Mainstream band heads back to the college fray

While massive amphitheaters and large audiences make for exhilarating shows, The Fray tries to play for smaller, college-town audiences as often as possible. Making its second appearance at USC, the band is excited to perform for USC students again — this time at the Galen Center.

In December 2006, The Fray performed at USC’s annual Conquest event on campus, where the band was greeted enthusiastically by students.

All at once · Grammy Award-nominated rock band The Fray, which formed in Denver in 2002, recently ended its nationwide tour in promotion of its self-titled sophomore album, The Fray. - Photo courtesy of The Fray

All at once · Grammy Award-nominated rock band The Fray, which formed in Denver in 2002, recently ended its nationwide tour in promotion of its self-titled sophomore album, The Fray. - Photo courtesy of The Fray

“It was great. Everyone was super friendly and energetic and totally excited that we were there,” said Ben Wysocki, The Fray’s drummer. “That’s always a nice environment to go into.”

Having a smaller audience, especially one filled primarily with college students, changes the overall vibe of the show, Wysocki explained. Inspired by the smaller shows’ unique atmosphere, the band toured a number of colleges in September after spending the summer on big stages in major cities across the country.

The Fray’s summer tour followed the February release of its sophomore album, The Fray, which included the popular single, “You Found Me.” Although seemingly similar upon first listen, Wysocki said that the band’s latest album differs from its extremely successful first album, How to Save a Life, on a deeper level.

“The first one was really great in that it was super naïve. We weren’t over-thinking anything because we didn’t know how,” Wysocki said. “This was only our second record … but we had more confidence. We knew how we’d done it once, so we had a bit more direction going into it.”

Although The Fray is only the second album that Wysocki and the band’s three other members, Isaac Slade, Dave Welsh and Joe King, have recorded together, the bandmates have known each other for many years. Wysocki said he first met Welsh in fourth grade, and Slade and King in junior high and high school.

“Between the four of us, we’ve played in a couple different bands together,” Wysocki said. “We all grew up musically together. Some of us got jobs, went to college, but we all met back up after that.”

The band, whose members are all from Denver, got its name when they performed at Slade’s brother’s high school graduation party. They asked everyone at the party to suggest a name and throw it in a bowl — The Fray was one of the suggestions. The group stuck with it, “mostly because the website wasn’t taken,” Wysocki joked.

From the beginning, The Fray has been influenced by artists from all over the musical realm, but the band was founded on what each of them grew up listening to — bands like Pearl Jam and Counting Crows, Wysocki said. The band’s musical tastes and influences, however, constantly change and expand.

“As we’ve all grown up, it’s changed a lot. The music you’re inspired by grows and morphs and evolves,” he said. “A lot changed when I discovered Radiohead and again when I discovered Wilco.”

Wysocki made it clear that there is plenty of music, whether old or new, to draw inspiration from.

“Being as young as we are, there was loads of great music made before our time, but then there’s also loads of new stuff that’s just as inspiring,” he said. “Pretty much all we do is talk about and listen to music.”

In between finding inspiration in other people’s music and sharing it with the rest of the group, the members of The Fray somehow find time to write, record and perform some awe-inspiring music of its own. Writing music is a group effort, Wysocki said, which usually begins when one of them brings an idea to the table — usually a small slice of a song — and culminates in a collaboration of ideas that result in a full-length track.

It is the time spent in the studio recording these songs that Wysocki said he enjoys the most, though it differs for every band member. But too much time in the studio or on tour usually leaves the whole group craving a change of scenery.

“We’re half creators, half performers,” Wysocki said. “If we spend too long in the studio or on the road, one half gets anxious.”

The band tries to create a balance between the two by booking studios while on tour, where the members can let their creative sides out and boost their attitudes and energy levels, Wysocki said.

Surprisingly, the group’s energy level is at its highest when nervous, Wysocki said. And yes, even after playing in front of large audiences all over the world, the band does still get nervous sometimes.

“We get nervous if we’re trying something new on stage,” Wysocki said. “It’s nice to be nervous sometimes because if all of us are nervous, there’s this kind of energy that we sort of miss. The worst thing is for all of us to get on stage and just go through the motions.”

After playing at the Galen Center and a few other small venues, The Fray will take part in a few radio station holiday concerts alongside other artists. The band plans to start the new year in the studio, working on new music for the entire month of January.

Whether or not the group will produce an entire album, or simply a handful of songs, by the end of next year is still up in the air.

“We’re just going to get in there and create and see what comes out,” Wysocki said.