I’m not going to lie – if you weren’t at the Palestra last Friday night, you missed out on an amazing show. The pop-rock band Train performed two great sets to a small, yet eager crowd that was lucky enough to experience Train’s high-energy brand of live shows. One ingredient to their success in live appearances is that their blend of mainstream alternative pop appeals to almost any audience. From the upbeat “All American Girl” to the softer ballads like “When I Look to the Sky,” Train has the power to hold audiences captive, regardless of their pop preferences.Another component is the dynamic chemistry of the band. Within the past two years, the band has changed two faces. Guitarist and vocalist Rob Hotchkiss and bassist Charlie Colin left the band for personal reasons and have been replaced. Despite such a dramatic change in band member composition in such a short amount of time, Train has recovered well. They perform together like a worn-in glove fits its hand. Frontman Pat Monahan, guitarist Jimmy Stafford and drummer Scott Underwood use their history together to include the new members rather than create a mood of a dismantled group. Formed in San Francisco in 1994, Train was first turned down by their current label, Columbia Records, in 1996. After successfully self-producing their first record, Columbia signed them.A few hit singles later – namely, “Meet Virginia” and “Drops of Jupiter” – and Train was receiving recognition for steadily climbing the ranks of bands respected for their lyrics and melodies. While their latest studio album, “My Private Nation,” didn’t receive rave reviews, that doesn’t take away from the fact that Train is an excellent live band that knows how to connect with an audience.Stafford talked with me about their ability to craft a good live show, among other things, before the concert, but it took seeing them in person to fully understand what he was talking about.
THE INTERVIEWCampus Times: So where are you right now? Jimmy Stafford: Right now I’m at home in Las Vegas. We’re on break from touring.
CT: Did you tour for the whole summer? JS: We toured for about a year straight for “My Private Nation” and ended it at the end of July. A few dates popped up here and there that we decided to play and Rochester was one of them.
CT: After the shows, what can we expect to see from Train? JS: You can expect a live album coming Nov. 3. After that comes out we’re going into the studio to write and record our next studio album that will be released in the spring.
CT: I remember hearing “Train” in “Spiderman 2” and other movies – what does it feel like to have your music in a movie? JS: We did that song for “Spiderman 2” – it was more exciting to write and have it get picked for the movie. We’ve been performing it during live shows – people are starting to recognize it.
CT: Is there any song that the crowd just goes wild over more than others? JS: That’s gotta be “Drops of Jupiter.” We usually save it for the very end. There’s enough songs out there that people know – different people like different songs. People like to hear “Look to the Sky.” And then there’s “Calling All Angels.” When the fans get excited for a song, it adds a different dimension to the show.
CT: Do you have a personal favorite to play? JS: I like them all. I think we’re a good live band. We like to play for new audiences. We look forward to play for people who haven’t heard us before – they’re pleasantly surprised. They walk away saying “Wow, that was more than I expected.” I see guys get dragged to the show by their girlfriend, who leave and say “Wow, they rock!”
CT: I have to ask you about something that has kind of been bugging me – on the first two albums there is a guy with a crown. Where is he on “My Private Nation”? JS: After we started the band, it was my idea to have a symbol connected to the band like how the Rolling Stones have the tongue. We put our heads together and came up with a crown. For the first album we found an interesting piece of art with the crown. It became our thing – people showed up at our shows wearing Burger King crowns. By the third album, I guess the guys got tired of it. I’m a little upset about it, but it’s a democracy in the band. I’d like to bring it back on the studio album.
CT: You started out independent, right? JS: Yeah, at first. We were denied by Columbia Records, so we made our own album with money from friends and family. We sold them out of a box at shows in San Francisco – we were selling out of them. A year later Columbia came back and re-released the album.
CT: Are there any shows that stick out? JS: Performing at the Grammys was pretty amazing. Playing “Drops of Jupiter” on stage looking at the crowd and seeing your heroes – U2 and Bonnie Rait and Celine Dion – singing along. It was kinda wacky.
CT: What about group dynamics? How do you all put it together? JS: It’s like a five-way marriage without sex. We read each other’s minds. When someone’s in a bad mood, it brings everyone down.
CT: Sounds like a busy schedule – what else do you have planned for today? JS: Well, I’m going to play golf in a little bit.
CT: Are you a big golfer? JS: I’m not that good, but I love the game. It keeps me away from the blackjack tables. All the guys golf. During the tour, Pat and Scott would go out golfing a lot.
CT: Are you planning on playing any golf in Rochester? JS: It’s a four-day trip – fly out and do four shows in four days then fly to Atlanta. I haven’t thought about it – maybe I will bring my clubs.
Borchardt can be reached at email@example.com.