Train scored a hit with the song Meet Virginia back in 1998, and an even bigger hit in the form of Drops Of Jupiter (Tell Me) a few years later. Then for a while they were all over the radio. Drops Of Jupiter became an FM smash and a karaoke favourite (and a point of discussion for casual listeners who thought the lyric was "And Van Halen is overrated" instead of the actual line, "…and that heaven is overrated"). The band chugged along for a while, releasing well-received albums before going into hiatus in 2006. From there it could have gone either way. Train could have remained a fond memory, put away forever in the category of bands who exceeded the tag of 'one hit wonder' but never quite made it into 'reliable consistent chart toppers.' Or they could have come back and flopped. Instead they regrouped in 2009, released the album Save Me, San Francisco with the mega ultra smash Hey, Soul Sister, and from there the hits haven't stopped. If It's Love, Marry Me and now, from their new album California 37, Drive By.
"We have a new record out and we just really haven't had much of a break at all since the last record," guitarist Jimmy Stafford says. "Soul Sister was such a big worldwide song for us that we toured that record for almost three years. We kept making laps around the world and visiting new places. It was kinda crazy!" While Train were doing that, California 37 was percolating. They wrote on the road and made the mistake of letting the record company hear Drive By late last year towards the end of the tour. Knowing a hit when they heard one, the label asked the band to record the song quick-smart. Before they knew it a whole album had been tracked and Train were back on the road. "Now we're starting a world tour again and Drive By is blowing up all over the world, and even in other new places where Soul Sister didn't, like India. We're #1 in India right now. So we've got a lot of work ahead of us! It's tiring but it's great!"
If there's a theme to Train's music, especially post-hiatus, it's the heightened awareness of their geographical surroundings and their influence on the band's creative output. Save Me, San Francisco, then California 37 – what is it about California that does it for the band? "None of us are from there – we all grew up east coast guys – but when we decided to form the band it was very intentional to move to San Francisco. We wanted to be a San Francisco band. We had friends in bands there and we heard it was a really nice music scene in the mid 90s. We figured, worst-case scenario, if the band failed, at least we lived in a cool place! But then the band took off, we got a record deal and we headed out of town on Highway 37." The band kicked off their current tour with a week's worth of Californian shows before heading out into the world. "It's interesting – a lot of the media has been saying this new album sounds like California, but I don't know if it's just because they're being fed the title. Like when I was a kid hearing Beach Boys albums, you would think 'this must be what Californian music sounds like!'"
One thing that definitely spreads out beyond the Californian influence is the band's use of diverse instrumentation. "The song has always dictated the instruments," Stafford says. "Even in our early days there was a lot of mandolin on the records. And I never learned how to play the mandolin. It was just, 'Man, a mandolin would sound great in this song.' And the same thing happened with Hey, Soul Sister: 'Man, I wonder what a ukulele would sound like.' So I had to get online and Google a ukulele lesson because I didn't know how to tune one! I was playing it with a pick at first and it didn't sound right. Then I Googled it and realised they play with their fingers, and I was able to fake my way through it! But it's whatever the song needs. We're able to pick up an instrument and at least fake our way through it. And ukulele sales have definitely gone up since Hey, Soul Sister came out!
The band are heading back to Australia for their second tour in just over a year. "I think it was maybe two summers ago," Stafford says. " I think the last time we were there was the Day On The Green tour with INXS. Those guys are so fun, and it was our first chance to go out and play those vineyards. It was really the first time for us touring, in all this time coming to Australia, where we got to travel a bit outside of the cities. It was really a memorable time for us. But this time we're excited because we get to go back to some of the venues that we love and also play some new places like the Sydney Opera House."
BY PETER HODGSON
TRAIN performs at The Palais Theatre in St Kilda on Saturday June 9, with support from Matt Nathanson. Tickets on sale now.