A few years ago, Isaac Slade, the lead singer and songwriter of The Fray, was on the brink of despair. The crisis came after the piano-driven band hit it big with the songs "How to Save a Life" and "Over My Head (Cable Car)."
"It came from getting everything I ever wanted and essentially laying hold of that carrot you've been after your whole life," the 31-year-old said in a phone interview from a tour stop in San Francisco. "I got that when I was 26 or 27. I had a beautiful wife, a beautiful home, car and everything, and it was nowhere near enough to be happy."
That led to an epiphany that an old saying riches don't bring happiness really is true. Slade found that happiness truly comes from within. He eased up his goal of achieving massive fame and started to concentrate more on producing music that moves him and his core fans.
Fans who attend The Fray's concert with the first "American Idol" winner, Kelly Clarkson, on Saturday at Ironstone Vineyards in Murphys will see a freer, more relaxed performance than they have in the past, Slade said. It's a return appearance for The Fray; the group last performed at the winery in 2010 with another "American Idol" winner 2009's Kris Allen.
"In the beginning, I literally would have said I want the whole world to like me," Slade said. "We sold 3 million records, so I only had 6 billion people left to convince that I'm a good person. Ten years later, I don't think about that as much."
Slade and his former schoolmate Joe King formed The Fray in 2002 in Denver and then brought in drummer Ben Wysocki and guitarist Dave Welsh. The band's popularity in Denver led to it getting signed to Epic Records in 2004, releasing its debut album, "How to Save a Life," the following year. Soon, the group's emotion-packed songs were featured on many TV shows, including "Scrubs," "Grey's Anatomy," "NCIS," "One Tree Hill" and Bones."
In 2009, The Fray released its follow-up self-titled album, which got nominated for a Grammy Award for best pop vocal album and produced the hit "You Found Me."
Slade feels the band's third album, "Scars and Stories," which came out in February, is its most authentic work yet.
"My real passion is for those core fans who listen to our records 10 times and try to pick it apart and see what it is," he said. "We made this record for those people. The first two records were made for those people and the larger public."
The band has the same goals when performing its concerts. "We've let go of a lot of the need to please everybody," Slade said. "We've started to get lost in the music as we play. Not to be too negative about our past, but in our past, that's been difficult for me. Ninety percent of what I've been thinking on stage is, 'Are these people having a good time?' When the frontman is worried are people having a good time, the music gets choked."
Slade said he knew something had to change when he was performing a concert in New York and realized he was more concerned with how much people were clapping and how cool his shirt was than the music. Now his concerts are less calculated. "Some nights, I'm shy and freaking out," he said. "Some nights, I'm climbing on the rafters. It's become a living, breathing thing."
He was sad about last week's movie theater shooting in Aurora, Colo., not far from his hometown of Denver, and posted his condolences on Twitter. "My brother lives just down the road from Aurora," he said. "We were all freaking out checking in with everybody we know over there. When it's that close to home, it hits a different spot."
Slade was touched by all the stories of the victims and also heartened by the quick response of the police and authorities.
Despite tragedies like Aurora's and others, he maintains a Christian faith. He is the son of missionaries and spent part of his childhood in Central America.
"I hear about people who jump off a bridge and I get it," he said. "It's hard. There's a lot of reasons to give up, there's a lot of reasons to close your eyes and look away. Some people dramatically end their lives. Some people accept poor substitutes for lives and become shells of people day to day."
But Slade can't help believing there is a greater purpose to life.
"There's more than meets the eye with this world," he said. "It's too complex and too creative to be accidental. A lot of it feels random, but so much of it feels on purpose. I've seen too much to believe it's all random happenstance."
WHAT: Kelly Clarkson with The Fray
WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Saturday
WHERE: Ironstone Vineyards, 1894 Six Mile Road, Murphys
CALL: (209) 728-1251