Preparing for the trek has been a difficult but unique experience for the ‘90s rock 'n' roll quintet. Between dealing with the stresses facing most young bands – finding nightly gigs while juggling day jobs and families, recording an album and, ultimately, securing a label deal – Train has found relief and success in its perseverance and outside support.
The result, thus far, is a strong major-label debut that has sold 231,000 copies since its February 1998 release; nearly 200,000 of those copies were sold this year. Sales have been pushed lately by heavy radio play of the first single, "Meet Virginia," and songs featured on the television shows "Party of Five" and "Dawson's Creek."
Train has also gained valuable touring experience, heading out with Hootie & The Blowfish, Collective Soul, and Better Than Ezra; the band hit the road last week with Ben Folds Five on a U.S. theatre tour that runs through this month.
As the group continues to explore new territory, the road is becoming more rewarding and familiar. "The beginning was the toughest part," vocalist Pat Monahan told POLLSTAR. But it's obvious that Train is still some distance from reaching its destination.
Earlier in their careers, founding members Monahan and guitarist Rob Hotchkiss abandoned the Los Angeles music scene for a breath of fresh air in San Francisco. The two performed acoustically for six months in cafes and coffeehouses around the region before adding to the lineup, which now includes bassist Charlie Colin, guitarist Jimmy Stafford and drummer Scott Underwood.
"We just played every gig we could," Monahan said. "We played acoustic shows, we played electric shows – any show that we could get our hands on. ... We knew that there are so many venues and so many things happening in an area like San Francisco that you can't do any harm; you just go out and play and get better."
Through its experiences playing around the City, Train befriended Counting Crows guitarist David Bryson, who helped the band with some recordings. In the process, Bryson's lawyer, Allen Lenard, became involved and turned Bill Graham Management onto Train.
"[BGM] responded positively and sent people out to see us and then signed us," Monahan said. "It was unusual for them because they said, ‘We don't sign unsigned bands anymore.' But they decided that we were the exception."
The strong support from its management encouraged Train to seek a record deal and Columbia was interested. The label flew the band out for a showcase in New York City but declined to make an offer. The experience helped fuel the flames of desire, Monahan said. "I decided to make a lot of changes and I had a goal; my goal was that same record company that passed on us one day, I'm going to be represented by them and they're going to be [freakin'] psyched about it."
The group decided to record an album on a $25,000 budget, which would become the band's major-label debut. The effort, mixed by Bryson and featuring keyboards by the Crows' Charlie Gillingham, was well received and a huge step for the band. "When the record was made, a lot of people started coming around, saying, ‘Hey, this is a band. This is a record. What's going on?'" Monahan said. The album got the attention of Columbia again and label A&R exec Tim Devine.
But instead of signing the band directly to Columbia, Devine worked a joint deal with Chicago-based Aware Records. Pretty cool, huh? Not to Monahan. "When you're seeing other bands get big fat record deals and going platinum – or not even going platinum, just getting the big fat record deal – you're like, ‘Shit, man, I don't know. It doesn't sound like much fun to me.'"
But as Devine explained to the band, "Let's be the tortoise that wins the race," Monahan said. "It's easy to say it; living it is different. Being that tortoise is a pain in the ass sometimes."
However, Train's singer is proud of the band's decision to take the scenic route. "It's funny to see it (in hindsight) because on one hand, you go, ‘Told yah! Why didn't you do this two years ago?' But on the other hand ... it eliminates things like, ‘Well, you can't go on tour because tour budget money is up,'" he said. "Right now, we're at the point where we can support ourselves."
Judging by the band's accomplishments to date, Train is certain to reach its destination. "Eventually, you get to the point where you earn the ability to be self-sufficient. And that's the big thing because a lot of these bands that I said are getting big record deals, man, they're gone," he said. "The only thing we know is our own experience and ours has been a lot of work, but so worthwhile because somewhere in this whole thing, you have to do the work ... and I'm so glad we did it in the beginning."