Visit my show at the PSCCU Credit Union, Vashon, Washington May, June 2024 

How to Interview a Rock Star

By the time you read this, I will have interviewed my first rock star. Or, more accurately, a former rock star. Or a small-town record store owner, dad, and new resident in my semi-rural island community.

Isaac Slade, former lead singer for the band, The Fray.

I’m not exactly a Rolling Stone reporter, but I was intrigued by how someone makes the transition from a frontman in a very successful band to small-town living. The Fray put out one of the mega-hits of the nineties, “How to Save a Life” —a song that never failed to move me each time I heard it—and I heard it a lot.

My new role as “producer” for a radio show about folks living creative lives on my island gave me a reason to ask Isaac for an interview, and he graciously agreed.

I needed to prepare.

Drop the rock

My first step: drop the rock star thing. It’s hard to remember that someone is “just a person” when they carry a legacy. I didn’t know much about Isaac when he stepped up to a grand piano to play two of his songs at a benefit for the local arts center. But the moment he started playing, I heard a collective “wow” going through the hundred-plus crowd of us listeners. The first song he played gave me chills. But when he played “How to Save a Life”, I started to shake.

The song moves me that much.

Something about it evokes a deep longing. From what I’ve read, it has touched many during its long journey as a top hit and a theme on Grey’s Anatomy. It may even have saved a life. 

A song can be that powerful. Yet we are not our creations, however much we pour ourselves into them. I wanted to meet Isaac as a person, so I wrote out a list of questions and tried to imagine how I would answer them myself.

My questions

How did you deal with the adoration of thousands as you stood on stage without building up a huge ego? And if performing did build up that ego – how did you deal with it when you returned home?

My answer: The adoration of thousands has never been an issue I’ve faced, but I do have an ego that chirps little messages and wants me to be successful in the eyes of the world. My ego wants to feel special and successful, and it frets about whether people will appreciate my work. It messes with me when I’m creating new work by whispering, “What will people think of this?”

Wanting to feel special, though, is part of being human. My job is to balance that desire with being willing to be regular. Can I manage the polarity of treasuring the unique and wonderful specialness that’s part of being human and still be willing to be ordinary—and not better than anyone else?

What was it like to deal with panic when you went on stage?

Isaac has publicly said one of the reasons he left the band was starting to feel panic attacks.

My answer: I’ve only dealt with mild panic rather than full-blown attacks. Mostly, I travel with low-grade anxiety that flares occasionally. Yet, in our pandemic and post-pandemic world, I’ve found myself declining opportunities to do things that feel like they’d be too much (as in too many people), too noisy, or just over-stimulating. Learning to regulate my nervous system has become a skill I need to learn—as do many of us.

How have you been able to shake off an identity as a celebrity – a very important person – to live within the identity of being a dad and small-town shop owner?

My answer: Shaking off an old identity can be tough.

When I lost the big consulting contract that had been my primary work for years—and a large part of my identity—I had difficulty telling people at parties what I was doing. I’d watch people look at me quizzically when I told them the truth, “I’m in transition, in a liminal state of not knowing what’s next while I nurture the dream of living a more creative life—and it’s challenging.”  Then, I’d watch them head for the wine bar or eat more olives.

What was it like to have a piece of creative work, in this case, a song, become so big that it will probably follow you for the rest of your life?

My answer: I have never produced a mega-hit, but I’ve noticed how my creative work—whether my book or art—seems to take on a life of its own.  A piece I created is my baby until it’s released to the world. Then, it travels its own path.

I can’t imagine what it would be like to have a song that becomes almost bigger than you or live under the shadow of a song you composed in your twenties—one that you will be asked to sing until your last fans have died.

So, with those and a few other questions, I felt ready for the interview.

Knowing that Isaac and I are just people. Knowing that he is a bald-headed, church-going guy with a record store, who’s supposed to be very nice.

Knowing that he’s regular—with a story to tell—like we all have.

(I’ll let you know when the interview is out.)

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