Exclusive Interview: The Fray’s Joe King stepping out solo with KING

The Fray”s Joe King is ready to step out solo with a new pop-oriented project, with a radio-ready single and an album in the wings. The Colorado-based songwriter will be releasing new music under the simple name KING and aims to release an EP of fresh material by April. 

Since starting out 11 years ago, The Fray has featured King and singer Isaac Slade splitting songwriting duties, each track a collaboration. After three albums, some No. 1 hit singles and millions of tickets sold, King felt that the time was now to hunker down and release tracks that are all his, from writing to the performance.
The project has been in the works for a year-and-a-half, with songs produced as the band has been on tour. Now, as The Fray are in-between albums in the release cycle, King knew the time was right. He”d be able to make the solo effort he wanted and still remain with the band.
“There comes a bit of a downside when you”re writing these songs, and you end up letting your best friend sing them. It”s worked, and he”s the only other person I ever want to sing them. He”s a great singer, and I”m not trying to throw that whole thing. But creatively, it became such an urge. I kept thinking ‘I”m ready for this,”” he said in our recent interview. “It”s been talked about. I just hadn”t been in the place to do it.”
On a personal level, the 32-year-old hitmaker found himself in a “place” he”d never been before. Married when he was 19, King is now divorced, with some free time and some new “beginnings.”
“Post-divorce and dating girls… Man, yeah, I”ve never done that. I”ve only been with one woman, so I definitely started to experience things and new ways of thinking. Making this album became this self-discovery thing,” he said. 
The result, in part, is lead single “Need a Woman” featuring Trombone Shorty, with the hooky refrain “I need a woman by Friday.” The first lyric: “I get addicted to beginnings.”
“It”s about loving the beginnings of something, the flirtatiousness and that energy.”
Sonically, “Need a Woman” is synth-driven and uplifting, King”s rich, consonant-heavy vocals balanced with high keyboard pings and persistent programmed drums. And it does not at all sound like the Fray, nor what one would really call a “breakup record.”
“I didn”t want it to sound like a stripped down, acoustic, real melancholy piano thing. On so many solo records, that kind of thing”s really obvious. Not that that’s bad — everyone wants to do a Ray Lamontagne record. But I didn”t want to play coffeeshops,” he said. “I became obsessed with Peter Gabriel and his breakaway from Genesis, because it doesn”t sound like a solo thing. His approach to production, the blending of synth bass and real drums, programmed drums and real drums… I love that ’80s blending of instruments.”
Helping with the aesthetic was Brooklyn producer Adam Pallin, who would swap tracks with King remotely, and other Denverites like Patrick Meese (Tennis, Meese) and Grammy Award-winning artist/producer Ryan Tedder (OneRepublic). He”d bounce his songs off of other area musicians, like Immaculate Noise favorite Nathaniel Rateliff.
“I did all of my vocals at [Tedder”s] place. He”s like Nathaniel. They”ll play something for you and it”ll just kinda kick your ass. They”ll show you what they”re working on and you”ll be like, ‘F*ck, I gotta step up my game,”” King said. “Someone told me, ‘Don”t do this because you”re reacting to The Fray.” And I”m not, it”s not a brush-off to what The Fray does. It”s hard being the songwriter continuing to write songs for 10 years and then after a while it becomes empty when you don”t have an outlet. It”s a family, you have to change it up and push yourself.”
So just what does his family think of the music? King didn”t want to play the songs for the rest of The Fray until they were in finished form. So it was only at the end of December they sat down.
“These are my brothers, I care more about what they think about than my mother. As I hit play, I thought, am I having an affair?” he said. “After it ended, it was the response I dreamed of. Ben clapped. Isaac was like, ‘Holy sh*t.” Dave was dead silent, and that”s Dave for you. Ben was like, ‘All I cared about was that it doesn”t sound like The Fray.””
Now King is shopping KING to labels with plans for a five-song, as-yet-untitled EP due this spring and hopes that “Need a Woman,” when it’s released, becomes a 2013 summer jam.
And this is not at all to say that The Fray – who have best-sellers like “How to Save a Life” and “You Found Me” – won”t have more hits of their own. King is confident KING set won”t interfere with his band”s album-making schedule, as the group is currently writing for their fourth full-length for an estimated Q4 release this year.
“As I”ve been talking to labels, they rightly asked ‘How”s it gonna work with The Fray?” But I”m not as concerned about that. It”s just now I feel that same anxiety I felt seven years ago, when The Fray was about to put out [the album ‘How to Save a Life”]. I”m thinking, Are people gonna like this? I believe in it. I think its good. It”s a happy, confident new artist anxiety.”