Sometimes I wonder what would’ve happened if I listened to great bands and songs, and the great albums from said bands, when they actually released, rather than all these years later. How would my music tastes have changed- or would they have stayed the same? How would my outlook on life be, would I be more of an extrovert or an introvert, would my values change or would I still be in the same profession that I am currently in? I know, weird questions, but I truly believe that music and the song that can impact and encourage, influence and challenge; can really change a trajectory of someone depending on when they hear it in their lives. And at a certain point, a song can be a catalyst for change, personal or as a collective, to be something better, to look inward and see what needs to realign and refocus, or what values that is held close, need to be reassessed, and which need to still stay the same. So to answer my own question that I posed earlier…I don’t really know what would’ve happened if I did listen to artists when their respective albums released. I mean, had I did listen to artists like Avril Lavigne, Ronan Keating, U2, Carrie Underwood, Martina McBride, even Owl City and Lifehouse, during the times when albums of these said artists released; maybe, just maybe, the wonder and awe, and the unique feeling that comes when discovering a whole discography of a new artist, could be less and less. Because essentially if you follow an artist’s career from year dot, you become accustomed to their music your whole life, as opposed to someone else discovering for the first time a whole discography of an artist they’ve missed out on.
Frankly, I don’t think that I was mature enough to handle all these artists way back when I was in high school, or even during the first part of university. Growing up in a Christian home, and listening to exclusively Christian music for the vast majority of my teenage and adolescent life (which isn’t a bad thing at all!), if a mainstream artist was thrown in the mix for good measure, I may not have been spiritually discerning enough, or maybe, I’d probably not fully understand that God speaks through mainstream music too. Just now I’ve come to realise the power of music that isn’t necessarily Christian in nature, that listening to anything that isn’t on K-Love or Air1…is perfectly fine. In fact, songs from people outside of the ‘Christian’ bubble can give us a different perspective on life, and God can even speak through these artists as well- often when they themselves aren’t aware. Enter in a group that was popular during the late 1990s and much of the 2000s and early 2010s- a band that I reckon, is very much underrated, let alone influential to not only a niche group of listeners who love indie rock, but hopefully influential to the state of music as a whole. Train, hailing from San Francisco in the early 1990s, is one such band that, though not really that well known at the moment; has many songs still relevant and impactful to people today. They are a band that can really remind us on how a song released yesteryear can still have such an impact, decades upon decades later.
Led by lead singer Patrick (Pat) Monahan with a revolving door of band members; I’ve come to appreciate and respect this San Francisco group over the last week or so since I heard the band in preparation for this blog. Humble and honest, hopeful and happy, Pat has conducted himself in the interviews (both written and visual) with much grace and poise, as we’re reminded that a band like Train (and Pat himself for that matter) is what bands should aspire to become. Not fazed by fame or radio success, Pat has written some of the most honest and raw, but equally fun and whimsical, songs over the last 15-20 years, and though not as relevant now to the music industry as the band once was, Train continues to impact and affect hearts and minds of listeners, myself included, as the years roll on. One of the most surprising artists/bands to date that I’ve delved into and discovered, all for the sake of this blog series; Pat and co. have crafted a career of songs that soar and songs that settle into a soliloquy pattern as listeners of the band use these song as soundtracks for their lives. Popular at the moment? Not in the slightest chance! Influential? Most definitely!
‘…if I do have any sense of myself at all…look, if this was all about money or ego I’d be fine with just making the same record over and over; it’s not that hard to rewrite the same song. But striving to record the best song you’ve ever recorded, every single time you walk into a recording studio? That’s about wanting to be something better for myself. I’m still trying to prove to myself that I’m worth having been given the gift of music, when my six siblings didn’t get it. I have to go out and earn that, and keep going out there and earning it, otherwise that is shame on me. I will point out that, if a musician is trying to do their best work today, that probably means that they can’t have the same sound that they had in 1998. If you do, no one will ever hear it, except for the same people you’ve been preaching to for the last twenty years. What I do is try to put myself in rooms with people that I haven’t done that with, people who are typically younger than me that can make things sound great, and then if it sounds like I’m trying to be their age I have to tell them that that doesn’t work for me. Because I don’t want it to sound like I’m trying to be something that I’m not. However, I don’t want to sink to the bottom of the soup either…’ Taken from an interview Pat undertook in 2017, to promote his then-new studio album A Girl, A Bottle, A Boat, what is divulged from Pat is a reminder of what all aspiring artists need to have with the years upon years- a sense of wisdom and maturity, of knowing why music and art is being pursued. Music changes over the years, and it takes a man with a lot of perspective and realism to understand that a sound way back when a debut album is released isn’t going to be the same sound that is showcased throughout a whole music career. And this is why much of Train’s music catalogue as evolved over the years- no two albums in their whole career by the band are the same! And that is ok. It is a reminder that certain albums impact people while other albums are dear to the heart of others. This is why there are a smorgasbord of genres to pick from. The ability of Train to deliver music that can fit into a variety of genre categories is a testament to Pat and the band, and the versatility in being open to the genres themselves.
One look at their career thus far and we see a band that have released a flurry of albums at different points, not to mention cover albums, live albums, Christmas albums, even quasi-spiritual songs. Hailing out of San Francisco and bubbling onto the feat of stardom way back in 1998 with the release of their self-titled debut album Train, Pat Monahan and co. have continued to unveil song after song of relevance but also fun and passion, something that the music of today is often void of. Arguably the most famous song that the band has ever recorded would have to be ‘Drops of Jupiter’, from their 2001 second album titled…you guessed it, Drops of Jupiter. The message behind it- a surreal experience that Pat describes himself as being ‘other-worldly’- ‘…”Drops of Jupiter” was written just after my mom had passed away, so the song came to me in a dream, literally. I fell asleep and woke up with this song in my head and went downstairs and wrote it all out and sang it into a Dictaphone. It’s a story about my mother coming back after like swimming through the planets and finding her way through the universe, and coming back to tell me that heaven was overrated and [to] love this life, you know? That’s what that was about…’ While I know I can’t and don’t agree with heaven being overrated, because of my own personal faith and being a Christian, I’m certain that heaven itself will be far greater than we can ever think, and far beyond whatever our conception of it really is; what I can say is that not many people love this life. As Pat divulges in the above quote, many people can be seen to wish upon something in the distance, whether it is to get a dream job, a dream house, a dream spouse, worrying about this life or even worrying about the next, when we miss out on enjoying what is given to us now. What this song for me has meant over the last week is to be present in the place we are in. Pat himself wrote the song after his mum passed from cancer, so I guess most of the song itself is just him wrestling through his own thoughts about love, life, and the afterlife. As messy and as confusing the song at face value really is, ‘Drops of Jupiter’ connects with a lot of people, and is by far one of, I reckon, the cult classics of the 2000s decade.
As big as ‘Drops of Jupiter’ was, because of the well-known nature of that song, many people could think of that as the first song that actually made the band famous- but rather, songs like ‘Free’ and ‘Meet Virginia’ were songs that charted way before ‘Drops of Jupiter’- both these songs from their self titled album, and both reminding us of pivotal and crucial issues we still face with today- ‘Free’ is a melody about regret, as the persona, who broke up with girlfriend, is contemplating on whether he is as free as his friends say he is, or just a fool for letting the relationship die; while ‘Meet Virginia’ is a song about a conglomeration of personalities of girls Pat himself met and got to know when he was in San Francisco prior to the band. The song itself turns out to be a melody about this persona trying to make the most of life, and struggling to secure her dream, and wrestle with where she is at the moment. A vulnerable song about trying to reconcile where we want to be compared to where we are now, songs like ‘Free’ and ‘Meet Virginia’, even ‘Drops of Jupiter’, secure the backbone of the holistic message that the band want to portray through their music. Most of their music doesn’t necessarily have a clear-cut happy final ending, a moral or even a message, and maybe that’s ok. Warning signs possibly, or even songs about romance or even failed romance. What Train manage to do is write about real life, which is one of the reasons why I reckon their relevance, importance and influence amongst not only the people of yesteryear or even yesterday, but of the people of today and tomorrow, is why I reckon they are one of the most underrated mainstream pop-rock bands in recent music memory!
Unintentionally or even, dare I say, intentionally, much of the music catalogue of Train is quasi-spiritual, and maybe it’s because Pat himself is wrestling through life and wondering about the what if’s, even though he himself says that he isn’t religious at all, or maybe it’s just co-incidence. Whatever the case, listening to much of Train’s discography, evokes a feeling of peace and contentment, of hope and encouragement, even of questioning and asking similar questions that Train themselves, but this time, asking them to God Himself…and that’s ok, allowed even! God is not fazed by all the uncertainties and worries, the questions and doubts we have, and as we become bold enough to say that we don’t have it all together all the time, then music has done it’s job by facilitating such revelations and declarations- I’m sure Train and their music have done so for many people around the world listening to this underrated group. ‘Calling All Angels’, first heard by myself when it was covered in the musical/live event The Passion way back in 2016, is such a song that is full of questions and longing, full of wondering and wanting to see things clearly. The persona calls on the angels, which by no means is blasphemy- angels are powerful creatures, created by God, but having power to also help us humans on our own journeys- guardian angels if you like. But as a Christian, I know that this prayerful song was meant to be one directed towards God…and even though it’s directed to the angels, the message is still the same- longing and wanting, even praying for hope and peace in your soul. A song that, for me, rivals ‘Drops of Jupiter’ as one of the most emotion-evoking songs I’ve heard from the band, Train continues to lean on the spiritual in My Private Nation (of which ‘Calling All Angels’ is from- ‘When I Look to the Sky’, a song heavily rotated on my personal Christian radio station here is Australia, is a song about looking up, and knowing that ‘…when I feel like I’m lost, something tells me You’re here with me, You make everything alright…’ While the song is probably directing the ‘you’ to be Pat’s mother (considering at in the early 2000s, his mother passed, and maybe the song envisages her as some sort of spirit guiding her son through life!), I see the song as a prayer directed to the Father in times of uncertainty, as I’m sure my interpretation is also seen by others as well.
Grounded with a sense of hope, we see Pat continue walking the spiritual line in songs like ‘I’m About to Come Alive’ (someone pleading for someone else to not give up on them because they’re ‘about to come alive’) and ‘Get to Me’ (wanting someone else so near that you ask for them to get to you, no matter what or how). The band also have fun with creating an informercial-like music video for their song ‘Give Myself to You’, also depicting a sombre metaphor of driving cabs on the road and highway in the song ‘Cab’, and using that imagery to tell a story of someone feeling lonely and isolated- both these aforementioned two songs are arguably some of the only standouts from For Me It’s You, their 2006 album that, for me, wasn’t as powerful or heartfelt compared to albums previously. Nevertheless, Train continued to surge forward, and ‘Cab’ and ‘Give Myself to You’ were the result in 2006. And though there was a 3 year hiatus, what transpired since 2006 are some of the band’s most important and relevant songs ever, and an album in Save Me San Francisco that revitalised and rejuvenated a band to give more of a sense of purpose as Pat and co. moved from first gear to second, creating melodies from here on out, to impact, and dare I say, minister to people’s hearts, even if they don’t even expect it!
Save Me San Francisco released in the end of 2009, and by all accounts, is an album quite possibly full of the most radio friendly hits, and songs that are indeed relatable to people around the world. ‘Hey Soul Sister’ is perhaps the most weirdest song Train has ever recorded, and while the song itself seems more nonsensical than ‘Drops of Jupiter’, Pat describes that this 2009 track had its births in the Burning Man festivals. Now I have since read up on Burning Man and for me, there is a fine line between the ‘festival’ being just that- a hippie festival full of art, music, dance, expression and community, and the festival being some sort of cult or even its own religion. Nevertheless, Burning Man is what inspired ‘Hey Soul Sister’, and for me, this song dare I say, is very, very catchy. And while I don’t at this moment understand all the metaphors within this song, I’m sure I will in time. It is by far, alongside ‘Drops of Jupiter’, one of Train’s most popular songs, ever, and every time I hear this song, I can’t help but smile and sing along…maybe, just maybe God Himself is moving through this melody? Maybe. Save Me San Francisco also brings with it other tracks that are relevant to society- the title track that showcases a return-to-roots theme about how we as a human race have experienced things we may not like, and what we ought to do is get back to our own ‘san franciscos’- our own little havens and places we know can rejuvenate and revitalise us more than the outside world can. ‘Parachute’ is a track where the persona offers to be a ‘parachute’ of sorts to their friend, a sense of help and comfort in times of need; while ‘If It’s Love’ is a monologue of sorts about the topic of marriage, and the countless ways people can distance themselves from this ‘institution’ that seems less and less glamourous as the years go by- but Pat breaks the mould and declares that ‘…if it’s love and we decide that it’s forever, no one else could do it better, if it’s love and we’re two birds of a feather, then the rest is just whatever…’
‘This Ain’t Goodbye’ is a matter-of-fact song about a failed relationship because of people wanting different things- it wasn’t because people were falling out of love, but rather, because of the places they were and the goals each wanted. A song that is sombre and sad on many levels, this is a song that I’m sure will relate to many, who would want to put their breakups into words, but can’t because their breakups are not the ‘I fell out of love with you’ kind. Co-written with Ryan Tedder of OneRepublic, ‘It Ain’t Goodbye’ is one of the bands’ most vulnerable and underrated songs I’ve heard, 2009 and afterward. ‘Marry Me’ is another standout from Save Me San Francisco, and is a heartfelt ballad of the conscious decision to marry and stay married to the one we are entwined and in love with. Marriage can be hard sometimes, but this song is an understanding that marriage is a daily decision to remain committed to each other through good times and bad. Though for me I enjoyed Train’s duet with Country singer Martina McBride compared to this original recording; what I did find unique and different about this version is it’s stripped-back nature and its emotion and vulnerability that comes with stripping instruments away. All in all, a lot of standouts on Save Me San Francisco, and together with Drops of Jupiter, redefine and reinvent Train as a band as they soldier on to remain one of today’s most underrated bands of all time, and thus, one of the most influential.
Because of the great success of Save Me San Francisco, the two subsequent albums from Pat and Train, California 37 and Bulletproof Picasso, seem to be lost in the shuffle. While I must admit that yes, upon repeat listens, Save Me San Francisco has a much better cohesiveness to it, that doesn’t mean that both Train’s albums in 2012 and 2014 ought to be forgotten. There are some great gems amongst the songs that showcase the bands jovial and happy nature, while also trying to deliver serious music as well. ‘This’ll Be My Year’ catalogue’s the journey of Pat from boyhood to manhood and then finally into the union of marriage, all the while showcasing special events from around the world to remind us all of how quickly time flies by, while a song like ‘Drive By’, the first radio single from California 37, is a personal one for Pat- meeting and falling in love with his now second wife, Amber Peterson. As Pat himself relays, ‘…”Drive By” was about meeting my wife and quickly falling in love, and being really scared about that because I was like, Man, I am not sure if this is a good idea — that something like this would happen so quickly. Because I think generally when you’re looking for something big you’re not gonna find it, and when you’re not looking for that thing it’s gonna probably show up and get you. And so, “Drive By” was all about realizing that I have to not worry about it and just let it be what it is…’ Fun comes to the front and centre of ’50 Ways to Say Goodbye’, complete with acoustics and a saxophone to present a Mexican theme, as Train uses this track to play a touch-in-cheek theme of implying that instead of facing the truth of saying to friends that our significant other dumped us, we want to fabricate and concoct a story as to how they ‘died’- instead of the truth. Now the notion of the song in general is a little far-fetched, but the fact of the matter remains- we would rather spin a great yarn and story, than to face facts with the truth.
Vulnerability then comes in the centre of ‘Bruises’, a duet with country musician Ashley Munroe, a song that calls for us to drop our comparison acts when its time for high school reunions. A song that reminds us that we all have bruises, and that we as successful as we may be, aren’t always higher or more important than the next guy, places things in perspective, as Train invite us into the most vulnerable track they’ve recorded since songs like ‘Marry Me’ and ‘This Ain’t Goodbye’. Bulletproof Picasso followed along, and though it wasn’t really a success (just like how their 2006 album For Me, It’s You wasn’t really as well) on the charts, there were some decent songs on the album- from autobiographical ‘Son of a Prison Guard’, and the no-apologising ‘no need for a reason to feel a certain way’ ‘Bulletproof Picasso’ (that features a picturesque music video starring actress Emily Kinney), to ‘Angel In Blue Jeans’, shown to us through the music video as a Western-themed storyline that features Danny Trejo (of Spy Kids fame) as a good guy, and lead singer Pat Monahan himself as the villain.
Train sort-of redefined themselves after the aftermath of Bulletproof Picasso. After releasing a Christmas album in 2015 (Christmas in Tahoe) and a Led Zeppelin tribute album in 2016, the band was back with new material in 2017- but by then, the music game had changed. You had guys coming up like Logic, Ed Sheeran, NF, Rachel Platten, Alessia Cara, Jess Glynne and even Justin Bieber, so for Train to come into the game again and capture similar fans of the group, and then more, the band had to incorporate and undertake something they hadn’t really done before, ever. Pat himself showed us the difficulties of making music in a world today- ‘…we’ve been around too long. We’re old and we’re old school or they want to make room for the kids that are coming up… I don’t want to be a heritage band yet. I don’t want to make the Train record for the Train fans — not yet. I want to make a Train album for the world… I think it’s important to not overstay your welcome. And people get very comfortable, including me, and I don’t think that’s always good. So on this album [a girl, a bottle a boat], I asked my manager, ‘Would you please put me in a room with people that I’ve never met.’ And I find that the younger the better because they haven’t been (tainted) by what I know. There’s already one of us in the room. We don’t need two. So getting around 30-year-olds and even younger than that, it was just the vibe was incredible. I’m not trying to be a kid- I’m trying to be who I am, but work with people who can help me get the version of who I am so that it makes sense today…’ And this youthful sense of direction is what resulted in this new album, albeit an album that produced only one single to date- ‘Play That Song’, a song about having a song being played on the radio, and it’s melody taken from a song way back in the 1930’s called ‘Heart and Soul’. The joyous and happy music video features Pat dancing and singing in the street with headphones on, and others joining along, and is just a fun video to sing and dance to. With the band also delivering two new (well one new and one a cover) recordings in 2018, ‘Call Me Sir’ and ‘Careless Whisper’- the former being a new song that speaks of the themes of being recognised and appreciated only because of who you hang out with, rather than because of you yourself, and the latter a cover of a George Michael song; Train are here today, 10 albums later, and a greatest hits album released at the end of 2018. Have Train been on the steady popular train (see the pun!) all the years through? Most definitely not. But, holistically, their music has ministered (yes, I will definitely go there!) to people’s hearts and souls for a long time, and will continue to do so. They are just one band of many out there, and because of this, they will be lost in the shuffle, in favour of other more hip and popular bands today, like Panic! At the Disco, Backstreet Boys, Twenty One Pilots, Paramore, Imagine Dragons, OneRepublic, Coldplay and Linkin Park, to name a few. So when someone mentions the band Train, people would say, who?
But all in all, the band, and Pat himself, have hijacked a generation of listeners with the soul-touching music. The band themselves have also achieved some high-profile goals outside of their music, founding the Save Me San Francisco Wine Company in 2011, selling wine named after the group’s popular radio hits. The band also have partnered with the Ghiradelli Chocolate Company, selling chocolates alongside the wine as well. Train have also supported the Family House of San Francisco, a support system for people who have cancer and other life-threatening illnesses, and much of the proceeds from the chocolate and wine go to this cause. And with many of Train’s songs being in popular culture a lot over the years- ‘Calling All Angels’ is the unofficial anthem of the Los Angeles Angels baseball team, while many of their songs were present in TV shows like One Tree Hill, Saturday Night Live!, American Dad and Family Guy; Pat and co. continue to press forward, creating art that is different all the time, but all the while relevant to whomever hears the music, myself included!
And so, there you have it- Train. What are some of your own favourite songs from the band? Do their music make the list for you all when you write your own ‘Best Influential Artists of All Time’ list? Is there any song (other than popular melodies like ‘Calling All Angels’, ‘Drops of Jupiter’, ‘When I Look to the Sky’ and ‘Soul Sister’, to name a few) that has impacted you on your journey through life thus far? Let us know in the comments. Till next time!