The Fray, Kelly Clarkson
201 E. Jefferson St
Phoenix, AZ, 85004
Doors 6:00PM / Show 7:00PM
Watch & Listen
Isaac Slade had to laugh. Here he was, finishing up a piano part for the last song to be recorded for the Fray's debut album, How to Save a Life. And co- producer Aaron Johnson is asking him how the second record is coming?
"I laughed at him. He wasn't laughing," Slade says. "I said, 'You've gotta be kidding, right?' He said, 'No, you've got to start writing for it.'"
Slade and his cohorts - guitarist and vocalist Joe King, drummer Ben Wysocki and guitarist Dave Welsh - got the hint.
"One of the first songs came six months after that," Slade says. "So it's been on our mind for a long time."
And what a time it's been for the Fray: The Denver-based group played to sold-out crowds around the world in support of 2005's How to Save a Life (Epic/Sony), which went on to sell more than 3 million copies in the U.S. Melodically charged hits "Cable Car (Over My Head)" and the title track worked their way onto the radio and into the hearts of fans - not to mention onto the soundtrack of TV phenom "Grey's Anatomy." Throw in a trio of Grammy nominations, and you've got the kind of out-of-the-gate explosion that any young artist would envy.
It's also the kind of success that can play some mind games, and all four musicians acknowledge experiencing moments of the unhealthy headiness of celebrity.
"It's a battle to go through any kind of fame or success - it's not good for a person," King says. "But we have people around us who really ground us. Most of them, at some point or another in the last couple of years, would say, 'Dude, you're nothing special.'"
"We've tried really hard to get back to who we are and what we do," Wysocki says. "And that's pretty much friends making music."
With perspective regained, the friends didn't take themselves too seriously - but took their art very seriously - when beginning work in earnest on the new record in the summer of 2007.
"A lot of people know us for two songs, and those are both extremes - way up and way down," says Slade, the Fray's lead singer and piano player. He and King are the group's primary songwriters, and count those two hits among their compositions.
"This album has a lot more depth. To write those songs in the first place, we had to have a soberness or gravity to what we were writing," Slade says. "We wanted to make the songs count. I'm happy with this record because the songs feel like they count. They really connect to us."
Like the Fray's organic beginning in 2002, when onetime high school friends Slade and King bumped into each other at a guitar shop, the new album's "You Found Me" begins quietly. Slade is at his piano, contemplating a soul lost and found. And like the band's rise in recent years, the song evolves from something intimate into something huge, a haunting guitar-and-drum opus, with Slade's anguished singing making for an unshakeable experience. And that's just one track.
On "Absolute," Slade pushes his voice into new territory, exploring the upper register of his range. The pretty "Never Say Never" boasts a chugging momentum that suggests it'll have a welcome home on the stage, where the group honed its chops over the past three years. The Fray even brought untested songs to the hometown stage early in 2008 at Denver's Bluebird Theater, taking note of audience reaction before returning to studio work.
"With our first experience in the studio, recording 'How to Save a Life,' maybe we could hear something in our heads, but we didn't know how to translate it onto the physical record," Welsh says. "Now, we're better musicians, and all of us are beginning to
think outside the box. This time, I branched out a little past guitar, whether it was synthesizer or other keyboard parts. I love to explore musically."
Reunited with producers Mike Flynn and Aaron Johnson, the bandmates began their explorations for the second album at a storied facility in Sausalito, Calif., The Plant. But it was at a nondescript studio back home in the suburbs of Denver where they felt most comfortable, putting in workmanlike hours six days a week to write and record the follow-up to their hugely successful debut.
There was no shortage of real-life experience to influence the storytelling, with the band amassing about 30 songs to choose from for the record.
"With success, you have a lot more drama," King says. "For me, it was extreme highs in career and extreme lows in a relationship. There were really obvious things to write about."
"Three of us got married within the last three years," notes Welsh; King's marriage predates the band. "Trying to have these two things coexist - traveling in a band for nine or 10 months out of the year, and having a wife at home who's trying to go about this other life she has - is fascinatingly difficult. If you could put your finger on one thing that's been hard or a challenge, that would be it."
With its reference to "a sailor in a new port every night,"Absolute" could very well be inspired by the risk of long distance relationships and life on the road. " Never Say Never" is even more direct, a love song between two people who are "pulling apart and coming together again and again."
"A lot of really big realizations about ourselves are on this record," King says. "We're singing about real things that we've experienced. I'm not really comfortable talking about it, but I'm a lot more comfortable singing about it. It's a different side of me. The lyrics didn't come until the very end on a lot of the songs."
"The biggest goal we have is to be honest, at every point, with the music," Welsh says.
"There's a lot more questions than answers," Slade says. "But there are points of light throughout the record. I'm really proud of how we managed to capture extreme perspectives. A lot of the lyrics are super intimate, about the interior of a relationship. And a lot are from the perspective of human struggle."
King says every track on the album was given long, thoughtful attention - one reason the album's creation took about a year.
"We've spent a lot of time on each song, and I hope that shows in the record, that it's all very balanced," he says. "The intimate songs are special - and the same with the big, loud songs. If I'm a fan of a band, when I listen to a second record I look for the things that I immediately want to connect to - things I liked in their music on the first album. Then I look for, have they changed in a good or bad way? Hopefully the fans will see that we've grown, that we've changed artistically a little bit. And I would hope they would listen to it and say, 'They haven't become different guys.'"
In a story about "Mr. Know It All" — the first single off Kelly Clarkson's new album Stronger — Entertainment Weekly calls the multi-platinum singer and songwriter "the samurai of shooting guys down." Indeed Clarkson has earned herself millions of devoted fans thanks to her feisty, straight-talking lyrics. Clarkson's hits such as "Miss Independent," "Since U Been Gone," "Walk Away," "Never Again," and now "Mr. Know It All," are bold empowerment anthems, which she sells to the fullest with her soulful, powerhouse voice and down-to-earth relatability.
The vibrant, musically diverse Stronger (which Clarkson says was influenced by Tina Turner, Prince, Sheryl Crow, and Radiohead) will thrill those who love Clarkson for her resilience. The album is filled with candid, emotionally raw tunes like "The War Is Over," "Darkside," and "Honestly," as well as "You Love Me" (in which Clarkson witheringly tells an ex "you're not good enough"), "Einstein" (the cad in question is dismissed with "Here's your keys, your bags, your clothes, and now get out of my place"), and the title track, which finds Clarkson putting a fresh spin on Nietzsche's adage that what doesn't kill you makes you stronger and declaring "it doesn't mean I'm over 'cause you're gone." That fact that these gutsy sentiments are wrapped in fizzy pop melodies, bright choruses, and driving dancefloor-friendly beats (crafted by such A-list producers as Rodney Jerkins, Greg Kurstin, Josh Abraham, and Toby Gad) only makes them that much more appealing.
"The whole album is very much about strength and empowerment, so 'Stronger' felt like the perfect title," Clarkson says. "Plus that song is just a gold mine — it's a little bit pop, a little bit pop-rock, a little bit urban, a little bit dance, and it ties everything in. And everybody loves that message. 'What doesn't kill you makes you stronger.' It's a perfect representation of my life."
Clarkson's life has had its share of challenges. Her parents divorced when she was six and her mother struggled financially to raise Kelly and her older siblings. "My mom had to do everything on her own," Clarkson says. "She put herself through school. It was really hard. I think watching that molded me into this person who wants to relay a message to women everywhere that they're capable of doing whatever they set their mind to. It made an impact on me even though I didn't know it at the time. Now I see it while I'm making these songs that I hope will inspire people."
She may not have known how her early life would shape her artistry, but Clarkson did understand the emotional power of music from a young age. She was first drawn to singing at age eight after an eye-opening visit to an African-American church in Fort Worth. "I was like, 'Wow, whatever they're feeling, I want to feel it too,'" she recalls. When Clarkson was in junior high school, a music teacher heard her singing in the hallway and encouraged her to join the choir. "When you're a kid and you find something you're good at, you cling to it. People would say nice things and that gave me confidence. Everybody always asks me what I would do if I weren't singing and I have no clue, because I have no other talents," she says with a laugh.
As is well known by now, Clarkson first appeared on the public's radar in 2002 during the first season of American Idol. "When I auditioned, my apartment in Los Angeles had recently burned down and I had a box of photographs to my name," Clarkson says. "I figured I'd get to sing and make some money to pay the bills. Nobody thought that show was going to be what it is now." Of course Clarkson won and went on to become an international pop icon, selling over 20 million albums worldwide (including 10 million in the U.S.) and notching seven singles on the Top 10 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. She has released four studio albums, 2003's double-platinum No. 1 Thankful, 2004's 6x-platinum Breakaway (which sold over 12 million copies worldwide, spawned five Top 10 hits, and stayed on the charts for two years), 2007's platinum-selling My December, and 2009's All I Ever Wanted, which debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard Top 200 and produced the smash singles "My Life Would Suck Without You" and "Already Gone." Clarkson has also received two Grammy Awards, two American Music Awards, two MTV Music Awards, and 11 Billboard Music Awards.
With all those accolades, it's tempting to wonder why Clarkson is continually drawn to songs about overcoming challenges. "I think I gravitate toward songs with a defiant message because I always feel like I'm fighting just to be me," she says. "That's why I tend to write or choose songs about how just being you is okay. People associate me with break-up songs, but most of the time the song isn't even about a guy. I never write about one particular thing. I always relate the topic to different situations in my life, whether it's family, friends, or work. That's what makes the songs connect on a broader level."
Clarkson co-wrote five tracks on Stronger, a process she feels is therapeutic. Her favorite song on the album is "You Love Me," which she says she wrote following an incident that she thought would break her. "It was probably the most hurt I've ever been in my life," she admits. "But by writing about it, I got to work through it and get it out of my system." The remainder of the songs were written by a host of A-list songsmiths, including Rodney Jerkins, Ester Dean, Bonnie McKee, and Toby Gad, whom Clarkson says really took the time to get to know her style. She also credits her producers, Jerkins, Kurstin, Abraham, and Gad among them, for what she says is the biggest difference between Stronger and her previous albums.
"What separates this album are the vocals," she says. "They sound richer and fuller, and, for the first time, how I sound when I'm performing live. The producers I worked with just let me sing and be me. They didn't strip away the personality. And it was one of those things where if the people I'm working with have confidence in me, I have more confidence in myself and that changed everything. I can't wait to perform these songs on tour. I think that's the best way to get to know an artist, and where you get to see actual personality, because we can't hide much onstage."
And how does she think her fans around going to react to Stronger? "I have an indication that they know they're going to love it," she says. "I ran into a fan the other day in Target. It was a mom and her daughter and they were just like, 'Oh my God, we don't even care what you put out if you could just put something out.' It's funny, they didn't even care what it was. I love that people still get excited about new music."
Stronger will be released by RCA Records on October 24th, 2011
The story of Carolina Liar sounds like a Hollywood movie script about the music industry. At the center of the post-punk group is Charleston, SC native Chad Wolf. A singer, songwriter, and guitarist, Wolf fell under the spell of new wave through his older sister's record collection. He located to Los Angeles at the age of 22, earning a living doing whatever odd jobs he could and eventually landing an internship with songwriter Diane Warren, who helped Wolf refine and sharpen his writing skills. The story might have ended there if Wolf hadn't agreed to housesit for a friend who just happened to know famed Swedish record producer Max Martin. Martin heard one of Wolf's songs and asked to hear additional samples, and soon Wolf found himself in Stockholm recording an album with one of Europe's biggest pop producers. Christened Carolina Liar, the band, with Wolf handling lead vocals, released a debut album, Coming to Terms, on Atlantic Records in 2008. ~ Steve Leggett, All Music Guide