned guitar and ironically now you’re the guitarist in a band whose music is commonly labeled piano rock.
[Laughs] I know! It kind of makes me wish I had stuck with piano then I might have been featured more in the first few years. I toyed around with a bunch of different things. My dad’s an accomplished musician with a great musical mind. I think it was just a matter of time before I found an instrument I could settle into. It was in the cards in a way I guess.
With the number of rock radio stations at an all-time national low, what’s an up-and-coming band to do without the platform that put The Fray on the map?
That’s a great question. You know I think all four of us agree and lament on that same question. We grew-up listening to bands that a whole new generation doesn’t know. I don’t know if kids listen to Pearl Jam these days and that’s not necessarily a bad thing because things change. The music hasn’t really changed but you’re right about rock radio. It’s ironic in the same sense as a piano player changing to play guitar for a piano rock band [Laughs].
After the success of “Over My Head (Cable Car),” there was a fledgling little show called “Grey’s Anatomy” on ABC that premiered in 2005. Do you want to take it from there?
Sure. Like you said you did experience some success with “Cable Car” and that allowed us to go and play small venues you know the ones that would maybe 400 people and then “Grey’s” came along and it became a force unto itself. All of the sudden we were sprinting to catch up. It gets to be the year 2007 and we are selling-out amphitheaters yet a year before that we were playing small clubs. We definitely felt both the momentum and a paradigm shift. Whenever people wanted an experience like that they could get it through radio especially during radios heyday. Over the years the ability for people to choose (how they listened to music) changed and we were like holy s***, what’s going on?
You’ve been labeled by various outlets as both a Christian band and as we discussed earlier, a piano rock band. My question is how would guitarist Dave Welsh label The Fray’s musical sound?
Well labels tend to put bands into categories with other similar sounding bands. I suppose piano rock is an accurate description but the band made a conscious effort on the upcoming record to not distance ourselves from any label but to simply grow. With a stage show consisting of a huge black piano – we wanted to feature new and different instruments. Well it turns-out guitars are not knew and rock bands have been using them for years [Laughs].
For “Scars & Stories,” the band enlisted Brendan O’Brien to produce the record. What was it like working with O’Brien who has produced albums for Springsteen, Pearl Jam and Neil Young?
It was daunting, challenging, amazing, frightening and all of these things that I think when you’re only 27-years-old and trying to put down a piece of music that you’re going to be proud of in a decade and you’re working with a guy who has worked with some of the best who have ever done it. The thing about him (O’Brien) is that he has all the tools, the skill set and knowledge is that he’s an amazingly accomplished guitarist himself. When you get a compliment from someone like him – you know he really means it. He doesn’t just throw them around. There were a couple times where he give me a compliment or told me an anecdote regarding something I had just played for him that will stick with me over time.
The finished product is “Scars & Stories.” Was the album thematic in a way? How do you view the finished collection of songs as a whole entity?
You know it is just an autobiographical as any of our previous work. I think we’ve figured-out over time that that is the only way we can really write songs however I do feel that this album is more outgoing. Our previous work at times was more contemplative however after a couple of years we’ve had big things happen to us, we’ve had terrible things happen and now I think it sounds more like we’re pulling from higher highs and lower lows.
Do you have a favorite song off the new album?
[Laughs] Well, officially no but I think “The Wind” is a song that has been great to play live and I think it just fit-in really well with the album. Nothing didn’t turn out well on the album but while I’m listening to the album for some reason I just go back to that song. I was very pleased with how it came out.
On Feb. 7 your third studio album “Scars & Stories” will finally be released to public. The album was actually completed back in July of 2011. Are you nervous or anxious about the album’s reception both from fans and critics?
We’ve played these new songs quite often over the past few months and there’s still some polishing that we intend to do on a couple tracks but no I can’t say there’s any sense of nervousness about it. It’s been a long time coming so now there’s just this eagerness to see what people think.
Dave, thank you on behalf of “The Current” and our audience for taking the time to speak with us!