By pitching their music somewhere between the arena-friendly style of U2 and the mature pop/rock of bands like Maroon 5 and Counting Crows, the Fray rose to commercial prominence with their 2005 debut, How to Save a Life. The Denver-based band had formed three years prior, when former schoolmates Isaac Slade (vocals, piano) and Joe King (guitar, vocals) unexpectedly bumped into each other at a local music store. The pair began a series of two-man jam sessions and soon expanded their lineup with two of Slade's former bandmates, drummer Ben Wysocki and guitarist David Welsh. Slade's younger brother, Caleb, also joined the band for a time but was ultimately asked to leave; the resulting rift between the two siblings would later inspire the band's first hit single, "Over My Head (Cable Car)." After issuing the Movement EP in 2002, the quartet gained the support of Denver's KTCL radio station with a follow-up release, 2003's Reason EP. As the Fray's airplay increased alongside their local profile (Westword, a Denver alternative weekly publication, deemed them Best New Band in 2004), they began attracting attention from Epic Records. The label ultimately signed the band in December 2004, and the Fray toured alongside Weezer and Ben Folds the following summer.
How to Save a Life was released in September 2005, and "Over My Head (Cable Car)" found a quick home on modern rock radio. By early 2006, it had crossed over to Top 40 chart status, peaking at number eight and whetting the public's appetite for another hit. The Fray responded by releasing the album's title track, which was heavily used in a promotional campaign for the TV series Grey's Anatomy and quickly became one of 2006's biggest singles. "How to Save a Life" was a worldwide smash, reaching the Top Ten in the U.S. (where it continued to chart for 58 consecutive weeks) and peaking at number one in Bulgaria, Ireland, Canada, and Spain. By the time the smoke had cleared, the Fray's debut had been certified double-platinum in the U.S. and was declared the best-selling digital album of all time.