The Fray's Isaac Slade Jokes About Juarez Street Fighters and Sunburns, Gets Serious About Sincerity

The Fray's Isaac Slade Jokes About Juarez Street Fighters and Sunburns, Gets Serious About Sincerity
Danny Clinch

Editor's note: I teach a class on new media/journalism to high school students at the Museum of Contemporary Art North Miami, and one of my students is a big fan of the Fray. He helped me formulate the questions I later asked Isaac Slade. So, big shoutout to Volkens!


A popular rock band known for its earnest songs, the Fray was almost called Juarez Street Fighters. It was the name guitarist Joe King preferred when they were choosing names. Lead singer, pianist, and main songwriter Isaac Slade said jokingly tha it was likely one that "would bring all the wrong people." 

As a new nameless band, the Fray played in celebration of Slade's younger brother's graduation in a soccer field. "There were about a hundred people there. I think six were actually listening to us," Slade admitted. It was then that they asked for name suggestions to be placed in a fish bowl -- they got about six. Slade favored the title Belladonna because it was "so poetic," he said with half-mocking adolescent sentimentality.  

Slade came across in the interview as unguarded as he is in his songs and as

easy to enjoyably listen to. I asked, "What

do you think makes your music good pop music?" It was the one question that made my student who helped me formulate the queries uncomfortable. As if it were insulting. I asked

anyway. 


"We're certainly not

the coolest band out there with the coolest clothes or the best video,"

Slade said soberly but not defensively. "I do

know that if somebody wants to criticize us for sounding too much like

somebody else or not being innovative enough, not digging deep enough -- sure, I can hear all of those criticisms. But they can never accuse us of

lying. We always told the truth in our lyrics and made music that

sounded true to us."

While their songs examine the more emotional side of life, most tunes getting radio play, he thinks,

aren't telling the truth. Most songs brag about how much money the musicians

make or how cool they are, he points out with a sense of humor, "or how badly you're going to want to lay

them as soon as you start dancing with them in the club."

Slade

tends to be candid in interviews. So the right question for someone so

seemingly open seemed obvious: What won't he say? What's too personal?

"You want me to

ask myself a question I won't ever answer?" Duh! He laughed heartily, "I

like your style, Liz." There are certain questions, he admitted, that you

either have to know the person well to answer; otherwise, you have to involve alcohol in the conversation. "If you buy

me a drink, maybe we can get to those questions." He kidded, "I'm drinking ice water

right now." Well, possibly kidding. Slade is still surprised

at their success and laughed in agreement when I said, "Isn't it always

really surprising in life when you do well?"

Their latest album, Scars and Stories, was released this February. "I think scars are sexy," he admits.

"They're a treasure map of where they come from, where you've been, who

you are, essentially." He referenced the scene in Lethal Weapon

when Rene Russo and Mel Gibson try to impress each other with their

scars. "They end up half-naked, making out on the floor, showing each

other what they're made of. There's that moment in every relationship

where you show your parts and let the person know who you really are and

what you've been through." He calls it a pivotal moment in any pairing,

"where the person politely excuses themselves and never comes back or

they stay and things get very interesting."

"Be Still" is a song

that really speaks to my student, who interpreted it as the experience

of being true to another person. When I asked where Slade was

mentally when he wrote it, he was happy to share. His little brother was

having trouble sleeping and called Slade for comfort. He didn't know

what to say, so they talked for a bit, he fell asleep, woke up, and started

playing this song. Writing a song on the spot in that way is something that he'd done

only one other time. "By the second time I started singing it, my

wife started singing along." Even so, he didn't think it'd work for the

record, because it was different from the rest of the songs, but the

band liked it, and in it went.

Slade grew up on late-'90s

college rock: Counting Crows, Bush, Better Than Ezra, Pearl Jam, and

Wilco, even admitting to discovering U2 later in life. When I mentioned

they'd be sharing the stage with one of their influences at SunFest,

Slade was surprised; he didn't realize Counting Crows was on the bill. Though also a fan, he's now

friends with singer Adam Duritz. He said casually, "Thanks for the heads-up. I'll shoot

him a text."

Besides eating stone crabs (likening the stone

crab restaurants to Mafia joints), another thing Slade likes about South

Florida is finding spots out of the sun. "We love the beach

collectively, and by we, I mean three of the guys. I sort of scurry

between palm trees because I burn so badly." You may find him this week lying

around in his boots, jeans, and long-sleeved shirt. But, he said seriously, "I read

a book in the shade like it's nobody's business."


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