How long is 15 years in rock band years?
Too long, says Pat Monahan, the lead singer of American pop rock band Train. “It’s like having a pet that was supposed to disappear after eight years,” he laughs. “Rock bands that last 15 years should get a trophy for survival.”
Monahan and his band are heading back to town this weekend to perform at the du World Music Festival at the Dubai Media City Amphitheatre. The set list will include all their massive hits, ‘Hey Soul Sister’, ‘Drops of Jupiter (Tell Me)’ and ‘Calling All Angels’ among others, he says.
“We plan on doing all the songs people are familiar with, songs from the past, cover songs, have people on stage and do as much as we are allowed to do,” he teases.
The band last performed at the Dubai Jazz Festival in 2011.
But back to the 15-year-itch, which in fact, isn’t really. Train debuted their self-produced album in 1998 after being rejected by record companies. ‘Meet Virginia’, off the self-titled album quickly climbed the Billboard charts peaking at Number 20. That gave the band enough clout to be signed by Columbia for their next album, ‘Drops of Jupiter’, released in 2001. The title song, of course, became a global hit and a Grammy Best Rock Song winner, and threw Train into the big league. The band quickly followed up with ‘My Private Nation’ two years later, which was also a success, with the single ‘Calling All Angels’ topping the charts.
But success, as is often the case, is a funny thing. Train’s fourth album, ‘For Me, It’s You’ (2006) was a commercial failure, despite being appreciated by critics. The reception forced the band into a hiatus, during which Monahan found time to release a solo album with relative success.
Of course, they didn’t stay quiet for long. 2009’s ‘Save Me, San Francisco’ brought ‘Hey, Soul Sister’, Train’s biggest commercially successful single to date and another Grammy, followed in 2012 by album number six, ‘California 37’, of which ‘Drive by’, its lead single, became a major hit.
“We’ve been through a lot,” reminisces Monahan, 44. “I mean, 15 years ago, there was no iTunes, there were no cellphones. It was a strange time and now it’s a completely different planet.
“Artists that are coming out now are fans of each other. There is a kind of camaraderie instead of when we were coming up, there was a competitive lack of confidence. We were all just trying to get the other disappear so there would be more room for your record on the shelves. Now there are no records and no shelves so you can actually like what everybody else is doing. It’s pretty fun.”
He’s thought about hanging up his boots and giving it all up though, many times.
“When I talk about it, my wife goes, ‘Really? I don’t think you have that in you’. I guess as long as people want to come see us, I just want to keep getting on that plane and doing it. Once people are not interested anymore then that will be all that people will have to say to me.”
As chief songwriter for the band, Monahan says the pressure to deliver is also as real as keeping a band alive and relevant.
“So many things seem to be everybody’s best when they are young. I do think about it a lot. Some times I wonder, ‘Why is Paul McCartney not writing ‘Hey Jude’ today? Is he comfortable? Is it not what it used to be for him?’
“For me, I think I’ve gotten better with time. And now it think it’s time to really dig deeper than I’ve ever dug and create whatever our version of that record is that really makes us different.”
You can never sit down to write a hit song, he adds. Only write a song that makes you “feel something”.
“I think ‘Hey, Soul Sister’ surprised every body. No one expected that to happen from us. But then again, in some countries, ‘Drive By’ was a much bigger hit. So you never know when a song will be big. I just write. And if it’s something that makes be happy or cry when I listen to it, I just know it’s a good song.”
What’s not so good though, is trying to be like Train but not with Train, he admits, calling his solo album, ‘Last of Seven’ (2007), a mistake.
“I think the mistake was trying to escape Train,” he says. “I made a record that was mildly similar. If I ever make another solo album, and I want to make several, I want it to be drastically different from Train.”
Monahan doesn’t regret all the things he’s done outside of the Train camp, though. With a few acting gigs, including an appearance in an episode of police drama series ‘Hawaii Five-0’. He says films are something he would like to “study a bit more.”
“I think it will be fun to start to get good at it. I wouldn’t say acting will be a day job for me but I really enjoy it. I think it’s a very difficult thing to be good at and I love the challenge.”
After his trip to Dubai, which he describes as “profoundly intense” on his last visit, he is looking forward to some more songwriting in London and then a summer tour in the US with the band with openings acts including American singer Gavin De Graw and Irish band The Script.
“I admire the sound of the UK so much that I just want to be around it,” he says. “And maybe something there will influence me to do something else. When a song is inside you somewhere, there is a light switch that turns on and I want to go to London to find out that switch.”
He says he wants to send his apologies to fans in Abu Dhabi and Beirut, and to assure them that they’re coming soon.
“We tried to go to [both cities] this time but just couldn’t get it together. But we’re going to make a trip soon, I promise.”
And while 15 years might be already too long, he says he hopes to be making music for a long, long time to come, with or without critical acclaim.
“As a songwriter or band, we’re not really on the top of the media list of who to love every year,” he says. “And I’m OK with that.
“No offence to what you [journalists] do, but you’re one person. And I would rather be able to show up and see thousands of people at a show or sell millions of albums. Those are really the things that make a difference in my life.”
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