Train Of Hits
Co-Headlining with Goo Goo Dolls, Train Revisits its Best Songs

By Lee Valentine Smith

Since forming in San Francisco in 1993, the one constant presence of Train is lead singer Pat Monahan. The affable frontman has led the band through a myriad of line-up changes and stylistic shifts - and an impressive string of hit singles and critically lauded albums.

From their initial success in the late '90s with "Meet Virginia," Train's 2001 album Drops of Jupiter kickstarted a string of awards and led to lucrative concert tours. By their third studio album, 2003's My Private Nation, the band had become a major international attraction while forging strong ties to the Atlanta music scene.

By 2006, with Sugarland's Brandon Bush on keyboards and former Black Crowes bassist Johnny Colt, the band frequently recorded in Atlanta with in-demand producer Brendan O'Brien (Pearl Jam, Bruce Springsteen). Three years later, late 2009 was another vital time for the band with the release of Save Me, San Francisco and the massive crossover hit "Hey, Soul Sister."

Currently on a cross-country tour with the Goo Goo Dolls, Train opens the summer season at Ameris Bank Amphitheater in support of their recent Greatest Hits album.

INsite caught up with Monahan by phone shortly before the tour kicked off last month.

Atlanta was second home for Train back in the day. I used to see you around town often.

Yeah, I definitely used to spend a lot of time in Atlanta but now I'm only there once or twice a year. I just played Augusta National for the first time so now I hope to have a closer relationship with Augusta, Georgia now, too.

For a while, half of Train was Atlanta-based and produced.

Yeah for a while. I think Brendan is living in Los Angeles now. The music world has changed so much, I don't think it was as convenient for him to be in Atlanta.

Train was a staple of the 99X playlist in the peak of the Commercial Alternative days.

Oh yeah, I remember we did a show with Kid Rock before Kid Rock or Train were what we became. It was a fun time.

Let's talk about the tour that brings you back to town. It's a greatest hits show. At a time when many bands are doing full-album retrospectives, you have the luxury of pulling from the entire catalog.

Yeah and the Goo Goo Dolls are the perfect band to do that with because they've got a whole lot of hits themselves. I think everybody who'll be in that amphitheater will be real happy at the end of the night.

You're continuing the greatest hits vibe from last year because last time around, you were on a really strong double-bill with Hall and Oates.

Yeah, their whole set is a hit.

I have an old Hall and Oates set list around here somewhere and it reads like the track-list of the world's longest greatest hits record. Last year, you collaborated with Daryl and John for a single. Are you planning something similar for the current Goo Goo Dolls tour?

Yeah, I hope to do something like that again this time. You know, they covered "Give A Little Bit" by Supertramp, but they don't usually perform it live. So Johnny and I have been talking about maybe both bands doing it together during our set. And if not that one, then probably something like that. Something fun for everyone.

You and Johnny [Rzeznik] go way back. You've obviously travelled in the same circles for years now. When did you first meet those guys?

The first time I remember meeting them was at a fund-raising event for the Pentagon that Michael Jackson was actually putting on. I met them backstage at that show.

Sounds like an interesting show. Who else was on that bill?

I can't remember everyone - but I know it was Aerosmith and just about everybody else you can think of.

The industry has changed so much since big event shows like that one.

Oh, so much. There were no cell phones and the internet was just starting. The first manager we ever had, we told him we were gonna get a website. He said he thought the internet was just a fad! (Laughs) He's not our manager anymore. But that's the way people consume music now and it's cool. I love it. It's a good way to do business. Kids have led the way and what it all comes down to is, you'd better just do good work.

Many artists complain about the internet with the old "my records aren't selling because of today's technology" excuse. But some of those complainers can't even give away albums at this point in their career.

Yeah, it's like, who's complaining - people who are already rich? I do know some people that complain about it, and I guess they're not entirely wrong. It's frustrating. But no one who is in music, got into music for money. That'll continue to be that way. However we might be losing some artists to the fact that sometimes you can make a better living doing something else.

So it still comes down to creating good art, no matter how the technology of the moment changes.

Yeah, it's the song, it's the music, it's the band. The essence of it all is your voice and how you use it.

A good song is key and you're a prolific writer. How has your songwriting process changed over the years?

These days, I try to get in rooms with young people, honestly. I feel like songwriting has changed to the point where young people know what they're doing but old people don't listen. But I like what they have to say and I like the way they say it. But I plan on writing the next Train record with not just young people, but writers like my friend Butch Walker – another Atlanta guy. Butch is a very inspiring person to me. He's crazy talented and crazy humble. He's got the best voice and he's the best guitar player. He's just there to help you get the best out of yourself.

You've written with a lot of people over the years, but you've also collaborated with many fine artists, both on solo projects and under the Train banner.

Oh yeah, that's the whole point. I'm not switching out guys now just because I like to just change it up. Like our drummer Drew [Shoals] just left, to go back to practicing law which was super bad for me because I love Drew and he's an amazing drummer. But we have a new kid that's really great. His name is Matt Musty and he's gonna add a whole new fire to us this summer. It's great to have new people come and be excited and make us all play better.

Even though you are the constant, it's not like this is a solo job for you. There seems to be an ever-evolving band democracy within the Train organization.

Yeah, these guys have really earned it. I'm surrounded by great people now, which was always my goal. If I can wake up and like the people that I have to spend two and a half months on the road with or in the studio with - that's the way it should be. Now I can do that every day. I'm old enough where I'm allowed to make those choices. I've been lucky enough that Train fans have stuck with me, trusting that I'll make them proud.

It's been an entire decade since "Hey Soul Sister" was released, which makes me feel old to even think about, but it's just a fact.

(Laughs) Well we were old when that came out, so imagine how old we are now! Really, that song just gave the Drops Of Jupiter album a whole new life as well. I think one of the coolest things that came from that is Taylor Swift made a live record and put both "Drops Of Jupiter" and "Hey Soul Sister" in her set, which was pretty cool.

Talk about adding new fans, that must have been an unexpected popularity boost for you.

Yeah, that was fun. I'm not sure if she gives a shit about Train anymore, but she did then.

Speaking of "Drops Of Jupiter," it's now a wine.

Yeah about ten years ago, we started a wine to benefit a great cause in San Francisco called Family House. It's for low-income families with very sick kids and they go to UCSF hospital for assistance and to hopefully get healed. So over the years we've been able to give a lot of money to a great charity and people get to drink a beautiful wine. It's just a lot of fun to get some people drunk and happy and to get other people potentially well.

Train & Goo GOo Dolls will perform on Wednesday, July 10 at 7pm at Ameris Bank Amphitheater. For more information, please visit awesomealpharetta.com.

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