14 June 2012
It’s a surprisingly warm afternoon in Sydney and Train have 180° commanding views of the Opera House and Harbour Bridge. Frontman and lyricist Pat Monahan is seated stiffly on a couch at the Shangri La hotel enquiring about the current plight of print media while drummer Scott Underwood and guitarist Jimmy Stafford are reminiscing over a common foe.
It’s been six years since the San Francisco band’s near breakup and over a year since the cursory hiring of producer Howard Benson. “The first producer was an arrogant fucken’ asshole,” says Underwood. “One of the most arrogant dicks I’ve ever met in my life. And we felt that the second we saw him.” Coarse-tongued Underwood is careful no to name names but he’s explaining why the recording of Train’s most recent album California 37 cost a fraction of the price of its predecessor. “We started making Save Me, San Francisco with one guy and I think we spent $160,000 and threw it in the trash,” says 43-year-old Monahan, indicating it wasn’t just Benson’s ego that was hard to endure. “If you heard any of it you’d go ‘okay you’re fine’.”
Ironically, the now renowned producer behind California 37 enlisted Benson himself in 1991 for the debut of his Glam metal outfit, SouthGang. “It’s funny because he produced Butch Walker’s first record for his first band and basically ended that band’s career,” laughs Stafford, touching his bottle-black goatee. “He’s huge, but he’s a cock. He’s a huge cock.”
Bold statements like this only reflect the full-steam juggernaut that is Train; from the two-time Grammy Award- winning title track from sophomore album Drops Of Jupiter, to the #8 ARIA charting Save Me, San Francisco-which sported chart topper Hey, Soul Sister and is just months away from Platinum accreditation in the US-the trio know what they’re doing.
Although Drops Of Jupiter remains the band’s most lucrative to date in the way of album sales, Monahan says the band won’t even bother trying to match its success. “It’s a different day than it used to be, I don’t know that we’ll be record, it’s just not fair to measure it.” California 37 is a more country-tinged beast than the band’s prior creations; it’s aesthetically brighter and more radio-ready, woven with tinny guitars and literal lyrics. The genre’s influence was always present though, since tracks like Free and I Am on the ‘98 self-titled debut, Train have been chipping away at a culture where pop-country is predominantly reserved for women. However, 2012 saw the trio perform at the Houston livestock show and rodeo in March, a month before Monahan sang a duet with Martina McBride at the 47th ACM Awards (Academy of Country Music) and performed as part of a Johnny Cash tribute concert-even country singer Ashley Monroe features on California 37 - on the track Bruises.
“I think that [Bruises] lends itself to us being a little bit more country at the moment,” admits Stafford. “The country world is kind of exclusive and to be invited into that world was really special for us... It’s really great to have a foot in that door.”
Monahan is very aware of closing doors now too, domestic life is more phlegmatic since his divorce in 2006 but unlike most poets who’s use of pen and paper is cathartic and unadulterated, any words regarding ex-wife Ginean Rapp must be first screened by their 14-year-old daughter, Emilia. Lyrics like “Four more years ‘til my girl’s all grown/ Then the bitch gotta have to leave me alone,” were given the green light to become the album’s title track.
“She knows that I’m not a big fan of her mum and so I wanted her to tell me it was okay... She was like ‘I love that song, that’s the shit!’”
“Now you gotta write that song I Wish I Didn’t Suck That One Dick, jokes Underwood. Monahan shakes his head seriously, “I’m not gonna write that song.”
A father of three, Monahan is in constant protective-mode, even limiting the preordained right of pop’s frontmen. “I’ll never write a book because the book you want to hear from me is just not going to be what I can do,” he says. “I don’t want my children to ever know some of what I know.” Privacy has served the band well, Underwood puts the band’s split in 2006 down to the fact they “weren’t getting along at all,” but after Monahan released material as a solo artist in 2007 to make sense of his encrypted cogitations, he now writes lyrics like, “Truth is, it was attitude/Replaced greed with gratitude.”
“When we got back together we realised that we had to change our attitude and start being a band, and writing music just solely for the love of doing it again,” explains Underwood. “Instead of trying to make a lot of money or be famous.” This time around, Train seem to have made all the right choices. California 37’s first offering, Drive By, has already reached Platinum status in Australia and the album looks to rival its forerunner.
Underwood is convinced their contentment is because of the happy marriage with its producer, Butch Walker; a friend of the band who was also left with a bad taste on his palate from one particular producer. “You can hear the joy in the recording,” he beams. “We had so much fun making this record, you can hear it and see it, it was such a great time.”
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