When Train agreed to be interviewed for the Huffington Post's Entertainment page, no one could predict that the conference would be conducted over the course of thousands of miles from scores of hotel rooms. Vocalist Pat Monahan would become intensely ill, guitarist Jimmy Stafford would be fused to his cell, unable to escape his tenacious inquisitor, and drummer Scott Underwood would go MIA for hours, nay, days...nay, just about an hour, actually.
It was the perfect start for an awesome interview.
Mike Ragogna: After taking years off, Train regroups and records its new album Save Me, San Francisco in London's Kensaltown Studios with producer Martin Terefe. What was it like tracking with him?
Jimmy Stafford: It was great working with Martin. It was fun working with a different producer 'cause we'd done the last three albums with the same crew. So, the whole thing felt fresh for us, it was all a lot of fun. We did half the record in London, and the other half in San Francisco.
Scott Underwood: His studio was beautiful, it wasn't typical looking. It had windows and a patio, and it was very bright and sunny. Most studios are dark with no windows. We played on vintage gear.
MR: What other studio did you use?
Pat Monahan: We also recorded at Hyde Street Studios in San Francisco. We didn't need the same atmosphere as the London studio because we'd already put the basic tracks of the songs down. We needed to get the vocals and overdubs done in San Francisco, so it was perfect. It was great to be back in San Francisco, I would go for run on some of my favorite trails. It was a f***in' great experience. We had an amazing time. This was the most fun, for sure, making a record.
MR: How did you come to work with Terefe?
PM: I met Martin as a writer, he and I wrote together. We didn't get a hit song out of our writing session, but we had a great time. Then our new manager was like, "What do you think about Martin Terefe?" I was like, "What has he done, 'cause I've worked with him as a writer," and he was like, "KT Tunstall and Jason Mraz." I said, "Man, those are two great artists that don't sound like they're trying too hard to fit into the pop radio world." That really meant a lot to us.
JS: It really was about trying to find somebody to fit what we were doing rather than let's find somebody to help take these songs to the next level. The songs already were pretty well-crafted and even demoed before we went into the studio. And the demos were so well-produced that, at times, we were chasing the demo. With Martin, it was more about finding the right producer to bring out the best in these tunes.
SU: His approach is kind of just raw music. He doesn't put a lot of bells and whistles on a record, he doesn't over-produce it at all. We really liked that about him. He wasn't an overbearing, gigantically famous producer who was condescending all the time, and he wasn't heavy-handed in how we played this or that. He felt like a band member.
MR: Yeah, Martin also is credited with playing bass on the album.
SU: We didn't have a bass player for these recordings, so he was our bass player.
PM: He's a f***ing great bass player, man. He's a super-talented dude, but when he plays bass, he turns into a funk-maniac. He's got really cool ideas like in the song "Words." He's playing the s**t out of the bass, and then the string line ideas that were his totally sound like Motown to me. That's Martin at his best.
MR: In some ways, Save Me... sounds a lot like a return to your earlier work, was that intentional?
JS: That was kind of our goal. We took some time off between the last album and this one, and coming back into it, we felt like we wanted to win back our core fan base, and also reach out to a whole new base of fans. We thought the way to do that was by doing what got us here in the first place. Just strip it down, make this record be all about the songs, putting them out there, and hoping people dig it.
MR: Naturally, there's been some growth in the process?
PM: We made a lot of changes internally with band members, we made a lot of personal changes in our lives, our business relationships are different--we've got a new manager. No one who was with us in the beginning is with us today, and it became a soul search about what it was we wanted out of this band. I think that the best way to put it is we stopped wondering what the band could do for us and started wondering what we could do for the band. That was a big step for all of us as human beings. It was like "Hey man, I want to contribute" and it was "Let me help" instead of "What can I get out of this while I can get it." We really became proud of what it was instead of "This band's not cool enough, not big enough..." Whatever it wasn't enough of stopped.
MR: How do you feel about this album's material?
JS: I think it really is a great batch of songs, and I think it's our strongest record as far as songs go.
MR: And it has a really positive attitude, like in "Words" whose chorus goes, "When words keep you from feelin' good, use them as firewood, and let 'em burn..."
SU: I'm a big fan of Pat's broken heart love ballads, and I think that's his best writing. He knows how to put those words together, and he really seems to have a bit of hope in them all, even though it might be a sad song. There always seems to be the idea of "I'm heartbroken, but there's something beautiful about it."
JS: There's a ballad on there called "This Ain't Goodbye" that Pat wrote with Ryan Tedder from One Republic that's an incredible song. The production turned out really nice on it. That's one where, in the studio, Ryan had done such a great job making a demo of it. It took a few tries, I think we had three different piano players attempt it before we got it to San Francisco where our old friend Jerry Becker, who tours us with now, finally laid the piano track down that ended up on the record. (Ryan) did such a good job on the demos that it was tough to beat.
MR: In "Hey, Soul Sister," you've probably got the first shout-out to Mr. Mister ever recorded.
PM: Yeah, well, when I come up with lines like "Mr. Mister" and "soy latte," let me tell ya how close they are to being corny and horrible. Those are the chances you take.
SU: The thing I'm happiest about with "...Soul Sister" is that it was Columbia's choice to make that our first single. The safe route would have been to put a rock ballad out there since those are our biggest songs, you know, "Drops Of Jupiter" and "Calling All Angels." This song is a different one for us, it's very unique, with the mandolin... I think they took a leap of faith with it, and I'm really glad it's working out and people are digging it.
MR: Pat, in "If It's Love," you're listing all of these great things you're getting for your girl except, as you say, "cologne, 'cause it's poison."
PM: Have you ever been in an elevator with a lady who just got done perfuming? If you have, you won't wonder why I wrote it.
MR: So this wasn't a statement against animal cruelty?
PM: No, actually, I'm for animal cruelty.
MR: What was The Doobie Brothers' reaction to what you did to "Black Water" on your track "I Got You"?
JS: Patrick Simmons has one-third writing credit on the song. It's a large chunk of the song, and they're such a cool band, we didn't think that they would mind us bringing that song back into the limelight. It's got a really great feel to it. I don't know what management or the record company's plan is for it, but I can see that song being a big summer hit. We'll see.
MR: So no lawsuits ensued.
PM: I put that song together with a friend of mine, Kevin Griffin from Better Than Ezra, and it was actually his idea. He was a big fan of "Meet Virginia," and he said, "Hey, I got this idea, I think it's super-cool, come and check it out." He really was a big part of all of that stuff. So, in the song, we talk about driving home at night singing a song that we're all familiar with, and, you know, we're from a similar generation that heard "Black Water" far too many times in our youth and even now. We asked Patrick Simmons and he was cool with it, so we did it.
SU: I though it was a pretty brilliant move. It's pretty modern musically to marry some classic hook or line and lyrics to a song you wrote, and I think Pat did a great job on it.
MR: Are the songs written about a particular person?
PM: Anything about love I can reference to my wife, and anything about unlove, I can reference to many, many other people. I could make a list for ya...
MR: Pat, on "You Always Know," you hit these really high notes without going into falsetto, and you sound like Freddie Mercury or Allan Clarke from The Hollies. With the way you crank out those notes, you rival both those guys.
PM: Well, I haven't sung that song in a while because I've been sick, so I'm not even sure that register of my voice will ever show up again. It's a good thing it's on tape.
MR: Scott, that's one of the tracks you're pounding pretty heavily on.
SU: It's funny because that particular song didn't sound that way at all on the demo. It was more of a straight beat, like half-time of what it ended up being. We were in the studio and said, "Let's just work on the song and get it to a better place." Jimmy actually came up with my drum part, and I came up with his guitar parts. I just came up with it by going "Deh-deh-deh-deh" kind of with my mouth, and he was like, "Man, you should do this..." We just started doing it, and the song had a new life put into it.
MR: Is it your favorite track on the record or is there something else?
SU: When I heard Pat's demo of "Save Me, San Francisco," I really got goose bumps, I felt like it was a really impressive hit song. I love the chorus so much, you know, with that gospel singer vibe. It had a Stones attitude, like a loose kind of f***-off rock song. Lyrically, it's a good pop song, but as a whole, it has a good groove and is really fun to play.
MR: Speaking of "Save Me, San Francisco," somebody gets a nasty souvenir from the road. So who's the one with the blister?
SU: I don't know, but I bet over the course of our career, we all got blisters at one time or another.
PM: Of course I'm going to say the guys who aren't in the band anymore. That would be the safe thing to say. But we all know who it really was...Jimmy!!
JS: (laughs) You know, Pat's such a great lyricist that just about everybody feels like he's writing the song about them. His lyrics are very open to interpretation.
MR: Pat, what's the story on how you wrote "Brick By Brick"?
PM: The same people I wrote "...Soul Sister" with wrote that with me. It's interesting, I was looking out at this building in Manhattan in Times Square, and I was listening to this track they made for me, and as I heard it, it was really inspiring. It felt like a hurricane in the South that was a symbol for a relationship, and the work it takes to rebuild it is enormous, but it's worth it. I said, "Dudes, I know everything about this song, I just sang every word of it to myself while listening to your music." These dudes were from Norway, and they were like, "What did you think about, I would like to know?" and I just said, "Man, this song is called 'Brick By Brick' and this is what it sounds like...
MR: Who were those guys?
PM: I call them The Norwegian Dudes.
MR: "Parachute" sounds like another strong anthem.
JS: A lot of the fans are hearing the record for the first time this week--it's streaming somewhere online. I've been noticing that song has been getting a lot of comments. We actually opened up the tour with it the other night in Seattle.
MR: The title track and "I Got You" show a real deep connection between the group and San Francisco. Is this album also meant to be a nod to your old hometown?
JS: It was our sort of getting back to our roots, back to the core band members with a more stripped down sound, and getting back to where the band came from--San Francisco. We started out here, and spent the first album being residents of San Francisco, but then we all kind of moved away from the city. Whenever we come back here, it still feels like home. It's not our personal homes where our families are, but it's home to the band. San Francisco always embraces us when we come back here...shows are always magical. And we wanted to pay homage to where we came from, that we're a San Francisco band at heart.
SU: I feel like it's something we needed to do because we've been a band for so long, and San Francisco meant a lot to us since the beginning. Many years there, you know? We all love the city. I really have no idea why we all chose to move, but life just sort of takes its course. We all just ended up in other places, and we've talked about it often. It sort of symbolizes the band almost starting over because we took about three years off, and members have changed, and this and that has happened. Now it's back to its core members--me, Pat, and Jimmy--and it just seemed appropriate to have San Francisco symbolize that new beginning for us.
MR: The band took a hiatus for a few years and you all worked on individual projects. Was it a group decision or did it just kind of happen?
JS: Yeah, everybody did their own thing. You know, we had been slammin' so hard for ten years. We had a non-stop cycle of touring and making records. The band was burned out on it, on each other, on the road, on making records. We just needed a break from going through the whole cycle again. It just seemed like the right time to take a breather. Even in a relationship, sometimes, you just have to go away from each other to realize what you have. In our case, that really worked. We went away from each other for a few years, Pat recorded his solo record, I wrote a novel, everybody spent time with their families doing their own thing. I think it made all of us realize just what this band means to us, that this is our home, and this is where we belong. When we got back together, it felt better and stronger than ever.
SU: There's this renewed energy and vitality in the band. From doing our other projects, I think we all just really appreciated what we have in Train, and realized what we have as a band and as individual people. And we also all realized that we really need each other. I think those were important lessons for us all, so now when we're in the studio, we treat each other with more respect and love and appreciation. When we're on stage too. It's a completely different vibe in the band. I just think that after all the touring we did and the success we had, we took things for granted, maybe got spoiled. Now I feel like our feet are back on the ground, finally. We just seem more mature and very happy to be together. Also, everybody seems to be playing better--it's more seasoned. Pat knows how to write a great lyric very confidently, and write a great melody. All of these things are just contributing to what I think is our best record.
PM: I think it had the most memorable positives and the most heartbreakingly difficult times of my life...for...sure. It was certainly no mistake, even though the success of it would point in a direction business-wise of it not being such a good idea. If you strip away what we would consider in America success, it was an incredibly successful time for all of us because it gave us a new reason to be together. Plus, that record of mine? I love that record, I'm super-proud of it, and that's going to be a Broadway play someday.
MR: With big hits like "Drops Of Jupiter," "Meet Virginia," and "Calling All Angels," what are your thoughts after looking back at the success the band's had?
JS: It's been a journey, and it's an ongoing one too. There've been a lot of great times with the band, and some not so great. But everything's been worth it. We've been a real fortunate band--we got to go to the Grammys a few times, even won one for "Drops Of Jupiter." Every album we've released as had a big single or two on the radio, radio having been very kind to us. With this record, it all just seems to be continuing. It's nice to go away for a few years and come back with such a strong record and be embraced by radio and our fans. The shows are starting to sell out, and everybody's kind of glad we're back.
MR: Who's backing your three-piece on the road?
JS: Hector Maldanado is on bass, and Jerry Becker is our keyboard player and backs me up on guitar on some songs. They're really great musicians, and we all sing and fill it up enough to make it sound like there isn't anything missing. Jerry's family, he was our first tour manager when we did our first lap around the country in a van. Years later, he's touring with us in a bus and playing on stage with us every night.
MR: What are the long-range plans beyond this record?
PM: Well, this record just came out, so it's hard to say what's next, but we have a deep longing to get back to Australia and Europe and get to Japan for the first time, and do all those things we did years ago with big hit records. We're longing to do that again, tour for a long time. And the two dudes that are on tour with us are like family, so we'll have an amazing time together musically. We just want to keep doing this, we'll put another record out, do everything that bands do with appreciation for our fans who are so kick-ass.
MR: Jimmy, how does the audience react when you play your big solo hit "Spiders And Snakes"?
JS: (laughs) No, we won't be doing that. Only you and I remember that one...
1. Save Me, San Francisco
2. Hey, Soul Sister
3. I Got You
5. This Ain't Goodbye
6. If It's Love
7. You Already Know
9. Brick By Brick
10. Breakfast In Bed
11. Marry Me
AND TOURING WITH TRAIN...
UNCLE KRACKER IS ALL SMILES THIS WEEK
"SMILE" GOES TOP 10 AS DETROIT SINGER-SONGWRITER SET TO PERFORM ON
THE TONIGHT SHOW WITH CONAN O'BRIEN
Top Dog/Atlantic recording artist Uncle Kracker has another hit on his hands as the Detroit-based singer-songwriter's single, "Smile," has broken into the Top 10 on the Hot AC this week. Uncle Kracker will perform "Smile" on NBC's "The Tonight Show with Conan O'Brien" tomorrow night.
The track's companion video is in "Medium" rotation on VH1 and consistently charts on the channel's "VH1 Top 20 Countdown." Uncle Kracker recently guest-hosted the weekly program.
"Smile" is the lead single off of Uncle Kracker's recently released 4th studio album, Happy Hour. Produced by multiple Grammy award winner Rob Cavallo (Kid Rock, Green Day, Paramore), Happy Hour sees Uncle Kracker continuing to craft his idiosyncratic blend of country-flavored pop and rock 'n' roll. Uncle Kracker continues his cross-country trek as a special guest to Train
Here's the new video by Soulsavers, "Unbalanced Pieces," from their album Broken!:
A PRESS RELEASE GUARANTEED TO FILL YOU WITH...
Glee: The Music, Volume 1, to be released on Nov. 3rd
The cast will be making appearances at in-stores in the New York City area
and Los Angeles during release week.
NEW YORK AREA
Monday, November 2nd @ 4:00 PM
Roosevelt Field Mall / North Court Lower Level (below food court)
Garden City, NY
Call f.y.e. at Roosevelt Field Mall for more details: 516.248.8747
Starting Monday, November 2nd, at 10 AM, be one of the first 400 people
to purchase Glee: The Music, Vol. 1, at the f.y.e. store in Roosevelt
Field Mall, and you will receive a wristband which gets you on line for
the autograph signing. Cast members will only be signing copies of the
Glee CD. One item signed per person.
Tuesday, November 3rd @ 5:30 PM
The Shops at Columbus Circle, Time Warner Center
10 Columbus Circle, NYC
Starting Tuesday, November 3rd, at 9 AM, be one of the first 400 people
to purchase Glee: The Music, Vol. 1, at Borders at The Shops at Columbus
Circle, and you will receive a wristband which gets you on line for the
autograph signing. Cast members will only be signing copies of the Glee
CD. One item signed per person.
Wednesday, November 4th @ 6:00 PM
Best Buy @ Garden State Plaza
Starting Tuesday, November 3rd, at 10 AM, be one of the first 400 people
to purchase Glee: The Music, Vol. 1, at Best Buy in Garden State Plaza,
and you will receive a wristband which gets you on line for the
autograph signing. Cast members will only be signing copies of the Glee
CD. One item signed per person.
Saturday, November 7th @ 4:00 PM
Barnes & Noble @ The Grove
189 Grove Drive
Los Angeles, CA
Starting Tuesday, November 3rd, at 9 AM, be one of the first 400 people
to purchase Glee: The Music, Vol. 1, at Barnes & Noble at The Grove, and
you will receive a wristband which gets you on line for the autograph
signing. Cast members will only be signing copies of the Glee CD. One
item signed per person.
THE OPPOSITE OF BOOO! A SCARY PRESS RELEASE:
CELEBRATE HALLOWEEN WITH THE STRING CHEESE INCIDENT - MAMMOTH TRICK OR TREAT BOX SET AND SLIM TWO-DISC SET RELEASED OCT. 28
ALSO AVAILABLE NOW: NEW SOLO RELEASES BY SCI MEMBERS KYLE HOLLINGSWORTH'S THEN THERE'S NOW AND EMMITT-NERSHI BAND'S NEW COUNTRY BLUES
With the one-time constant touring machine otherwise known as The String Cheese Incident slowing their schedule considerably in recent years, fans get a chance to relive the group's legendary "Hulaween" shows on the forthcoming live release, Trick or Treat. The two-disc release - set to hit today on CD, vinyl, and digitally - is culled from several of these epic shows by The String Cheese Incident.
An expanded 9-disc deluxe box set edition of Trick or Treat will also be available in very limited quantity. Pre-sale on the deluxe box set began September 23, 2009 at 12:00 PM EDT - with the first 200 who pre-ordered to receive a Trick or Treat cover art poster signed by members of SCI, and the first 500 who order being automatically entered to win one of 30 uncut Trick or Treat poster sheets, featuring the Michael Everett cover art poster sheet, plus all 7 mini-posters from the box set. (These exclusive uncut sheets will also be signed by the members of SCI!).
Known to perform special concerts comprised heavily of cover tunes each Halloween, Trick or Treat offers selections from SCI performances recorded at Atlanta's Variety Playhouse (1998), Philadelphia's Electric Factory (1999), Portland's State Theatre (2000), New York City (2001), Los Angeles' Shrine Auditorium (2002), Sin City's Cox Pavillion (2003), and Madison's Exhibition Center at Alliant Energy Center.
The 9-disc limited edition box set of Trick or Treat includes seven complete sets - featuring must-hear renditions of Beatles ("Come Together"), Beastie Boys ("No Sleep Till Brooklyn"), Grateful Dead ("Shakedown Street"), KC & The Sunshine Band ("Get Down Tonight"), and Phish ("The Wedge") classics, among many others. The Trick or Treat deluxe box set also features signed & numbered original artwork from Michael Everett, special commemorative mini-posters from the Hulaween shows, personalized liner notes from the band, a photo booklet by famed rock photographer C. Taylor Crothers, and plenty of special surprises.
Formed in Colorado during 1993, The String Cheese Incident has long been considered one of the leaders of the thriving "jam band" scene. Comprised of members Michael Kang (acoustic/electric mandolin, electric guitar, and violin), Michael Travis (drums and percussion), Bill Nershi (acoustic guitar, lap steel guitar, and electric slide guitar), Kyle Hollingsworth (piano, organ, Rhodes, and accordion), Keith Moseley (bass guitar), and Jason Hann (percussion, joined SCI in 2004), the group performed regularly between 1993-2007. And in the process, they built a large fanbase on the strength of their live show, as well as such classic releases as Outside Inside, Untying the Not, and One Step Closer.
In recent years, the band members have focused on solo projects, although The String Cheese Incident did reunite onstage this year for a show-stopping performance at the ROTHBURY Festival. Now, here's your chance to experience The String Cheese Incident in all their in-concert glory time and time again, with Trick or Treat.
Also this fall, String Cheese Incident members Kyle Hollingsworth and Billy Nershi release a couple of solo works. Look for Emmitt-Nershi Band's New Country Blues and Hollingsworth's Then There's Now, in stores now.
Follow Mike Ragogna on Twitter: www.twitter.com/ragz2008