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Interview: Train

9 min read

Grammy Award winning outfit Train first came to our attention with the release of their debut self-titled studio album back in 1998. Offering us one of their most recognized hit singles, Meet Virginia, it was with the their follow up 2001 record, Drops of Jupiter, that the band really got their footing in the mainstream thanks to the records hugely successful title track. The band have continued to release critically acclaimed records and offer meaty singles like 2009’s Hey, Soul Sister and 2012’s Drive By to their very loyal fan-base all over the world.

Train and Brendon

As the band celebrate their 20th anniversary this year, they have delivered their latest album in the exceptional form of Bulletproof Picasso. They are also preparing to return to Australia in 2015 for their latest tour, performing songs from the new record as well as hits from their extensive catalogue.

While the band were in Sydney recently, we caught up with founding members, frontman Pat Monahan and lead guitarist Jimmy Stafford, to discuss the creative process behind Bulletproof Picasso, the upcoming tour dates which include a show at the world famous famous Sydney Opera House and why Pat found the writing process of the new record the hardest yet. Here is what Pat and Jimmy had to tell us…

Brendon Veevers: Welcome to Australia. How has this latest trip been for you so far?

Pat Monahan: Thanks! Yah, usually jetlag gets in the way of having a good time but this is so different, time-wise that we all kind of fell into place quite quickly. It’s difficult to go from the west coast of America to Europe. That’s the most brutal and I’m told that coming from Europe to Sydney is pretty difficult but coming from the west coast to Sydney kind of worked out well for us.

Train-Bulletproof PicassoBV: You are over here promoting the new record Bulletproof Picasso which was released last month here in Australia. At what stage in your career does this record find you – how are you feeling about yourselves as a band and your place in the industry?

PM: That’s a great question actually Brendon because in a lot of ways it’s the end and in a lot of ways it’s the beginning and in a lot of ways it’s the middle and what I mean by that is; I feel like Jimmy and I have been partners in this band for 20 years and we’ve seen all the changes together. We’ve made the changes together. I feel really happy with where we are. So this band is the beginning of how the future of the band will be. We’re on stage and there are 7 of us and we feel like a family.

It’s our last album obligation to Columbia records. I hope it continues because we have such a great relationship with them but it kind of feels like it is the end of our era because it’s time to move into whatever you’re going to be but that’s what I think Bulletproof Picasso is; it’s a new place for us to go. It’s not like Drive By; it’s more like Drops of Jupiter meets Drive By, perhaps and I think that means a lot to us and we’re finally finding out who we are musically.

So it’s got all the parts to it, plus the middle part because it feels like we could make another 7 albums. I don’t know, we’ll see.

BV: What would you say are the key differences to Bulletproof Picasso compared to your previous studio albums?

Jimmy Stafford: To me, the main difference that I feel with this record is its maturity. I think the songs – Pat worked really hard on these songs. We also have really good managers and our managers kind of had a vision for where the band is supposed to be at this point and I think they had a lot of input in helping direct the music on this record and where it ended up.

It took a long time for these songs to get recorded. And the band is different now. We’ve got a new drummer with us and the other guys in the band have been with us for 6 or 7 years now and I think we just feel like we are in a better place than we have been, maybe ever.

It feels just like our feet are solid on the ground and like we’re comfortable with who we are, maybe for the first time.

I think we’ve always been trying to be perhaps something that we weren’t or trying to get to that place where we were accepted and I think we are just ok with everything right now and were really proud of the record that we’ve made and it’s like, fuck it, what else can we do at this point but just enjoy the ride. We’ve had a lot of success and we have a lot to be proud of so it’s really great.

PM: We can but much better wine these days (laughs). That’s the best part.

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BV: That leads me nicely to my next question. Has there ever been a moment during your career that you have ever felt pressure from the industry and also from fans to change your style to keep with current trends and genre fads?

PM: We have two albums that made me want to stop making music – the first one (Train) and this one (Bulletproof Picasso). The first one is a lot of fans favourite because it was a very legitimate album. They were all slow songs, basically. A lot of brooding and there weren’t a lot of happy moments. Even Meet Virginia was kind of sad. And then Drops of Jupiter created this global movement for us where we became a pop band. We lost a lot of the people that thought that the first album was super credible. And then we’ve just been figuring it all out between that first record and now and this record, I think, is getting back to that first record.

It (Bulletproof Picasso) was brutal to make. It’s like so un-fun at times that you just wanted to stop because the rewriting was just so painful and it hurts like shit to hear that it’s not great but it hurts way less to hear from your band or your managers that it’s not great yet instead of “hey its really great” and then the public tells you it’s shit. That’s a way worse outcome so now I don’t feel like quitting because we got through that period, you know; the tough part of making an album.

We need out fans to be psyched that they’re our fans. Every person at some point says “this is the thing that I like the best” and a lot of our fans like us the best. We need to keep giving them reason to like us the best and to make them right. That’s the pressure.

BV: Pat, you have been cited as saying the new record was the hardest you have ever recorded and had to write. Why was that?

PM: Because we don’t want to make pop records for the radio. We want to make great records that people care about and that is a whole different kind of record. I mean, Bob Dylan and those guys, they don’t give a fuck about radio; they just try to make great music.

Tom Petty did both for so long but can you really do both. Can anyone make Don Henley records like Boys of Summer? Can you make records that move people but that’s also a hit song? Those songs are hard. I don’t know how to do that but I think that if we have done it, it might be through this record but we’ll find out.

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BV: You have remained very successful now for 20 years, what do you think has been the secret of longevity for Train?

JS: I think it really all boils down to the music and our love for the music and our love for wanting to be in this band and for continuing to do what we do. I mean it’s a pretty great job, you know. It’s not a job that a lot of people have success at. We’ve always just wanted to make a good enough record that was good enough for our fans that they’ve wanted to hear another one and we’ve kept doing that now on our seventh album and it’s a pretty good place to be in I think. That’s what kept us going, mainly, was the drive just to do that and that we enjoy doing what we do.

BV: There is a token duet on the LP “Wonder What You’re Doing for the Rest of Your Life” which features Marsha Ambrosius. How did this duet come together and what drew you to collaborate with Marsha?

PM: We pursued a short list of some of the women that we thought would sing great but also that we were fans of and Marsha wasn’t someone that we were all too familiar with so in our short list of people we started listening more to all of the people that we were going to approach.

As soon as we heard Marsha we thought “that’s the girl!” That led us to asking if she would consider it and she was like “Yeah, I’d love to do it!”

So then she came in and she was the sweetest person so it was like it was meant to be because if she had shown up and it wasn’t a good chemistry, we would have had her sing and then found somebody else but we didn’t do that. We didn’t have to look any further.

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BV: You will be playing a few shows in Australia in March and April next year including a show at the Opera House here in Sydney as well as performing at the 2015 Bluesfest. What type of show can we expect?

JS: You know, I think our show have a lot of depth to them now. Mostly because of the new material that we have access to play but also I think we’re at a point in our careers where we’ve been around long enough and our fans that come out to Train shows really know our material and not just the hits, you know. Of course there are some new fans that come out that want to hear Hey Soul Sister and Drive By and we’ll play them but it’s fun for our older fans, and for us too, to dig out some older material. So we’ll play the hits, well play a bunch of the new stuff but we have a few slots in the show where every night we plug in different songs and those are fun spots in the show for us and I think for the fans that have been with us all along too.

PM: Having new songs always helps to keep things fresh for us as a band. This keeps things interesting for us. A lot of our band is new at this point which is fantastic. I also think that’s the answer to our longevity. We’re a band that thrives off of harmony, not friction and now there’s just tonnes of harmony – literally and figuratively.

We have great musicians so we’re better on stage than we’ve ever been so we put on a better show.

We’re not trying to prove anything anymore so we’re not up there trying too hard, jumping around and shaking body parts that shouldn’t been shaken at our age (laughs). We should just be up there playing music that people like and that’s what we do.

There’s a lot of instrumentation and hopefully we’ll have some nice guests that helps us when were here in Australia.

Maybe we’ll play an INXS song or something fun like Savage Garden but we will be  doing something cool and that’s what people should expect and if you want something more then you should probably go to the grocery store (laughs).

Train’s new album Bulletproof Picasso is out now and the band will be playing the following shows in 2015: