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No slowdown in sight for the Fray’s ‘Cable Car’

Band’s signature song maintains its slow, steady climb to ubiquity
/ Source: Billboard

For Denver-based rock quartet the Fray, timing has been everything.

Like Los Angeles-based trio Lifehouse, the Fray is a rarity: a new group on Adult Top 40, a format that seems to cater more to solo artists like James Blunt, Rob Thomas, Kelly Clarkson and Daniel Powter, or veteran groups like Goo Goo Dolls, Staind and Nickelback.

The band's single "Over My Head (Cable Car)" has become a multiformat hit, reaching No. 5 on Billboard's Adult Top 40 chart, No. 4 on Triple-A and climbing on Mainstream Top 40, where it is No. 32 this week. A top 40 push begins May 1.

But less than two years ago, things were quite different. While still unsigned, the band landed a few tunes on KTCL Denver's "Locals Only" specialty show, but with stunning regularity, eight of its melodic pop songs were rejected for regular rotation.

Despite feeling it was pointless, the band submitted one more song, "Over My Head (Cable Car)," in September 2004.

"(Band guitarist/vocalist) Joe (King) e-mailed me one Sunday afternoon, right after I found out that another local band wasn't going to deliver a song they had promised," recalls "Locals Only" host Alf. "Suddenly, I had an open slot on the show and six hours to find something to fill it."

King sent "Cable Car," as it was then known, and Alf says, "I found myself humming and singing the chorus minutes, hours, days after hearing it." Within a week, the song was in regular rotation at the station, making the Fray the second local band ever added to the station's playlist. Ultimately, it became one of KTCL's most-played songs for 2004.

Then the Fray had another round of perfect timing. Around the same period, Epic Records, which had discovered the band online, sent a representative to the group's next concert — a sold-out show at Denver's Fox Theater. "The timing was so right," King says. "The week before, we were at a terrible venue, it was terribly promoted, and it was one of our worst shows of the year."

And now the rest of the country knows what KTCL and Epic discovered 18 months ago.

But radio is just one of the project's many drivers. The national story, sprung from the Denver success, started more than a year ago. Opening slots for Weezer and Ben Folds tours were followed by the band's own headlining circuits, a huge plug from VH1 through its "You Oughta Know" promotion, a top 10 requested track for three months on MTVU, more than 1.3 million streams on, an iTunes push and strategic TV placements.

As a result, for 18 of the last 20 weeks, the album has progressively scanned more units each week. Since its September release, total sales for "How to Save a Life" are 204,000 units, according to Nielsen SoundScan.

Two hours after the album's title track was played on "Grey's Anatomy" March 19, the album jumped to No. 12 on iTunes and leaped 36 spots on Amazon. Overall sales increased more than 40 percent that week.

The Fray songs also will be heard on upcoming episodes of "One Tree Hill" and "Conviction." A live DVD will be released by year's end.

For King and his bandmates, one way to keep the swirling success in perspective is to think locally. "We got a video from this guy and girl at a (Denver high school) assembly, and they started singing 'How to Save a Life.' I (got) goose bumps at this point. That was me 10 years back, I was learning the songs of the artists that inspired me, and (now) these kids are learning me. That's more gratifying than any licensing or radio play."