LOS ANGELES Of all the people impacted over the years by the lovable Muppets -- singing frog Kermit, sassy Miss Piggy and their friends -- perhaps the most unlikely is rock band, The Fray.
Following the success of their second album, 2009's self-titled "The Fray," the four members were on the verge of breaking up. Then, lead singer/pianist Isaac Slade and bassist Joe King were put together in one room in Las Vegas to record a cover of the classic Muppets song "Mahna Mahna" for the "Muppets: The Green Album" record released in August 2011.
"Something happened between the Muppets, the drunkenness and Las Vegas, and Joe and I maybe both remembered at the same time that we actually enjoy doing this," Slade told Reuters.
With the release of their third album, "Scars and Stories" on Tuesday, The Fray have finally moved past their internal differences and found new confidence that allowed them to lay bare their emotional wounds with pride.
The band -- comprised of Slade, King, guitarist Dave Welsh and drummer Ben Wysocki -- don't put on flashy concerts or wear elaborate costumes. They simply play music and sing lyrics with heart, and those songs have earned them fans worldwide.
"I don't have Lady Gaga's persona, I don't have Bono's sunglasses, I'm a bald 30-year-old man standing on stage singing songs about my life and I'm starting to be comfortable with that," said Slade.
The Denver, Colorado band shot to fame with their debut album "How to Save a Life" in 2005, earning two Grammy nominations for hit singles "Over My Head (Cable Car)" and "How to Save a Life," which are examples of The Fray's trademark piano-driven ballads of melancholia fused with hope.
Their self-titled 2009 album met with similar success and earned the group two more Grammy nominations, but with fame came internal pressures and friction that threatened their longevity.
"All four of us were on our own trajectories and radically different places in regular life," said Slade.
HEALED WOUNDS, NEW MUSIC
With a little help from the perpetually upbeat Muppets, the band rediscovered the reasons they were together and went to work on "Scars and Stories," a record Slade described as "extroverted" when compared to the first two "introverted and introspective" albums.
"The second record was wounds, they were still bleeding," he explained. "With scars, they're permanent and they often remind us of the worst times of our life, but they're healed."
Recorded in Nashville, Tennessee, "Scars and Stories" features The Fray's piano-rock ballads but adds new energy and hints of Southern rock. The band worked with Grammy-winning music producer Brendan O'Brien to create a sound as close as possible to the band's live shows.
The lead single, "Heartbeat," is an uptempo ode to love, with Slade belting lyrics such as "You gotta love somebody, love them all the same." Themes of loss, hope and freedom underlie tracks such as "48 To Go," a diary of a California roadtrip.
The single "Run For Your Life" holds the most significance for Slade, who said the album was incomplete without it.
"We had most of the record done but it felt like we had one song missing," said Slade about "Run For Your Life." "It feels different from the other songs, it feels really fresh, it feels like the song the record needed."
Whether the fans flock to the third album awaits weekly sales data, but Slade said critical and commercial validation is no longer a pressing concern for the band.
"I would love for everybody to connect to these songs as much as we do, but I don't need their response. I know this is the best record we've made and if we get smaller after this and fade off into our 40s and 50s, that's fine, because I know this is a real record and it's who we are," said Slade.
And he added that each song brings its own special reward. "How to Save a Life," for one, has become an anthem for some fans. On a recent tour stop in Chicago, Slade said one told him their music stopped her from killing herself and saved her life.
"I know what we do is real and it matters. Hearing that girl tell me her story was my paycheck," said Slade.
(Reporting By Piya Sinha-Roy; Editing by Bob Tourtellotte)