Pat Monahan of Train doesn’t need to write new songs and make new albums. He’s had more than enough hits over a career that spans nearly 30 years to be able to tour for as long he wants.
But here he is back on tour fronting Train this summer and promoting AM Gold, the album the band released last year. That tour stops by Foellinger Theatre on Wednesday, Aug. 9, with opening act Better Than Ezra.
w/Better Than Ezra
7:30 p.m., Wednesday, Aug. 9
3411 Sherman Blvd., Fort Wayne
$59-$202.50 · (260) 427-6000
Far from coasting on a catalog that includes more than 20 adult pop hits, Monahan is as driven as ever to stay in the conversation.
“You know, there was a famous conversation between Billy Joel and Elton John where Elton John was like, ‘How come you aren’t making new albums?’ And (Joel) says, ‘How come you haven’t stopped?’ ” Monahan said. “But Elton has this desire to continue to be relevant. And I have that same desire. I don’t have the artillery that both Elton John and Billy Joel have. I’m still trying to get that (kind of) set list … . (But) I feel more like Elton John than Billy Joel.
“It’s not about record sales,” he concluded. “It’s simply the desire to stay relevant.”
Train have certainly had times when they were highly relevant but also periods of drought.
Highs and lows
Things started off strong for Train. Their 1998 self-titled debut gave the band a top 20 single in “Meet Virginia” and the album went platinum.
The big breakthrough came with “Drops of Jupiter (Tell Me),” the title track from Train’s 2001 album. It reached the top five at top 40 and topped Billboard’s Adult Pop chart. Along with a pair of more modest hits, “Something More” and “She’s on Fire,” the album went triple platinum and made Train a major pop act.
The momentum continued with 2003’s My Private Nation, which generated another top 20 hit, “Calling All Angels.”
But as Train established itself as a hit-making act, tensions within the band had been growing. Before making 2006’s For Me, It’s You, the group split with bassist Charlie Colin and guitarist Rob Hotchkiss, leaving Monahan, drummer Scott Underwood, and guitarist Jimmy Stafford as the core members. For Me, It’s You failed to register on radio. Train then went on hiatus while Monahan made his 2007 solo album, Last of Seven.
That’s when Monahan knew some major things had to change.
“Well, my career was coming to a close,” he said. “I had gone through a divorce. I was bankrupt musically. I was bankrupt financially. It was a really difficult time.”
That’s when Jonathan Daniel from Crush Management entered the picture. Monahan liked what Daniel had to say and how he viewed the path forward for the singer and Train. Monahan sent Daniel some 70 new songs he had written, and one song that stood out was “Hey, Soul Sister.”
The song became the lead single from the 2009 album Save Me, San Francisco, and it blew up at multiple formats, easily becoming the biggest hit for Train. Two more hit singles — “If It’s Love” and “Marry Me” — followed from Save Me, San Francisco. Then the next Train album, California 37, spawned another major hit single in “Drive By.”
Over the next several years, more changes were made, the most significant of which was forming an entirely new lineup. By 2016, Stafford and Underwood were gone. Over the next three years, a more musically flexible and personally harmonious lineup came together, with drummer Matt Musty joining in 2019 and guitarist Taylor Locke stepping up in 2021 to join keyboardist/guitarist Jerry Becker, bassist Hector Maldonado, and backing singers Sakai Smith and Nikita Houston.
Train worked more like a band than ever on AM Gold. On their previous two albums, Bulletproof Picasso and A Girl, a Bottle, a Boat, Monahan collaborated with outside writers.
When the pandemic hit, those collaborations stopped, and Monahan shifted gears.
“I started to work with my bandmates, Jerry Becker and Matt Musty, and then it was very quick into it that I realized when I work with professional songwriters, I tend to lean toward the way they write,” Monahan said. “And I think that’s the opposite of what Train fans are looking for, and my band is the opposite. They know my strengths more than anybody, so they write songs to help me be a better me. When we were writing these songs (for AM Gold), it was very apparent that they’re so conscious of what I’m good at (namely vocal melodies and lyrics) that we ended up writing these songs that sound a little bit more like older Train in a fresher way.”
Monahan said there are roughly 12-16 songs that generally make up the core of the Train live set, and he doesn’t want to overstock the show with additional songs.
“I think after 90 minutes, you will have just heard of other music, and your ears get to the point where you’re like, ‘OK, I’m good,’ ” he said. “So we have to make it exciting and different and that’s what our plan is.”