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In 2002, a couple of former schoolmates decided to get together to jam and write songs. Isaac Slade and Joe King really connected. Eventually Zach Johnson and Isaac's brother Caleb Slade would join the group, though Caleb was eventually kicked out of the band. In a 2006 article for Rolling Stone, the band revealed that the troubled relationship between Caleb and Isaac was the inspiration for one of The Fray's hit singles "Over My Head (Cable Car)." Zach Johnson left the band eventually as well to attend school and was replaced by Ben Wysocki. Wysocki is still The Fray's drummer and his old schoolmate Dave Welch joined the band to become lead guitar. The Fray has no official bass player, but currently Dan Lavery of the band Tonic is their touring bassist. According to a 2006 Boston Globe article written by Sarah Tomlinson, the band's name was chosen from among many suggestions left in a suggestion bowl at the graduation party for Caleb Slade. Rumors have long abounded that the name was actually because the band members were constantly fighting over the material for their music.
Prior to signing with Epic Records, The Fray released two EPs called Movement EP and Reason EP in 2002 and 2003. Reason EP was eventually re-released in 2007 by Epic Records, but their original 2002 EP is very rare. After releasing their second independent album, The Fray began getting some local attention in Denver. It wasn't until after they convinced KCTL (a local radio station) to play their single "Cable Car" that The Fray attracted the attention of a record label. Late in 2004, Epic Records signed The Fray and in September 2005 they released their first studio album, How to Save a Life. In the summer of 2005, the band got even more exposure opening for Weezer and Ben Folds. The song "Cable Car" became "Over My Head (Cable Car)" and was included on the soundtrack for the movie Stealth and gained national airplay.
In 2006, The Fray received a lot of press for How to Save a Life, including winning three Billboard Music Awards and being nominated for two Grammys because the title song of the album, "How to Save A Life," was featured on a dramatic episode of the popular TV series Grey's Anatomy. The song went on to be featured on other shows that year including Scrubs, One Tree Hill, and Cold Case. The song also became the official song used to promote the second season of Grey's Anatomy and the song shot up the charts both in the United States and abroad. The Fray played The Tonight Show, The Late Show with David Letterman, and even a TV show in Australia to promote the album. In the summer of 2006, they released a live album called Live at the Electric Factory: Bootleg No. 1; Acoustic in Nashville: Bootleg No. 2 was released in September 2007. Neither of their live albums received the double-platinum status of How to Save A Life, and the group's self-title album released in February 2009 was certified gold.
The 2009 release of The Fray generated a lot of buzz in the music world, especially after the release of the first single "You Found Me" during a commercial break of Grey's Anatomy in November 2008. The song was featured in a sneak peek of the upcoming season of Lost, and the band performed the song during the 2008 American Music Awards. Additionally, the band performed on Jimmy Kimmel Live and Good Morning America in December 2008 to promote the album and conducted a small preview tour in January and February 2009.