Anatomy of a hit

Ben Wysocki proffers several explanations -- none of them very convincing -- why the Fray's latest single, "How To Save A Life," has become even bigger than summer's "Over My Head (Cable Car)."...

Ben Wysocki proffers several explanations -- none of them very convincing -- why the Fray's latest single, "How To Save A Life," has become even bigger than summer's "Over My Head (Cable Car)."

Finally, the drummer for the Denver piano-rock band laughs and gives in to the obvious. "It might just be 'Grey's Anatomy' that made it a bigger hit," he says during a phone interview from a St. Louis theater parking lot.

Bingo! Fact is, after the video for "How To Save A Life" was shown on the top-rated ABC-TV drama's season premiere, it raced to No. 3 on Billboard's Hot 100, eclipsing "Over My Head's" peak at No. 8.

Television exposure certainly has been a component of the Fray's success, as shows use their moody, emotional, atmospheric music to emphasize dramatic scenes. HBO even used "How To Save A Life" over a montage of "The Sopranos" to promote the acclaimed series.

The Denver band also has played virtually every late-night talk show (Letterman, Leno, Conan, Craig Kilborn) and recently performed on "Good Morning America."


The Fray's music, packed with piano melodies and percolating melodrama that has drawn comparisons to Coldplay, clearly has struck a chord with listeners.

The group's 2005 debut disc, "How To Save A Life" (Epic), hit platinum, and in August the Fray released a live EP recorded on May 26 at the Electric Factory in Philadelphia.

"Live at the Electric Factory: Bootleg No. 1" is available only through download on iTunes or select independent record stores.

"A lot of the inspiration (for the EP) came from us starting to like some of these songs better live than on the record, because I think we are learning better how to play them now," Wysocki says.

Moreover, to keep the raw sound, the recording was done with no post-production. "There's an energy live that is kind of irreplaceable in the studio, and we just absolutely loved the Electric Factory. We were there for our first time opening for Ben Folds and just kind of fell in love with the place."

For a band in the midst of such a whirl, life can be pretty hectic.

Asked about that, Wysocki pauses and laughs. "Yeah, like this whole experience has just really turned our lives upside down -- in a good way and in bad ways as well. We're having to learn how to deal with it. If you're not ready for it, it can really screw you up."

Wysocki, Isaac Slade (vocals, piano), Joe King (guitar, vocals) and Dave Welsh (guitar) are all in their early to mid-20s. They find grounding in their families (all are married, Welsh most recently, in August). "We're all in the same boat," Wysocki says. "We might have just played to 6,000 people or something, but we get off stage and call our wives, and they're waiting for us to get home and take the trash out."


And though band members are all Christians, they are not a Christian band. "We didn't start out to write religious songs, Christian songs, or religious lyrics or Christian lyrics or anything like that because I think it gets dangerous when you pin yourself to one religion," Wysocki explains. "It's kind of like just pinning yourself to one political agenda.

"If our goal is to connect with people, then I think that's the wrong way to go about it. Our strategy is just to write as honest as we can. ... We're going to write songs about God and our faith, we're going to write about girls and we're going to write songs about having bad days, and it's just like that's all part of the game."

That's true of "How To Save A Life," whose lyrics are essentially from a primer for substance abuse intervention. Singer-pianist Slade has said it was inspired by the suicide of a crack-addicted teen to whom he was a mentor, but Wysocki says "the song and the subject matter kind of goes beyond that."

The band has been writing new songs for a new disc, and Wysocki says he expects the Fray's next album to be just as emotionally charged as "How To Save A Life."

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