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The Grounded Game: The Fray Loosens Up on Its New Album Helios 

Fray singer-guitarist Joe King always thought he'd never marry.

"I was the one who was going to be single until I was 55," he says via phone. "I thought I would be that guy who didn't need a wife and would be free and have a Swedish model or something. Then, I met my wife and that was ruined."

So he did what any good musician would do. He wrote a song about it. That tune, the raspy, bluesy "Love Don't Die," is the single from the band's new album Helios. The song rocks a bit harder than the tunes in the moody alt-rock group's back catalog and represents an evolution of sorts. According to King, the album was fun to record and the subsequent tour in support of it has been a blast too. Although the band's known for its contemplative songs about spirituality (but doesn't identify itself as a Christian rock group), it shows signs of loosening up on the disc.

"Honestly, I'm having more fun than I ever have," King says. "I've been thinking about that and why that is. It's been 10 years. Our first tour was in 2006 when we opened for Weezer. I have gotten to the place in my career where I've let go of comparing myself to other artists above or below me. That just drives you mad. It's an identity thing. I've settled into thinking that this is who we are and this is what we do. We're going to do this for our fans that show up. We're going to have a great time and put on a show and not be ashamed of what we do. That is the catalyst for enjoyment."

To be honest, fans have showed up to see the Fray since the very beginning. The band formed in 2002 in Denver and went through the usual channels of self-promotion in the effort to get gigs and sell records.

"We started the Fray 12 years ago and we were just putting our fingerprint on the Denver scene and doing what every local band does," King says. "We were networking and putting posters up and trying to sell a T-shirt so we could buy a beer after the show."

Those days didn't last long. The band inked a record deal in 2005 and its major label debut, How to Save a Life, was a huge hit thanks to its infectious title-track, a song that sounded like a cross between Coldplay and U2 and put the piano up front in the mix.

"Once we signed and then started touring, it was like a rocket ship," King recalls. "We were holding on for dear life."

For Helios, the band began the recording process as it always does — by cutting demos in its home studio in Denver. But then, it took the sessions out to Los Angeles, where it recorded with producer Stuart Price, whom King says "comes out of the EDM world."

"We've had previous records where we're bleeding it out," he says. "There's a place and time for that. We're always trying to reflect where we're at in life and what we're seeing and questioning and falling in love with. This record was about how the wounds have healed and we're stronger than ever. We're in a sunny part of life. We're all together on a boat and enjoying the air and sun. It's coming from a good place in life. The songs reflect that. Some of the guys are having babies and I'm getting married. We're in the early 30s stage of life and for a man, at least, we're a little more grounded and have figured out what we want."

Recording at Jim Henson's studios also helped matters.

"It's legendary," King says of the space. "There is a statue of Kermit there and a history of the place. There are beautiful rooms and gear. You can go in and Zen out. They have everything."

Now that it's been nearly 10 years since the band's debut, King says it's interesting to look back at the early days. He says the set list for the current tour, which features songs that stretch across that period, provides a nice encapsulation of where the band's been.

"When I look down at the set list when we're playing shows, I see a storyline of the past 10 years," King says. "We'll be playing songs we wrote 10 years ago and songs we wrote six years ago and four years ago and then this year. It's a trip going through that in an hour and a half. You try to have this narrative in the live show that reflects your story and that human journey we're all on. You look back 10 years ago, it's a different life. The songs I wrote then, I could only have written then. I can't write them now. It's what I'm emotionally going through. It's a surreal thing to see it written on a piece of paper and then performed."

So what's been the key to the band's longevity? In today's world, most bands don't last past five years, let alone 10.

"Part of me thinks that we had nothing to do with keeping us going," King says. "All the ones to thank are our parents and our lovely women who are around us. They are the ones who set us in the right direction early on. They're walking with us now and they don't put up with our bullshit right now. We were hanging with Bruce Springsteen and asked him about how he balances life and the family and the road and all that stuff. He said when he comes home, his wife won't even let him in the house. She makes him stay in a hotel down the road. Then, after he comes down from his mountaintop, she lets him in the house. They keep you straight and put you where you need to be."

The Fray with Barcelona and Oh Honey

7:30 p.m. Friday, July 25, Jacobs Pavilion at Nautica, 2014 Sycamore St., 216-861-4080, Tickets: $24-$49.50, livenation.com.

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