The Fray's Ben Wysocki Talks to Split Lip About the Songwriting Process
J. Scott Bugher
I had the pleasure of chatting with The Fray’s drummer, Ben Wysocki, last month about the band’s approach to writing their songs. With so many hit singles, I just had to ask how they pull it off. Ben’s a crazy-cool guy and I hope you enjoy what he has to say about the creative process.
Ben, it’s certainly a privilege to have you here with Split Lip. Knowing you set aside some time to chat means a lot.
So we’re a literary journal and love to hear about the writing process of all sorts of writers: fiction, memoir, songs, poetry, screenplay, etc. I wanted to start by asking about the bare bones process, the framework prior to tracking a demo and having a producer give it a listen. Where does it all begin?
Each song starts somewhere different. Usually Isaac or Joe will bring a small piece of a song that’ll range from a vocal melody with some rough chord progression, to a full song. Then it doesn’t really become a Fray song till it’s touched all four of us. Usually the lyrics come last, as the musical direction
a certain song takes ends up defining and refining the story. There’s usually a rough concept for the lyrics but they aren’t perfected till the music is done, so it can be a bit of a dance sometimes around music and lyric until we all finally land on something that makes sense.
Considering you all have three albums and a mountain of singles that have charted very well on the Billboard, your music is definitely making quite an impact on your audience. How do you guys do it over and over again? What do you all keep in mind when drafting a new tune?
If I said we didn’t think about radio success or chart position at all I’d be lying. Those things definitely play a factor but it’s a challenge to not let them define your creative process. There’s a fine line between being connected to and aware of what the audience wants or needs, and letting the audience into the process too early. We’ve definitely been guilty of over-thinking, we’re still trying to figure it out.
I read a quote from Brendan O’ Brien, producer of your latest record, Scars and Stories or perhaps it was a paraphrase, but it was along the lines of, “When you act out of intuition creatively, that’s where your true self comes out.” Do you all have any songs that just flowed out on the fly?
This was one of the most important things we learned from Brendan. He works really fast and that caught us all off guard. We were all used to taking our sweet old time perfecting and over-thinking every little detail to death. It was a refreshing change we didn’t know we needed until it came. So, in a way, Scars and Stories as a whole captures our intuition, our true selves. And sometimes that was scary, haha. Its really comfortable to have control over what flows out of you, but we’re learning that’s not always healthy. “Here We Are” was probably the song that came the quickest of all them on the record.
I’m sure you and the fellas have all sorts of musical influences, but do literary or visual arts play a role in your creative output?
They absolutely do. We are constantly inspired by beautiful things around us, musical and not, like photos from Hiroshi Sugimoto and Robert Frank, films by Julian Schnabel and Terrence Malick, sculptures by Andy Goldsworthy.
Who are your favorite writers?
Combined we have a pretty wide range of literary influences. You’ll find us reading everything from Bill Bryson and Malcolm Gladwell to Kurt Vonnegut and Ernest Hemingway, with a couple poems from Hafez thrown in there.
Ben, thanks again for your time. I know you’re busy and are just about to do a run through the Asia-Pacific. Looks like you all are going to rock Music City on New Year’s. Hope it's an awesome show and we are looking forward to upcoming U.S. tour dates.
It was a pleasure, thanks!