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Interview:
Train keeps rolling with new album, renewed spirit
 

By GARY GRAFF
for Journal Register Newspapers

» See more SOUND CHECK

The three members of Train were busy writing new songs on the road as they toured to promote their 2009 comeback album "Save Me, San Francisco." The general plan was to disembark for awhile as the trek wound down in 2011.

But that fresh material wound up keeping Train on track, according to frontman Pat Monahan.

"We all felt the same way, 'Man, we could really use a break -- but these songs are too good to not want to go play for people.' So we made a record," explains frontman Pat Monahan. "Our managers were saying the same thing, 'This stuff is too good. You can't have the break you were hoping for. You've got to make this record now.'

"So here we are. I think our last date was in China in December, and our single ('Drive By') came out at the end of January. So much for the break!"

It proved to be the right decision, however. "Drive By" was a Top 10, platinum-selling single, while the album, "California 37," debuted at No. 4 on the Billboard 200 when it was released in April, Train's highest position ever on that chart.

It also continued the recovery ride that "Save Me, San Francisco" started. Train had been somewhat dormant after the disappointing showing of its fourth album, "For Me, It's You." Prior to that, the San Francisco-formed group had enjoyed platinum or better success and chart-topping hits such as the Grammy Award-winning "Drops of Jupiter (Tell Me)" and "Calling All Angels," but Monahan -- who made a solo album in 2007 -- acknowledges that he and bandmates guitarist Jimmy Stafford and drummer Scott Underwood -- "lost our way musically for while.

"We wanted to be a Euro cool band rather than being OK with who we are," Monahan, 43, explains. "It was like, 'Why can't we be Coldplay? Why aren't we bigger? Why can't we...whatever?' Our manager (Jonathan Daniel) helped me realize I had been looking at the wrong things for so long. He's like, 'A guy like you just needs to work. Go work. You're thinking of the wrong things. Just always be writing, always be working, always be using your energies on something positive.

"So I think the more I do that the better I get...because you're not wasting (energy) on being foolishly competitive. I'm just being artistic, which is very helpful for someone like me."

Monahan says that, combined with meeting his second wife, Amber Peterson, helped put both him and Train back on track. "Y'know, Scott and Jimmy are really great musicians, and we've become very good friends after all this time as opposed to a family who dislikes each other," he explains. "Now we're like friends who want the best for each other and we really admire each other and how much work we all do."

Getting into "California 37," Train was able to work with songwriter-producer Butch Walker, a long time friend all three group members admired, as well as the New York-based production team Espionage. There was some pressure after the success of "Save Me, San Francisco, but Monahan says that was mitigated by "everybody's kind of attitude that went into this record. There were a whole lot of really decent people who have a lot of great intentions, not the kind that paved the road to hell but real intentions, music for the right reasons."

Monahan had actually written "Drive By" with Espionage during the "Save Me, San Francisco" cycle and, he recalls, "just kind of dismissed the song until a few months later, when (Train's management) were like, 'Whatever happened to that song you write?' And I was like, 'I don't even know where it is.' So (Espionage) sent it to our managers, and they were like, 'Who do you not send this song?! Are you out of your mind?!' " He laughs and adds, "There were a lot of moments like that on this album."

The song "Sing Together," meanwhile, brings back the ukulele, which Train had used to great effect on "Save Me, San Francisco's" smash hit "Hey Soul Sister." But Monahan insists it's not there out of obligation; rather, Train did everything it could to NOT use ukulele on the album.

"There were a lot of ukuleles we heard after "Hey, Soul Sister's' success, so we wanted to stay away from it this time," he says. "But the song was written on ukulele, so we replaced it with a mandolin, with an accordion, a harmonica, acoustic guitars, banjos and every other thing we could think of, and it was all jsut never as good as the ukulele.

"So we basically said, 'You know, we have to just surrender to the ukulele.' If people think we're trying to repeat history, then all we can do is assure them that's not the case."

Despite the lack of a real break between albums, Train his happily rolling along in promoting "California 37." The group is in North America in mid-October, but Monahan says the rest of the world beckons as well. "We'll got to Australia and Asia, and I think India has been very successful or us, and a lot of Middle Eastern countries," he says. "We have to figure out when to go to South Africa and South America. I think there's a lot of places for us to go now.

"It all depends on the success of the album. If people like 'Drive By' and they like the next (single) and the next one and the next one, who knows, man -- you might get to be as tired of me as everyone got to be of the Black Eyed Peas, and then I'll have to learn new dance moves. Or take a break."

Train, Mat Kearney and Andy Grammer perform at 7 p.m. Tuesday, Aug. 7, at the Meadow Brook Music Festival on the Oakland University campus in Rochester Hills. Tickets are $59.50 and $49.50 pavilion, $25 lawn. Call 248-377-0100 or visit www.palacenet.com.

Web Site: www.palacenet.com

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