Train- The Forward Looking Band –an interview with the band by Eric Montfort
Venue Shepherd’s Bush Empire, London October 25th 2010 –an hour before the concert.
Train’s chequered 16 –year career seems to be heading for a more definite and successful direction lately. Their huge hit Hey Soul Sister has managed a four month stay in the UK charts, a rare feat when one considers that nowadays songs hardly manage a four-week stay in the Top 20. As expected, this song also helped to inject a new life in their career and also revamped memories of yet another great anthemic song, Drops of Jupiter. With both songs in mind, (and memories of a couple of other good albums) I went on to interview the band just an hour before their concert. Train are apparently used to delivering interviews. They can be quite spontaneous in their replies and they are truly an incessant, workmanlike, touring band.
Train’s mixed fortunes have meant that they now they are making up for less fortunate times. They have been touring for the past 16 months in support of their recent highly successful release Save Me San Francisco, which also features the aforementioned Hey Soul Sister.. “To be more precise, the tour was meant to promote Hey Soul Sister, because thereafter, people came to know more about the album, and ourselves too!”, added guitarist Jimmy Stafford. I also brought up the importance of touring as against the sales of CDs, especially in this day and age of downloading legal or otherwise. “ The industry has changed considerably, before one used to tour in order to promote his or her new album, now with the onset of downloading, an album is usually released in order to promote a forthcoming tour, because that is where one can make the bulk of his income” continued Jimmy who stated that financial-wise, it was nice to have Drops of Jupiter and Hey Soul Sister rotating heavily on the airwaves. “Those songs helped to change our career”.
Train actually had their first great hit with Meet Virginia. It sold more than a million copies some 15 years ago but it went nowhere in Europe, despite being a huge hit in the USA, Canada and Australia. Drops of Jupiter actually rode on the success of Meet Virginia and soon, it also made waves. Drops of Jupiter is a rather poignant tune inspired by the death of lead singer’s Pat Monahan mother. “It was a blessing and a curse at the same time because we found it hard to get another worthy follow up” added percussionist Scott Underwood, who nonetheless admitted that their new managers are real taskmasters who insist that one must really work hard in order to succeed. But then, Train knew that a long time ago.
Train belong to a genre of bands that were spawned in the early 1990s and proved to be among the most popular then. From Black Crowes to The Counting Crowes, most of them are still around in some formation or another. Despite their definite American feel, one could realise the distinction between most such acts. One could make an analogy to the many West Coast bands which mushroomed back in the 1970s. One could discern the difference between The Eagles, or Fleetwood Mac or Pablo Cruse. With these 1990s bands, the edges do become a bit blurred but at least, Train have stood out largely as a result of their exciting variety of sounds and Pat Monohue, expressive but unpretentious vocal delivery. Train are also an affable lot-they don’t look down on anyone whether he is a journalist or even with their own fans. During the concert, the relationship between band and audience was really warm and this may have also helped in getting the band a very good reputation in time for what may be in stock during summer. They are also very good friends with many other bands, notably Counting Crows. .”It’s also odd because European critics and journalists tell us that we have a Californian sound”. I disagree since I feel that there is a difference between what they did and what bands like The Eagles did, though for fairness’ sake, I must also add that The Eagles and also The Dixie Chicks have covered Hey Soul Sister onstage.
Hey Soul Sister also features a collaboration with Bjorklund and Lind, two Norwegian guys who are renowned for their flair in writing intelligent pop songs, with Beyonce, Leona Lewis and Lionel Richie featuring among their clients. Train describe these songwriters as very adaptable, very capable and with an air for pop subtleties. “Previously we used to write our song, and we had a lot of songs that Pat could use however this was the exception and indeed, Pat also opened the door to these two world-class songwriters, among others for his solo album. Train also managed to secure the services of renowned producer Brendan O’Brien. He got interested in us when we had just commenced our career, having heard us on radio do a version of Led Zeppelin’s Ramble On. Then, we were very much new and our management did not believe we would end up with someone who worked with the likes of U2 and Pearl Jam. He doesn’t get too involved, he doesn’t manipulate us –he simply has a magic touch. However, having worked with him on three albums, we decided to take some radical moves and as a result of such a decision, we decided not to work with him this time. Hey Soul Sister was a different but groundbreaking album all the time. We took a lot of gambles but also played our hearts out, and this may also account for our success. What is important is that we can continue building on what we have established.
Onstage, Train also do a version of the classic Van Halen 1979 hit Dance the Night Away. It is also featured on the new Santana album, which is thoroughly composed of cover versions and also includes lead singer Pat Monahan singing this song. InXs did the same thing with an album of covers and Pat has now joined in as lead singer too.
Train are indeed looking forward for the release of new material, particularly their follow-up album, but right now, despite having composed many songs, Train are more concentrating on their tour. Besides, everytime a song from Save Me San Francisco is played on radio, it means a postponement from the actual album release, as chances are that the song will end up with a long residency stay in the charts. Train claim that there are two more singles lined for release. Besides, Scott Underwood is very upbeat on the possibility of bigger audiences, given that the band’s sound, incorporating tinges of folk, some jazz influences and even hints of reggae, has become more versatile than ever before.