Just when you thought Train's songs couldn't get any catchier, they released 'Drive By', their 'Soul Sister' follow-up and lead single from latest album California 37. The boys from San Fran are coming to Australia this June, and lead singer and one of music's hookiest songwriters, Pat Monahan, spoke to Time Out.
We hear you’ve been touring a lot off the back of the last record.
I think this time around we’ve been to even more places that we’ve never been. We’ve had a really amazing stretch of great luck on radio in the Middle East – ‘Drive By’ is really big there and we did go to Dubai on the Save Me, San Francisco tour. Now, we’re being asked to come to Lebanon where the song was number one, we’re being asked to go to India and then of course all over Asia. It’s an interesting thing to have to travel so often but you’re so excited to do that because the reason that you’re being asked to do that is because things are good. I did a lot of writing. I would come home and write, I would write on the road, I wrote a lot in Australia.
What did you write in Australia?
The one song on the record that reflects Australia the most is ‘Mermaid’, but that song I actually wrote in San Francisco. I wrote ‘Shake Up Christmas’ in Australia – I don’t know where I was but I was definitely in Australia.
What is it about those two songs that particularly reflects Australia?
Well the Christmas thing I don’t think that it had anything to do with what I thought of Australia, it was just work; I’m not really the kind of guy that needs to be in a certain setting to work. It almost works against me, like I’ve heard about people who go to like beaches to write lyrics and like, that’s the worst place for me to write. I need to be among living human beings! ‘Mermaid’, I just felt that… well mermaids, man, you know Australia and the whole thing… You’ve got such beautiful women in Australia you think, “Who wouldn’t want to see one of them jump out of the water with a fin?” I think of Australia to be just like a very large California, and we’re very similar people.
You obviously have a knack for great hooks. Do you feel a lot of pressure when you re-enter the studio or writing room or anywhere you write – not the beach – to write one of those ‘Hey Soul Sister-style, ‘Drive By’-style hooks?
More and more it’s essentially the opposite. I think for a long time I was aiming for radio, I was trying so hard and I could never hit it because the intention behind it was not sincere. I don’t think you can do good work if you’re trying to sell it – it sounds like a bad combination but if you’re trying to actually feel something yourself and reveal something about yourself then maybe it’ll make people feel something in return, whether emotional or reflective. It’s hard to draw an emotion out of a person with art.
When you went solo were you aiming for a big radio hit?
I think that that record was actually aimed to quit my band. I really didn’t want to be in Train at that time and they didn’t bug me and we needed that record; we needed that record as a band. You know as much as you can’t weigh it in gold, how much money it made, or whatever the success of that solo record was, it was probably the most successful Train record of all time because it really woke us all up and talked some sense into all of us as far as really appreciating one another and what we had in Train.
What was it that brought you to that point where you needed to make an album and sort of get out of the band?
I see a lot of marriages not work because two people want to be appreciated for how hard they’re working and neither one of them can appreciate each other because neither one of them are being appreciated in return. It’s hard to say, “Thank you so much for working so hard for our family”, when the other person is just mad that you’re not saying thank you. That’s what Train became: just sort of a marriage that was like “Man, you know there’s gotta be more fun in music than this” because we were only happy if we were successful monetarily, and you know, we just couldn’t be successful monetarily anymore because we were just in it for the wrong stuff. Now it’s opposite; we love being together, we went from being family to friends.
You can choose your friends.
That’s exactly right. Usually it’s the other way around with bands: you just start out as friends and you become brothers because you can’t stand each other by the end. We’re the opposite, like we love each other a lot man, I consider those guys my friends, I don’t want to not be with them.
What makes this album sort of different from the last album? It seems to have similar sort of upbeat tone.
I think that maybe as the lyric writer I’m able to get to a little bit deeper of an honest place in myself and I hope that this means that this is a better record. I hope that records gets better in time with this band as opposed to, “we made our best work and now it’s a matter of just sustaining so people will still pay attention”, because I don’t want to be that guy. I feel like the tempo’s great on a lot of the new songs, some of them are heartfelt, country-type songs. ‘50 Ways to Say Goodbye’ for me is the funnest break up song of all time, you know? It originally was called ‘50 Ways to Kill Your Lover’ but we thought you can’t really ask a three-year-old or a seven-year-old to ask their mum “Can I download my favourite song ‘50 Ways to kill your Lover’?”
I suppose you’ve got to make it easier for them. Finally, I have to ask: you were in a Led Zeppelin cover band back in the ’90s, what bands would you like to cover today?
We were on Howard Stern the other day and we did a Guess Who song; I think that Burton Cummings is one of the greatest unknown singers of all time, he’s incredible. We’ve covered current songs like Rihanna’s ‘Umbrella’ and we did ‘Animal’ by the Neon Trees, yeah. You know we went and saw Gotye live in Berlin and we loved the show, and I love seeing Fun, they’re a huge deal right now like them live, and I love seeing things that you can tell were never aiming for something they just are something.