The Fray are sitting in a break room in the back of Denver’s Twist & Shout records admiring the vinyl pressing of their new album, “Helios,” for the first time.
It’s the Saturday before the Feb. 25 release of the Denver band’s fourth album and a line has already formed outside the storied Denver record shop for about 400 fans to pack in among the shelves of vinyl to see the Fray’s intimate and sold-out appearance. Distracted from constructing their six-song set list, the guys pull the record from the sleeve, open it, turn it over and let the download code fall to the floor.
“Wow,” frontman Isaac Slade says, passing it along to guitarist and vocalist Joe King.
“It’s so shiny,” King responds, looking at the front cover of the album, a picture taken of the vast Ivanpah solar power facility in California’s Mojave Desert.
Shiny isn’t always in the vocabulary of this exceedingly personal and characteristically dark band, whose music tackles topics ranging from suicide to depression.
But four albums in, the members of the Fray are in a different place.
“This record is reflective of where we’re at in life,” King says, his spirits high, even though his car broke down on the way to Twist & Shout that afternoon. He fixed the car himself, made it on time, and the grease on his hands is the only evidence of any inconvenience.
“Helios,” named after the Greek sun god, is the band’s brightest album to date, especially considering it as a follow-up to 2012’s “Scars & Stories.” The album’s first single, “Love Don’t Die,” is optimistic and better suited for a car commercial rather than a “death scene in a dramatic movie,” as Slade calls it.
“We’re kind of known for being a pretty dark band, but we’re just not in that place right now,” Slade says. The frontman is expecting his first child with his wife, while at the same time drummer Ben Wysocki and his wife are also expecting a child.
King’s personal life is in a similar upswing to his bandmates. His fiancee, actress Candice Accola, proudly takes cell phone pictures at the in-store performance and his daughter (from a previous marriage) Ava runs around the back area of Twist & Shoutroom, laughing at the other band member’s jokes and playing with the store’s toys.
“We’re probably the closest we’ve ever been as a band, as friends and brothers,” King says.
But while the mood at Twist & Shout is like a montage in a prime-time sitcom, the band says that conveying happiness on a record can make them feel be jjust as vulnerable of an experience as sharing pain.
“I’ve always had a hard time writing happy songs,” King says. “Even my fiance was asking ‘are you OK now that life is in a good spot,’ almost as if I would cave in creatively because I’m not broken.”
The Fray will be the first to admit that their lyrics come from personal experience, that they just don’t have it in them to make up stories. So, when their personal and professional lives are going well, the only result could be a happy record, despite their reservations.
“The definition of cool for the last 65 years has been to be aloof like you don’t care,” Slade says, leaning, somewhat aloof himself, in a corner of the room. “The un-coolest thing in the world is to smile. When you’re honest and you open up to being in a bright place, it causes a lot of exposure and vulnerability.”
Along with covering new territory emotionally, “Helios” marks the Fray’s first time working with fellow Colorado musician Ryan Tedder of OneRepublic, who has written for artists such as Adele and Beyoncé. Like many aspects of the Denver music scene, this merging of local titans came about casually.