A Reason To Smile

7 June 2012 | 12:08 pm | Brendan Hitchens

Frontman for Californian pop-rockers Train, Patrick Monahan tells Brendan Hitchens that the band will be checking at least one thing off their bucket list when next in the country.

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If their 2009 record Save Me, San Francisco was a statement, then California 37 is the celebration. With the follow up to the hugely successful record that returned the band to the mainstream, Train now continue their journey atop of the charts. Patrick Monahan, 43-year-old songwriter and lead singer of the group who began his musical career in a Led Zeppelin cover band, speaks with the poise and diction of a man who has been interviewed a thousand times.

Truth is, he probably has been. Like his music, there's a perpetual positivity to his words, something he is happy to acknowledge. “I was in a very difficult relationship for a long time, so when I was writing songs likes Drops Of Jupiter and Calling All Angels I was searching for whatever it was that I was supposed to learn from that experience. Now I'm married to the girl of my dreams and I'm incredibly happy. The fact that people are listening to our music in a new way, with more enthusiasm than ever, there's a lot to be happy about.”

Indeed Monahan should be happy. In 2010 Hey Soul Sister reached critical mass. From its reinterpretation on Glee to its background play in a number of Hollywood blockbusters and receiving a Grammy; there was no hiding from the song. It reinvented the band that had formed in 1994 and gave them a new lease on life.

With success however comes pressure and heightened expectations, though Monahan refuses to believe the band now writes for airplay. “I used to write for the radio and we missed, so didn't hear from us for a while,” he says, referring to the eight-year gap between Drops Of Jupiter and Hey Soul Sister infiltrating worldwide playlists. “The songs sounded like they were aiming for something. We learnt that if we didn't love the process when recording together and writing, then how could you expect other people to?”

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Riding their new wave of success post Hey Soul Sister, the band spent close to three years on the road, using their limited downtime to work on the follow-up. Fittingly, the new album takes its title from the road whilst paying homage to their hometown. “California-37 is the highway that the three of us in Train use to get to each other's houses and all sorts of gigs across San Francisco, Northern California and into Nevada. There are all sorts of memories there, like breaking down, or running out of gas, love stories and break up stories. There's lots of history there.”

The history too seeps through their music, bouncing between songs of reggae, folk, country, rock and the standard piano ballad. Their latest single Drive By has simultaneously positioned its way into the US pop, rock and adult contemporary charts, signifying the band's broad and cross generational audience. Its verse/chorus structure and lyrical hooks borrow heavily from the Hey Soul Sister template, and share the co-writing signatures of Norwegian production team Espionage.

Monahan, a fan of Gotye and INXS, won't be drawn in to labeling their sound a particular genre; instead he likes to think broadly. “Other people say we sound like California. If you've ever been to California and driven in the sunshine with the top down you get exactly what I'm talking about. That's what our band sounds like.”

Boasting the most played song in Australian radio history (Hey Soul Sister in 2010), it's little wonder the band see Australia as their home away from home. “Australia is a big California; your attitudes, your surfing, the food, the great nature of people,” he says, speaking of the similarities. Returning to Australia for a brief east coast tour in June, Monahan particularly can't wait to play the Sydney Opera House. “We've been looking at it for the past ten years we've been coming to Australia. The fact that we'll be able to be on the stage playing our music, it's like a bucket list.”