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Hellman 1

Emily Hellman
Dr. Thomas Cimarusti
HONS 1304-H03
November 29, 2012
The Fray
Isaac Slade, the lead vocalist and pianist of The Fray, once said in an online blog
post, Youve got 3 minutes to tell the world something. Are you going to talk to them
about being wasted in your front yard because you couldnt park your car, or are you
going to talk to someone about something that could actually help them?1 The clear
objective of the bands music as stated by one of its members leads to a deeper
understanding of the universality of their songs intended messages. However, it is not
just the lyrics that affect the listeners, for there are musical occurrences immersed within
the songs that create a distinct resonance for people around the world.
The Fray is an American piano rock band originating from Denver, Colorado,
where its grassroots beginning eventually erupted into a worldwide fame. The band was
formed in 2002 when former schoolmates Isaac Slade and Joe King ran into each other
unexpectedly. Before long, the two were writing songs together. These songs caught the
attention of two of Slades former band mates, Ben Wysocki and Dave Welsh. The
addition of these two musicians completed the bands quartet, with Slade as the vocalist
and pianist, King as the guitarist and additional vocalist, Wysocki as the drummer, and
Welsh as another guitarist.2

"The Fray Quotes," The Fray Quotes, Web, 25 Nov. 2012 <http://thefrayquotes.tumblr.com/>.

"Biography," The Official The Fray Site, Web, 28 Oct. 2012 <http://www.thefray.com/us/biography>.

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Three of the four band members had attended a Christian school, and each one
was largely involved in his church as a vocalist or musician of worship. This religious
background promoted their style of music and is incorporated throughout many of their
songs. In fact, Slade comments that the success of the bands songs is credited to their
similarities to the church music he grew up listening to.3 However, the name of the band,
which is objectively defined to be a disorderly fight or struggle, challenges the religious
context of their music, as well as exemplifies the battles of everyday life. The band
claims that it decided on the name by random choice, but they found it suitable due to
their frequent arguments about the arrangement of lyrics in their songs.4 Due to their
connections in their hometown and surrounding areas, the band had established a large
fan base at home in Denver with the help of local radio stations and numerous clubs.
However, their music did not span across the country until four years after the bands
formation.2
Although The Fray is constituted as a piano rock band, the musicians additionally
incorporate other styles of rock, as well as other genres of music, to create a unique blend
that strongly correlates with the messages of the songs. The band integrates pop, a softer
alternative to rock, as well as Christian rock, into their music,5 which allows their songs

Biography

Stan Friedman, "Christianity Today," Christianity Today, 17 July 2006. Web, 28 Nov. 2012
<http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2006/julyweb-only/thefray-0706.html>.
4

"Fray (The) Biography." Musictory, Web, 24 Nov. 2012 <http://www.musictory.com/music/Fray


%28The%29/Biography>.
5

"Difference Between Rock and Pop," DifferenceBetween.net, Web,


<http://www.differencebetween.net/miscellaneous/difference-between-rock-and-pop/>.

28

Oct.

2012

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to resonate with a larger and more diverse audience. Due to its classification as a piano
rock band, the piano is a central instrument in the composition of the music, with the
accompaniment of the guitars and the drums. The use of the piano as the principal
instrument compares The Frays music to that of other piano-driven bands, such as Keane
and Coldplay.6 Many of their songs, including How to Save a Life and Hundred from
their first album, are simply deemed piano songs. However, over the course of their
albums, The Fray has incorporated more of Kings guitar ballads in order to intensify the
melodic sense of the songs.7 In addition to instrumentation, Slades vocals illustrate a
comprehensive and emotive style, which becomes increasingly more aggressive
throughout the albums,5 which is also paralleled by the expansion of the guitars role in
the music.
The Fray released its debut album, How to Save a Life, in September 2005, in
which its first single, Over My Head (Cable Car), topped the charts and reached
platinum within a matter of weeks. Each song of The Frays is composed of lyrics that
revolve around lifes issues and predicaments, especially relating to the lives of the band
members. Furthermore, the majority of their songs communicate themes of relationships,
happiness, sadness, evil, war, and death.3 The broad spectrum of the opportunities and
adversities encountered by individuals all over the world is illustrated throughout their

Stan Friedman

"Difference Between Rock and Pop"

Don Saas, "An Interview with Isaac Slade of The Fray," Baeblemusic.com, 1 Feb. 2012, Web, 27 Nov.
2012 <http://www.baeblemusic.com/featuredarticle/An-Interview-with-Isaac-Slade-of-The-Fray.html>.
7

Russell Hall, "Gibson Interview: The Fray's Joe King Talks Guitars, Riffs and Songwriting." Gibson, 31
July 2009, Web, 25 Nov. 2012 <http://www2.gibson.com/News-Lifestyle/Features/en-us/gibson-interviewthe-fray-731.aspx>.

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songs, giving rise to their universal acceptance and appeal. In addition, similar to most
rock music, The Frays songs consist of a simple chord structure, revolving around the
tonic, subdominant, and dominant chords, which correspond to the simple and
straightforward lyrical structure.
Just as in The Frays songs, much of rock musics popularity is credited to its
accessibility. However, the degree to which music is defined accessible is directly related
to the tonality of the piece, as well as the composition of the music harmonically,
instrumentally, rhythmically, and lyrically. Musically, rock songs are constructed in a
straightforward and systematic way that allows for a simple harmonic and melodic
structure. The Fray follows these patterns of rock music in the composition of their songs
through the use of a primarily conjunct melodic motion supported by particular cadential
movements. In addition to the harmonic and melodic arrangement of their songs, the
quartet incorporates an evident repetition not only within their songs by the use of
musematically replicated riffs, but also through the recurring theme of relationships and
the reappearance of certain lyrics throughout their three albums. Rhythmically, The
Frays music employs contrasting fast and slow tempos to reflect specific emotions
articulated through the lyrics.8
Given this information, however, what does The Fray do musically that is parallel
to what they do lyrically in their songs, and how does this correlation heighten the
meaning of the text? Also, how does their strategic musical composition correspond to
their worldwide attraction? Furthermore, what is it about their songs that resonate so

"SHMRG Details" TTU Musicology, Web, 28 Nov. 2012 <http://ttumusicology.wikispaces.com/SHMRG


details>.

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closely with me? These questions pose an answer that requires knowledge of the bands
history and of the musical context of their songs. In this paper, I will discuss the
implications of simple harmonic structures in The Frays songs Over My Head (Cable
Car) and You Found Me, and how these chords relate to the story that is being told
through the lyrics. I will also identify the importance of the piano and its deliverance of
the musics messages compared to the intentions behind the use of the guitars and
percussion, especially in the song You Found Me. Finally, I will identify my
relationship with these particular songs, and how the story behind the lyrics relates to my
own life experiences.
The first piece I will address was the song that captured the attention of people on
a global scale, taking the hometown quartet and escalating them to worldwide attraction.2
Over My Head (Cable Car) was the first single of The Frays debut album. This song
expresses the estrangement of Isaac Slade from his brother, Caleb, after a real life fight
between the two. Caleb, nicknamed Cable Car, had originally been the bass player for the
band. However, in 2002, he left the band after conflicts over his guitar playing abilities,
or lack thereof. The song is written from Calebs viewpoint, conveying his emotions and
the betrayal he felt not only by the band, but also by his own brother. The song takes on
the phrase over my head to indicate Calebs facing more challenges in his life than he
can manage.2
Over My Head (Cable Car) contains harmonic simplicity that incredulously
ignites a passion in the listener. The song is featured in the key of AMajor, with its

Biography

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corresponding chords contributing to the melodic structure of the piece. The song is
commenced on the subdominant chord (Dmaj), automatically creating a degree of
tension in the piece. The opening verse, and each verse that follows, adheres to a IV-vi-I
chord pattern. This harmonic arrangement is repeated musematically throughout the
verses, resulting in what is considered a feminine, or plagal, cadence interrupted,
however, by the submediant chord. Musically, this particular cadence results in the
establishment of tension followed by a release with the tonic chord. In the middle and at
the end of each verse, this recurrent cadence progresses into a single ii-I-V interval,
posing an interesting switch from a plagal cadence to a perfect (masculine) cadence.9 The
movement from the tonic to the dominant in these particular spots within each verse
establishes even more tension, which correlates to the intensification of the vocals.
Furthermore, the shift in the chords gives a greater indication of the emotion intended
within the lyrics.
The musical composition of the first and second verses heightens the meaning of
the lyrics intended by Slade to establish the emotions of his brother Caleb. The constant
repetition of the tension-release format helps to explain the story behind the words. The
simplicity of the chord pattern is paralleled by Slades conveyance of the situation in a
hopeless tone of voice. However, the movement from the tonic to the dominant chord
towards the middle of and at the end of the verses helps to intensify the expression of
Calebs desperation, for example, through the words all I needed was the truth and

Brian Blood, "Music Theory Online - Chords & Cadences," Dolmetsch Online, 2 June 2012, Web, 25
Nov. 2012 <http://www.dolmetsch.com/musictheory22.htm>.

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whos still standing when it clears. In addition, following the altered chords in the
middle of each verse, even though the chord pattern returns back to the normal cadence,
Slades vocals intensify and express a sense of fury. This exaggeration illustrates Calebs
anger towards the situation that he has encountered.
Following the first verse, the song maintains the tension created at the end of the
verse by carrying it into the chorus, which begins on the subdominant chord. As the song
enters into the chorus, the chord structure follows a IV-I-vi-I pattern, which promotes a
repeated buildup and release of tension, correlating to the meaning of the lyrics and
conveying Calebs anxiety over his personal situation. In addition, Slades vocals reach
their peak; it is as if he is almost screaming the words. The intense emotion behind his
voice, and the use of the words, everyone knows Im in over my head, relates to
Calebs realization that he is overwhelmed with disappointment and desperation.
Deeper into the song, the bridge expresses an interesting harmonic alteration that
differs from the rest of the piece. There is no true chord progression, as is seen
throughout the rest of the piece. Rather, the entire bridge is constructed on the
subdominant chord and inversions of that particular chord, followed by a transition to the
supertonic chord at the end. This constancy in the chord structure corresponds to the
hopelessness of the lyrics, and therefore articulates a never-changing emotion in Caleb.
However, it is interesting that the subdominant chord is used because this chord is meant
to create tension, and the words at this part of the piece are not meant to express strain,
but rather are intended to communicate sadness and resignation. The lyrics reveal this
sadness because they suggest the eventual estrangement of Caleb from his brother and the
band, as he becomes part of their past. The chord transition from the subdominant to the

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supertonic occurs at the end of the bridge on the words and its effortless. This change
releases the tension that had been maintained throughout the line, which in effect,
corresponds to Calebs abandonment of hope for the possibility of ever fixing his
relationship with his brother.
The second piece I will discuss was a song contained in the quartets second
album, self-titled The Fray, which was created in 2008. You Found Me was an instant
success, topping the music charts and acquiring an audience all around the world. Isaac
Slade, a Christian man, wrote this extremely personal song in response to the many
adversities he had been facing in his life at the time. You Found Me was created by the
combination of Slades individual insight on the countless disappointments in life, as well
as his encounter with God in a dream. In his dream, Slade asked God where He was when
bad things were happening to him and other good people, an interrogation that is closely
portrayed through the lyrics in this song.10
Just as all of The Frays songs incorporate a similar style, You Found Me
features the musical plainness intended to express the lyrical simplicity of the song. This
overall easiness of the music allows a universal comprehension and kindles a paralleled
emotion in people all around the world. You Found Me is written in the key of C
Major, which in itself is an exceptionally straightforward scale. The manifestation of this
song is centered on the use of the tonic, subdominant, and dominant chords. However, the
piece commences on a D major suspended seventh chord, which is not part of the C
Major scale. Musically, this borrowed chord denotes a degree of tension and should have

10

"The Fray - You Found Me - Lyrics Meaning," Music Banter, Web, 25 Nov. 2012
<http://www.musicbanter.com/lyrics/The-Fray-You-Found-Me.html>.

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a dissonant effect on the harmony of the song. However, its position at the beginning of
the song, and at the beginning of each line that follows, forces the audience to listen
carefully by drawing attention to the lyrics.
As mentioned earlier, the piano is the central instrument in the majority of The
Frays songs, and this piece in particular deliberately employs the piano to convey its
intended message. The piano opens You Found Me with the musematic repetition of
multiple notes that continue throughout the song. In addition, the sole use of the piano
during the first half of the first verse strategically communicates the story behind the
lyrics. In the first half of the verse, Slade encounters God on a street corner. The use of
the piano during these lines produces a picture of tranquility and composure. However,
after God says, ask anything, the guitars and drums accompany the piano, and the
vocals magnify, in order to establish Slades anger towards God. This is evident when
Slade asks, Where were you, in a tone of great desperation. This emotive style created
by the addition of the guitar and drums during the second half of the first verse persists
throughout the remainder of the song, illustrating Slades passion and desire for an
explanation from God as to why He was not there when bad things were happening in his
life.
The introductory verse, and the verses that follow, obey a I-vi-V-I-IV chord
progression for each line. This particular structure expresses a continuous accumulation
and liberation of tension through the consecutive incorporation of both a perfect and
plagal cadence. The first verse in particular demonstrates the importance of the specific
chord structure and its intended effect on the lyrics by solely utilizing the piano to
accompany the vocals. As the first verse develops, there is no tremendous chord

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alteration. In fact, the second half of the verse continues to use the same chord
progression as the first half, just with the inclusion of the supertonic and mediant chords.
These two chords are used to build up the song back to the submediant chord. Although
the chord progression continues to repeat, the second half of the verse is strengthened by
the intensification of the vocals. Slades constant voice inflections result in much
emphasis on words, such as, where were you and it never rang, giving rise to the
listener a sense that Slade is screaming at God.
The consecutive supertonic and mediant chords at the end of the first verse leads
into the submediant chord of the chorus. The chorus, just like the verse, incorporates the
sequential plagal and perfect cadences, with each line culminating on the dominant chord.
The dominant chord is duplicated in correspondence to the replication of the words at that
point in the music. The repetition reveals Slades emotions that he is feeling during his
encounter with God, communicating his persistence for an answer from Him. The use of
the dominant chord at these specific spots within the chorus heightens the meaning of the
text because this chord produces the most tension, which is paralleled with the
intensification of Slades vocals, as well as the repetition of the words.
Comparable to Over My Head (Cable Car), the bridge of You Found Me also
illustrates an interesting chord structure that differs from the rest of the piece. The bridge
follows a IV-V-vi chord pattern, employing three chords that express a constant buildup
of tension. The beginning of the bridge, even with the use of these powerful chords,
promotes serenity through the calmness in Slades vocals. However, the true use of the
subdominant, dominant, and submediant chords is finally revealed and maintained
throughout the bridge when Slade sings for years and years, for his tone of voice

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greatly intensifies. As the bridge progresses, the listener begins to truly understand
Slades hatred towards God, for he even accuses Him of taking everything that he wants.
Eventually, the tension maintained in the bridge is carried over into the next chorus,
where the original chord pattern is once again followed.
Both Over My Head (Cable Car) and You Found Me exhibit the popular rock
music normalcy through their simple harmonic structures and the use of repetition, and
for these reasons, the band has become accessible to the populace, ultimately resulting in
their universal attraction. People all around the world identify with The Frays music, and
it is not just because of the musics lyrical messages, but also by how the band constructs
their songs musically. Understanding not only the meaning of the text within a song, but
also the significance of the music behind it is important in identifying and personifying a
particular piece, and through intense musical analysis, I have identified my resonation
with The Frays music, and in particular with these two songs.
The Frays music has become a valuable and influential part of my life,
functioning as a device for both memory retrieval and memory construction.11 As the
owner of The Frays three albums, I am constantly immersed in the bands music each
day. Their songs are extremely emotionally charged and ignite various emotions in me,
including happiness, sadness, confusion, and anger. These feelings are a reflection of my
own personal experiences, for each one of their songs takes me back to an experience I
have had in the past. The recurrent theme of relationships allows me to reminisce on my
own relationships with my family, friends, and past boyfriends. After analyzing the

11

Tia Denora, Music in Everyday Life, Cambridge University Press, 2004, 63, PDF.

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musical and lyrical composition of Over My Head (Cable Car) and You Found Me, I
found a definite connection between the songs and my own life. Similar to the story line
of Over My Head (Cable Car), I have suffered a strained relationship with my mom.
My mother and I have always clashed, and most people say it is because we are just alike.
Nevertheless, I closely relate to the emotions that Caleb is portraying in this song because
I too know that I am in over my head. I know that I will always need my mom in my
life, and therefore I feel overwhelmed by the situation I have created with her. Although I
relate to the first song closely, You Found Me truly defines my own confrontation with
adversity. As a Christian myself, I strongly resonate with the religious context of this
piece. Everyday, I am faced with a challenge, and sometimes I do not get the outcome
that I expect. Life has not always been easy. I have endured heartbreaks, failed
friendships, and lost loved ones. For these reasons, I find myself incessantly asking God
where He has been through all of these tough times. However, this song gives me hope
that one day God will find me.
Like Slade said, Youve got 3 minutes to tell the world something.1 In those
three minutes, The Fray conveys a different story for each song, communicating a variety
of emotions, such as love, sorrow, or happiness. And although the story is told through
the lyrics, the message is heightened by the musical construction in the background,
creating a strong resonance for myself and for people all around the world.

"The Fray Quotes"

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Works Cited

"Biography." The Official The Fray Site. N.p., n.d. Web. 28 Oct. 2012.
<http://www.thefray.com/us/biography>.
Blood, Brian. "Dolmetsch Online - Music Theory Online - Chords & Cadences."
Dolmetsch Online - Music Theory Online - Chords & Cadences. N.p., 2 June
2012. Web. 25 Nov. 2012. <http://www.dolmetsch.com/musictheory22.htm>.
DeNora, Tia. Music in Everyday Life. Cambridge University Press, 2004. 63. PDF.
"Difference Between Rock and Pop | Difference Between | Rock vs Pop." Difference
Between Rock and Pop | Difference Between | Rock vs Pop. N.p., n.d. Web. 28
Oct. 2012. <http://www.differencebetween.net/miscellaneous/difference-
between-rock-and-pop/>.
"Fray (The) Biography." Www.musictory.com. N.p., n.d. Web. 24 Nov. 2012.
<http://www.musictory.com/music/Fray %28The%29/Biography>.
"The

Fray

Quotes."

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N.p.,

n.d.

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2012.

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Friedman, Stan. "Christianity Today." Christianity Today. N.p., 17 July 2006. Web. 28
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2012.

0706.html>.

<http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2006/julyweb-only/thefray-

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Hall, Russell. "Gibson Interview: The Fray's Joe King Talks Guitars, Riffs and
Songwriting." Gibson. N.p., 31 July 2009. Web. 25 Nov. 2012.
<http://www2.gibson.com/News-Lifestyle/Features/en-us/gibson-
interview-the-fray-731.aspx>.
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N.p.,

Feb.

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<http://www.baeblemusic.com/featuredarticle/An-Interview-with-Isaac-Slade-ofThe-Fray.html>.
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<http://ttumusicology.wikispaces.com/SHMRG details>.