By Brian M. Howle
When a rock band takes its collective first steps in the world of recording and releases, it’s a tentative time at best for most who attempt to walk the line to stardom. The hard, cold fact is that more hit the express track to obscurity rather than basking in the glory of success and acceptance. But more often than not, when the public gives the “thumbs up” and embraces a newcomer, the rise can be equally opposite in the sense of meteoric arrival … and a good name can really make that express track work for them (in a double entendre sort of way).
So the 15-year sojourn of one of San Francisco’s favorite bunch of sons will be on stage for all to enjoy, as Train – with opening act Uncle Kracker – comes to House Of Blues in North Myrtle Beach, SC on Saturday, October 17, 2009.
Here’s the recap on their career, culled from their website and Wikipedia:
Train started out in San Francisco, and 1997 they were touring nationally, opening concerts for groups such as Barenaked Ladies and Counting Crows. The original band members – Patrick Monahan (lead vocals), Rob Hotchkiss (guitar, vocals), Scott Underwood (drums), Jimmy Stafford (guitar), and Charlie Colin (bass) – financed their self-titled debut, which cost them a total of $25,000 to produce. Columbia Records agreed to sign Train under Aware Records after hearing their first album. Their song “Free” saw significant airplay on mainstream rock radio, later being featured in the TV show Party of Five. Train then released the song “Meet Virginia” as a single. The song became a major hit on modern adult contemporary radio stations, and became a top 20 pop hit. The success of “Meet Virginia” helped their album graduate from the Top Heatseekers chart and enter the top half of the Billboard 200 album chart.
Prior to the release of their second album, the band issued the single “Drops of Jupiter (Tell Me)”. The song entered the Hot 100 on March 10, 2001, and spent over a year on the chart (53 weeks) before being relegated to the recurrents chart. The song won a Grammy Award for Best Rock Song, as well as a Grammy Award for Best Arrangement.
The album Drops of Jupiter was released on March 27, 2001, and became Train’s first multiplatinum album, due in part to the strength of the leading single. The album was Train’s first top 10 album, peaking at number 6 on the Billboard 200. The album was also a top 10 hit in the UK, where it peaked at number 8.
In 2002, founder Rob Hotchkiss left the band to pursue a solo career, after having contributed to 6 of the 11 songs on the upcoming My Private Nation album.
The band’s third album, My Private Nation, was released in June 2003 with “Calling All Angels” as the lead single. “Calling All Angels” became Train’s third top 20 hit, and was a major hit on the Billboard Hot Adult Contemporary Tracks chart.
The band released their first live album, Alive at Last, in 2004. Also in 2004, Train won a Radio Music Award for best artist.
Train began recording their fourth studio album, For Me, It’s You, in Atlanta during the summer of 2005. The album was the only Train album to include members Johnny Colt on bass (formerly of The Black Crowes original line up) and Brandon Bush on keyboards.
Starting in November 2006, the band took a break from recording and touring to be with friends and family. Lead singer Pat Monahan released a solo album, Last of Seven, on September 18, 2007. Train announced in April of 2009 that the band would be returning to its three original members with the departure of Johnny Colt and Brandon Bush. On August 11, 2009, Train released their first single in over 3 years, “Hey Soul Sister,” from their new album Save Me San Francisco, due to hit shelves October 27.
Over the course of 15 years, Train has made its mark on music history with their Grammy-Award-winning song “Drops of Jupiter (Tell Me)” and chart-topping singles “Meet Virginia” and “Calling All Angels.” Since forming in San Francisco in 1994, the multi-platinum selling band has traveled a long, successful and sometimes arduous journey. Following their 2006 release, For Me, It’s You, the band took a three-year hiatus, and in that time, Train has, for all intents and purposes, experienced an epiphany as a whole. Now, with their fifth album, Save Me San Francisco, Train has channeled their early days, revisiting the roots rock sound that has made the band such a tour de force – and, in turn, the band is united stronger than ever before.
“I think taking time away from each other really made the heart grow fonder,” frontman Pat Monahan says of the break. “We realized how important we were to one another and taking a few years off helped us all really look at ourselves and what we could contribute to this band as opposed to what we weren’t getting from the band.”
When looking back, Train credits the city of San Francisco with cultivating the band’s identity and foundation, so it’s no wonder than the title track of the record would pay homage to the Bay Area metropolis the band holds so dear. “We owe all of our gratitude to San Francisco because they embraced us back when, if they hadn’t have, no one would have,” Monahan explains. “Basically, this album is our way of paying tribute, giving thanks and also recognizing that we kind of need San Francisco to OK this band before anybody else does. Those were the best times of our lives – even though we didn’t know it – living in San Francisco and struggling to make a band work.”
“Save Me San Francisco” is an autobiographical account of Train’s beginnings, and embodies not only the spirit of the album, but also the soul of Train as a band. The song’s lyrics take the listener through the three-piece’s humble start in the mid-90s up through the time when Monahan, in particular, left the City by the Bay. “It’s very related to my existence, but Jimmy, Scott and I have been through a lot together in the last 14-15 years, so it represents a lot to them, too, because they don’t reside in San Francisco anymore, and we all miss it.”
Train spent April and May of 2009 holed up in London’s Kensaltown Studios with producer Martin Terefe (KT Tunstall, Jason Mraz, James Morrison) with whom Monahan credits with helping the band “get back to the roots of the first record.” “It was an incredibly refreshing environment that Martin created for the band,” the singer says. “I’m really appreciative of his approach on things because he’s really great at what he does. I had more fun making this record than ever in my life. I think I’ve made seven records and it was by far the most fun.”
Save Me San Francisco taps into Train’s organic sound, recalling the blues and folk-infused rock that put the band on the map from the start. “It’s pretty basic,” Monahan explains of the record. “But really cool because there’s super catchy riffs and melodies in it, which I think are way more important that any production trick or great-sounding vocal production. It’s kind of us going backward so we can go forward.”
It is befitting that the focus of Save Me San Francisco is as uncomplicated as the record sounds. Monahan explored the age-old concept of love through his signature storytelling lyrics and the album, as he explains, is “about love in every way you can think about it.”
“There are certain songs that, instead of there being an intention, there was almost a theme,” he says. “I think a lot of the way I wrote on this wasn’t necessarily, ‘Hey, this reminds me of a situation I was in,’ but more how I see certain things being lived out in life, whether it’s from myself or someone else’s perspective.”
In this day and age, career artists are few and far between, and after a decade and a half of being a band, Train is ready to present one of their strongest efforts to date. Monahan recognizes the band’s accomplishments, and, as he states so clearly, is more than grateful for the success they have experienced. However, for a band as consummate as Train is, Monahan still sets his goals high and hopes the band’s fans will continue to come along for the ride.
“I still remember what it’s like to paint houses,” he recalls. “I had fun because I loved the people that I worked with, but it’s really not what I want to do – not because it’s a degrading job or anything, but because when I’m on stage I feel so much more connected to who I think I truly am. I just want to stay connected to the highest level myself can be and I think it comes through music. With that said, I’ll never stop wanting to sell out Madison Square Garden, so my goals are very simple, but they’re pretty big at the same time. I think Train fans who have watched the good and the bad, have been a part of all of it and have loved some of the music and not liked some of the music, are really going to like this record a lot — I think, much more than they have in years.”
Personally, I don’t think their fans have anything to worry about – so come on out and see for yourself how they’re doing as Train – with opening act Uncle Kracker (yes, kids, it’s ALL good) – bring their San Francisco-flavored brand of music to House Of Blues in N. Myrtle Beach, SC on Saturday, November 14, 2009. Doors open 7:30pm. For ticket info call 843-272-3000 or Ticketmaster 843-679-9333; or visit http://www.houseofblues.com or http://www.ticketmaster.com.
This article was also published in Alternatives NewsMagazine, October 22, 2009 and is at their website under “Nightlife & Entertainment” at http://www.myrtlebeachalternatives.com.